THE pig industry's profits are on the decline and is generating low returns.
Farmers see margins of about 6.5 per cent, which is too low under conditions of double-digit inflation economy, according to a recent pig census.
The report suggests that they should be realising a 12.5 per cent return.
What's more, pig exports total almost zero, according to the study, which captures the distribution patterns of pigs throughout Jamaica; examines changes in the industry since 2003; the methods of disposal of pigs, mortality rates and identifies farmers' major problems.
The industry has seen growth in the output of pork by 41 per cent (from 3.5 million kilogram to 4.95 million kilogram between the period 2003 and 2012. Improved genetics have resulted in significant increase in the size of pigs due to an increase of dressed weight fatteners sold to butchers and processors.
Furthermore, the Jamaican pig population in 2012 was 144,917 spanning 6,556 farmers, which represented 70 per cent growth in population and 62.5 per cent growth in the number of farmers between 1998 and 2012.
There have also been some noteworthy structural changes taking place, which include the emergence of large investors and large farmers -- 53.4 per cent of the pig population is now owned by large farmers (50 or more pigs), compared to 44.2 per cent in 1998.
But, the business models of pig farmers are low-value and price-sensitive oriented -- About 69 per cent of the meat is sold to the fresh market, which is extremely sensitive -- putting the producers' fiscal viability under threat.
The farmers estimate that the $307 per kilogramme gate price for dressed pork represents 94 per cent of their operating cost.
Despite the many issues farmers face, the study shows that they are very committed to the future of the industry. About 30 per cent will increase their sow production, and only four per cent will cut back.
Though the industry is near to 100 per cent self-sufficiency, according to Dr Marc Panton, chief technical officer in the Ministry of Agriculture, it has fallen in two areas, certified abattoirs, and traceability.
These areas will be the impetus to not only developing the industry but to exporting pork.
Slaughterhouses are fundamental to the code of hygiene practices. According to the pig census, there are over 1,000 abattoirs, with
"We don't have a centralised abattoir and the legislation," Panton said.
The studies have suggested that four centralised abattoirs and 24 community abattoirs are needed.
Already, funding has been identified through the Inter-American Development Bank for a centralised slaughterhouse, Panton told the Business Observer.
Plans are also being made to upgrade the Bodles Abattoir and research centre to be a training centre, giving demonstration on butchery, he said. "It should help to guide what is required to meet international standards."
Exports will take some time. Sale to international markets as percentage of total desired outcome, according to the pig census is five per cent; the situation in Jamaica is zero per cent.
Potential percentage and incremental benefits to be derived from exports, is infinite, the report indicates.
"It's doable, it will take discipline," Panton said,. adding that some farmers will be in a better position to export than others.
For pork to reach the forks of consumers, confidence that the meat was produced under healthy conditions must be present. It will take good record-keeping.
Sending the meat across international borders will mean pork processing and production must meet global standards. An adoption of the Code of Hygiene, the World Trade Organisation -- sanitary and phytosanitary measures as well as other public health and safety regimes are critical.
There are at least nine indicators that assess the state and export readiness in accordance with the basics of the Code of Hygiene practices.
According to the report only one area, an authority for managing this Code of Hygiene Practices in the Jamaican context is up to standard and is described as "needing more improvement".
The remaining eight have been described as "in need of major intervention".
Indicators of the basic principles include, a national integrated abattoir system; hazard and critical control point analysis (HACCP) is mandatory in abattoirs; traceability system for animals and adequately enabled veterinary divisions.
About seven abattoirs satisfy the required minimum standards with six being private and only one public owned (KSAC), the report states.
Pig production is operating with some advantages that will make the value chain model and the supporting policy regime successful, stated the report recently released by the Rural Economic Development Initiative (REDI), a project of the Jamaica Social Investment Fund and the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries.
Jamaican jerk may be the ticket to driving export in the industry.
"We are trying to register the concept of jerk," Panton said. "Once anybody labels their product jerk, we want it to be at least 75 per cent Jamaican."
It could be the type of seasonings used.
Then, there are certain pork products that the chief technical officer said could be exported.
But, that is dependent on the market demand.
Since pork is not a heavily traded international commodity, Jamaica's target export markets would be the Caribbean and South American markets.
But international trade in pork in Jamaica is only translated through imports.
Major imports of pork products into Cricom market are: bacon, bellies, sausages, pigs' tail, trotters, ham, and luncheon meats.
Importation is a result of market influence, products that the local farmers can't produce, is bought from foreign markets.
The imported pig's belly, which ends up as bacon, is needed for the hotel and tourism sectors.
If local producers are to supply to the tourism sector, they would have to get more efficient, Panton said.
The report said that a key challenge is making Jamaican pork products a more competitive choice against other meats, especially chicken.
Increased consumption of the pork is ideal.
"We don't expect the non-pork eaters to start eating it, the market of pork lovers will just have to be expanded," he said.
The local industry must get to that stage, where the pork is highly marketed, and the sector can generate the returns, according Panton.
Stephanie Hutchinson-Ffrench, programme manager of REDI said that the study differs from previous and existing studies on the pork industry undertaken by the ministry in that it goes beyond merely taking a census of pig farmers (those with five or more pigs) to include recommendations to exploit the value-added possibilities of pork, as well as forecasting the industry to facilitate long-term planning.