Yoseph A. Kelen, Jakarta – A government official has urged caution on meat imports from Timor Leste following an outbreak of African swine fever in the state bordering Indonesia's eastern province of East Nusa Tenggara.
Six districts in the province – Belu, Malaka, North Central Timor, South Central Timor, Kupang and Alor – are engaged in extensive meat trade with Timor Leste, which the government fears could facilitate the spread of the virus to Indonesia.
East Nusa Tenggara is predominantly Christian and home to the largest pig population in Muslim-dominated Indonesia.
"The governor has issued a circular asking all regions to be vigilant against the entry of the African swine fever virus from the territory of Timor Leste, especially districts that border directly with Timor Leste," Dani Suhadi, head of the East Nusa Tenggara husbandry department, said on Friday.
He appealed to residents of the six districts not to bring in processed meat or frozen pork from Timor Leste, even though prices may be much lower.
"The processed meat includes not only pork, but all other types of livestock, to prevent the spread of the virus to the East Nusa Tenggara region," Dani said.
The virus, known as ASF, was first detected in Timor Leste on Sept. 9, leading to the local government culling hundreds of pigs, according to a report by Pig Progress. The African swine fever virus has been ravaging Asia over the past 12 months and has been responsible for wiping out half of China's pig population.
Vietnam, the Philippines and South Korea reported earlier this year that the virus had already reached their shores.
Dani said the government had tightened inspections at border crossing points and intensified efforts by animal quarantine centers to contain any animals coming from Timor Leste.
"We are taking various preventative steps, because there is no vaccine to stop the deadly virus from infecting piglets," Dani said.
Semuel Rebo, second assistant of East Nusa Tenggara's regional secretary, said officials had taken samples of pigs belonging to farmers in several areas for laboratory tests. Fortunately, to date, there had been no signs of livestock affected by the virus.
"Although there have been no reports of ASF cases, we must be vigilant, because East Nusa Tenggara directly borders Timor Leste," Semuel said.
"Almost every time the people of East Nusa Tenggara and Timor Leste meet, whether family or traditional affairs, it involves pork. The meat is commonly consumed by people in these two regions, so prevention must be done early," he said.
There were an estimated 2.1 million pigs in East Nusa Tenggara in 2018, which accounted for about a quarter of the total in Indonesia, according to the Central Statistics Agency (BPS). Most of the province's pigs are bred in backyard farms.
Lukas, a pig farmer in the provincial capital Kupang, said he became more anxious after hearing about the virus in the media.
"We feel anxious and helpless, because an antidote to swine fever is not yet available. We just pray, ask for help from God Almighty to intervene through the officials... who are in charge at this time, so that East Nusa Tenggara will not be affected by the ASF virus," he said.