From the Editor

Cate DeweyLeaving the ivory tower

Researchers are accused of never leaving the ivory tower - spending their lives focused on topics not relevant to the "real" world. This accusation is likely often true. Teaching, committee work, and writing manuscripts take time, keeping university professors from the field. However, it is immensely satisfying to answer research questions that are burning in the minds of swine producers and veterinary practitioners and then to see results being used in the field. Most manuscripts in this issue apply directly to field questions. As an example, Hoogland et al1 describe the association between vaccine adjuvants and replication of porcine circovirus type 2. Hopefully, this will help with PMWS problems in the field.

My trip to Kenya illustrated the need to go to the field. I had read about the association between human neurocysticercosis and pig management. Yet, with my vision of pork production in Canada, it did not seem possible to write a research proposal that would add new information to the current body of knowledge. We know that people are the definitive hosts for Taenia solium and that pigs are intermediate hosts. Pigs consume Taenia solium eggs in human feces, the eggs develops into cysts in the muscle of the pig, and inside that cyst (cysticerci), the head or scolex of the tapeworm develops. A person consumes undercooked pork, ingesting the cyst, which then develops into a tapeworm. A few weeks later, the tapeworm sheds approximately 50,000 eggs per day. If a person ingests tapeworm eggs, they migrate to the person's nervous tissue, causing neurocysticercosis. This condition presents as epilepsy, chronic headaches, or paraplegia. From my ivory tower, control and eradication of this problem seemed simple: keep pigs away from human feces, cook pork well, and don't eat pork with visible cysts.

Life is not simple, and for the people in the western province of Kenya, life is difficult. Most live on less than one dollar a day, and 29% of adults are HIV-positive. Median age is 18 years and life expectancy is 47 years. There are more than a million AIDS orphans in Kenya, many of whom live in the western province. Livestock can provide a way out of poverty. If a family can buy chickens or a pig, then they can sell eggs, chicks, or piglets. Having a piglet to sell allows a family to send a child to school or pay for medication. Therefore, livestock ownership is very important. Just before school terms begin, pig buyers travel among farms purchasing pigs. Pig farmers have no means of weighing their pigs. The livestock extension personnel believe that pig buyers take advantage of the pig farmers by not paying for a pig's full weight. In many households in western Kenya, one or two adults care for 10 to 14 AIDS orphans. Last year, each person was given a Landrace-Large White piglet by the Danish government. The staple foods of these people are maize (corn), beans, millet, sweet potato, and cassava. Some pigs get kitchen scraps and cassava peels, while others are given no food. I think pigs could be given corn stalks, bruised fruit, banana peels, or fish innards without impacting the food available to the people.

Imagine a home with one 45-year-old woman, 12 AIDS orphans, one mud hut, an outhouse collapsed on itself, one sow, and six nursing piglets. The sow is tethered to a bush where she eats grass, dirt, and leaves. The piglets run loose. There is a small plot of land cultivated by hand. The nearest water is 2 km away. The family does not appear to have enough food, and the children's clothes are torn and ragged. Of the 12 children, nine are old enough for school, but there is only enough money for four of them to attend. School costs $40 a year ($CAN). I visited this home to collect pig management data and to examine the sow for evidence of cysticercosis. When we were done, the woman thanked us for coming and said "May God go with you."

Out of the ivory tower, the cysticercosis and pig-rearing problems loom enormous. What would your research project in Kenya look like? Briefly, I intend to do the following:

  • Interview farmers to determine the feeds available and constraints to feeding the pigs;
  • Measure and weigh the pigs to determine their weight by age and compare weights between those fed and those that scrounge, and provide measuring tapes for farmers to estimate pig weight at sale;
  • Conduct an education program for all farmers about cysticercosis and hygiene and then teach half of the farmers about feeding their pigs;
  • Visit the farms 6 months later to see if farmers who were educated about pig feeding were more likely to feed their pigs than those not told about pig feeding;
  • Again compare weights of pigs by feeding management.

During both visits, we will examine the pigs for cysticercosis. Ultimately, the aim will be to increase the value of the pigs through feeding, which will hopefully reduce poverty levels and perhaps increase the proportion of children who attend school. Personally, I will also rebuild the outhouse that has fallen down and raise money to help more AIDS orphans attend school. Good thing I left the ivory tower!


1. Hoogland MJ, Opriessnig T, Halbur PG. Effects of adjuvants on porcine circovirus type 2-associated lesions. J Swine Health Prod. 2006;14:133-139.

-- Cate Dewey