BANGKOK -- Three of Thailand's biggest food companies are teaming up with government forces to police the country's borders in a desperate effort to protect the country's $3.3 billion a year pork industry from the spread of dreaded African Swine Flu from neighboring Myanmar.
Charoen Pokphand Foods, Thailand's biggest agro-industrial conglomerate, has joined with rivals Betagro and Thai Food to raise funds for 50 government-manned checkpoints along the border. The three companies together account for as much of 80% of Thai pork production, and the unusual private-public initiative is in part due to the lack of available state funds.
The checkpoints will be manned by authorities from Thailand's Agriculture Ministry, Interior Ministry and the Royal Thai Army. Surachai Sutthitham, president of Swine Raisers Association of Thailand told the Nikkei Asian Review that the checkpoints will be equipped with antiseptic sprays to douse down all trucks that carry livestock including cattle, poultry and all feed before they can enter Thailand.
The three companies declined to give further details on how much they have jointly invested in securing the borders, saying it is a sensitive issue that should be released by the government. The Agriculture Ministry has not made any official statements.
"It is a progressive reaction from those private firms that realized that they need to do something very fast and carefully to protect themselves as well as to protect the reputation of the country as a world food exporter," said Livestock Development Department Director General Sorawit Thanito.
Thailand has been in tenterhooks since the outbreak of African Swine Fever in neighboring countries including China about a year ago. This fear intensified in September, when dead pigs were found drifting along the Ruak river at the border of Thailand and Myanmar, which was declared by the World Organization for Animal Heath as being infected with the disease in August.
More than 300 pigs were immediately culled in three districts in Thailand's northernmost Chiangrai province by the river, which meets the Mekong at the Golden Triangle bordering Myanmar, Laos and Thailand.
Pigs and all pork products from neighboring Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and Myanmar have been completely barred by the Thai government since August 2018, when the disease was found to have spread to some countries in Asia.
The Thai government is meeting its regional peers early October to discuss ways to contain the disease and prevent it from spreading to Thailand.
Although 80% of Thai pigs are raised in tightly controlled farms by the three companies, there are still nearly 200,000 small farmers that need to be closely monitored by the Ministry of Agriculture to make sure that all animals are reared and slaughtered hygienically, said Sorawit.
As part of the new initiative, all pigs within 5 km of infected ones must be killed and their farmers will be given compensation of 70% of the price that each animal would have fetched. This compensation will come from funds raised by the three companies, said Surachai.
"That is why major companies need to spend their money in some public awareness projects. It is because if only one small farm was infected, it could destroy all of Thailand $3.3 billion pork supply chain. The infection could lead to a domino-collapse of the Thai food industry," said a small farmer in Nakonpanom province that borders Laos. He added that he has a contract with a major food producer.
Thailand is the biggest pork supplier for the Mekong region. It exported 1.3 billion baht ($42 million) worth of pigs to Cambodia during January-August this year, up from only 9 million baht for the whole 2018.
Thai pork is also in demand in China, where many pigs have been slaughtered after contracting African Swine Fever. Thai pork exports to Hong Kong surged more than 60% to 985 tons in the first half of this year from a year ago. The Swine Raisers' Association of Thailand forecast that pork exports to Hong Kong could reach 2,500 tons this year, up from 1,408 tons in 2018.
Thailand produces 1.5-1.7 million tons of pork annually from 20-23 million pigs.