African swine fever: diagnostics, surveillance, epidemiology and control

Helping smallholder farmers reduce risk and increase income

African Swine Fever (ASF) is a devastating emerging disease of pigs that is present in more than 20 countries in Africa. ASF is highly contagious and causes almost 100% mortality in pig herds. Although ASF does not cause infection in people, it impacts on the livelihoods of farmers, and others who trade pigs and pork, through loss of income and food. 



A minimum estimate of the number of pig deaths in Africa due to ASF in 2009 was 96,800, although this figure is conservative, due to lack of accurate data. ASF also compromises the potential for growth in pork production to help meet Africa’s protein needs and raise farmers’ income levels in those areas of Africa where pork is a popular food. 

African swine fever virus, the causative agent of ASF, is a highly stable DNA virus that can survive under a wide range of temperatures and pH levels. It is easily disseminated over broad geographical areas through the movement of infected pigs or contaminated pork products.  The virus has multiple transmission cycles.  It is transmitted between domestic pigs when they are in contact with each other and is also transmitted from warthogs to domestic pigs (probably via ticks) in eastern and southern Africa. The role of other wild pig species, (particularly the bushpig) found in the project’s geographical focus, remains less understood.  

Swill (pig feed) that contains products produced from infected pigs and farm feeds contaminated by faecal waste from infected pigs also spreads the disease to other pigs. When infected with virulent genetic types of the virus, most pigs die quickly with very few visual signs of illness.

How will the project contribute to research and development for Africa?

This project will help to design incentives and other actions that will reduce the risks and impact of ASF, benefiting smallholder farmers in more than 20 countries in eastern, central, western and southern Africa.  Currently there is no reliable data on total numbers of farmers affected in Africa; this project will provide a better understanding of the impacts for Uganda and Kenya. 

The project’s primary geographical focus is in the border region of eastern Uganda and western Kenya.  Most people who keep pigs in this region have small mixed farms on which pig-keeping is often an initiative and responsibility of women and youth.  A relatively high proportion of women are household heads in the region because mortality due to HIV/Aids has been higher amongst men.

This project led by the BecA-ILRI Hub in collaboration with CSIRO and funded by AusAID enables an interdisciplinary team of scientists, working with national veterinary officers and ministry staff in Uganda and Kenya, to obtain an in-depth understanding of:

  • the prevalence and genetic diversity of the virus,
  • socio-economic impact,
  • and modes of transmission and spread.

The project team will develop a full picture of how ASF is transmitted based on data obtained from pig blood samples, pig-keeping households and other people involved in the pig market chain.  Technologies being used in the project also bring new capability for rapid and accurate diagnosis of infected pigs.

What’s new about this project for Africa is that it combines social and economic research with biological surveillance of viral prevalence and diversity to understand better how the virus spreads.

Household surveys of pig keepers and information from other people in the market chain (eg pig butchers and traders) will enable the project team to learn about the impact of the disease and how pig keeping and trading practices impact on ASF infection and transmission dynamics.

The project will also provide an understanding of farmers’ capacity to adopt simple biosecurity measures –such as restricting access to pigs to all but essential workers, changing or disinfecting footwear on entry and exit to pig production facilities and reducing risks from feed sources –that could reduce the impact of the disease on their own livelihood and in the broader community.  Information about these simple measures is not currently readily available to smallholder farmers; the project team will disseminate appropriate information sheets in local languages when conducting household surveys.

Research partners:

  • Biosciences eastern and central Africa - International Livestock Research Institute Hub (BecA-ILRI Hub)
  • Makerere University, Kampala Uganda
  • Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industries and Fisheries (MAAIF), Uganda
  • Ministry of Livestock Development (Department of Veterinary Services (DVS)), Kenya
  • CISA_INIA:  FAO and EU ASF Reference Centre - Madrid, Spain
  • Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), Australia

Linkages with important African and international institutions:

The project is developing increasingly strong linkages with the FAO-ECTAD (the rapid response trans-boundary disease division of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization) and AU-IBAR (the livestock science division of the African Union).

These ties are important to ensure that the project results inform policy and control of ASF at the pan-African scale. 

PhD candidates supported within the project:

  • PhD candidates fully supported by AusAID:
  • Edward Okoth (BecA-ILRI Hub) - registered at University of Nairobi, Kenya
  • Mike Barongo (Makerere University) - registered at University of Pretoria, South Africa

PhD candidates receiving initial support from AusAID:

  • Noelina Nantima (MAAIF Uganda) - registered  at  Makerere University, Uganda
  • Jacqueline Kasiti (DVS Kenya) - registered at University of Nairobi, Kenya   

Project contact: Dr Richard Bishop: r dot bishop at cgiar dot org or Dr Edward Okoth: e dot okoth at cgiar dot org




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