Indigenous pigs management, experiences from the upland areas of West Papua

Freddy Pattiselanno

West Papuan natives who occupied the remote areas (coastal and upland areas) are commonly relies on “the blessing of nature”. The chief livelihood of community members is subsistence agriculture, including slash and burn practices, forest gathering, harvesting and subsistence hunting.  An agriculture form of shifting cultivation is often practiced from their ancestors due to nomadic practices up to the present time.  Traditionally, conventional livestock raised by the natives Papua are chicken, pig and cattle. Among these animals, pigs are the most highly animals, both socially and culturally in West Papua society.

Pigs as valuable animals

The natives West Papua farmers practice multiple-purposes, extensive methods of animal production for income generating.  Those who run small farm acknowledge more benefits in raising animals particularly pigs:

  • Relatively stable prices and tend to increase from time to time
  • Provide low input of labor because all family members are involving
  • Consider as capitals that can be used in emergencies
  • Utilize natural resources (tree leaves, grass, rice straw) and other form of agriculture waste product
  • Provide potential fertilizer for home gardens, coming from animals manure

Even in the modern Papua times, pigs still considered as the most highly valuable because of: as prolific animals (more benefits obtained from the piglets), culturally, raising pigs reflected social status of the owners, believed as sacral animals (using in most of cultural and traditional ritual activities), exploited as “bride price” or (also known as bride wealth in anthropological literature) and used as exchange tools.

Traditional pigs management

In fact, most of households who raised pigs rarely place these animals in pens but much more apply the free-ranging style around the house and garden.  Those who live far from the main village, or on the edge of the forest give chance for female domestic pigs to mate with wild boar. People believe the offspring of such mixtures are more aggressive and are stronger than pure domestic pigs in terms of immunity to diseases, finding food and reproduction.

Others, allowed pigs sleep in the owners’ houses, particularly around the kitchen near the cooking area from domestic firewood.  Sometimes pregnant sows receive priority attention and good quality food and shelter within the caretakers’ houses.

In other minority cases, pigs are confined in small pens built from wood or bamboo.

However, some raised them within a backyard farming system, fenced in and in closed proximity to the house. Their diets consist of both cooked and uncooked kitchen and household leftovers such as rice, vegetables and root crops. Sometimes the owner feed the pigs with sweet potato, cassava or other tuber crops.

Domesticated pigs in the central highlands of Papua New Guinea obtaining a major part of their food from foraging.  While in Papua, Indonesia, 89% of highlanders fed their pigs with sweet potato, and only 11% cassava. In general fodder means cultivated items fed to pigs, while forage in the New Guinea context refers to items located and eaten by pigs themselves.

Integrated pigs-root crops system management

Due to most of the time are spent in the agriculture land site, to ease handling pigs are placed simple pens as shelter in agricultural plots.  It is expected that the animals be more closely to the source of food. During harvest period, some part of the plants is left as food sources for the pigs. For the new planting season, farmers search new areas, former land are left will be bared, fenced by gamal (Gliricidia sepium) as life-fencing for pigs inside and at the same time providing food for the ruminants.

When pigs are looking for food, they perform the dual function of maintaining the soil through digging (pig-dozer) and fertilizing the soil through its manure. After the fallow period (certain period), based on their experience the plot is ready to plant, and particular root crops such as kasbi (Manihot esculenta) and patatas (Ipomea batatas) will grow in the area prepared by pigs. This cycle will be continued from time to time along with the shifting cultivation practiced by local farmers.

Lesson learned from this indigenous knowledge practiced by the natives Papuan are:

  • Providing food sources for ruminants by planting gamas as life fencing
  • Free iron-wood are available for households (cooking purpose)
  • Left over of agriculture harvest utilized as food sources for pigs
  • Pigs are maintaining the soil through their function as pig-dozer
  • Supplying natural fertilizer from pigs manure to maintain the sterile agriculture land

Refer to the common practices from West Papuan natives the question needed to answer: Is it true that the shifting cultivation was unproductive and unsustainable?  For the future an integrated model between root-crops production and traditional pigs management is important to develop to increase income generation of local farmers. In 2001 for example, the International Potato Center (CIP), in collaboration with some Indonesia research institutions and the South Australian Agricultural Research Institute (SARDI) work on the study of poverty alleviation and food security through improving human-pig-sweet potato systems in Jayawijaya District of Papua Province. Agriculture land management by the implementation of fallow management through pigs utilization and economically forage planting is necessarily along with an effort to eliminate land degradation due to shifting cultivation practices.


Pattiselanno, F. 2004.  Babi, hewan ternak penggembur tanah. Majalah Pertanian Berkelanjutan Salam 6 Maret 2004: 14

Pattiselanno. F. 2004. Preliminary study on traditional pig raising by local communities at upland Kebar, Manokwari, West Papua. Suiform Soundings PPHSG Newsletter 4 (1): 19-20

Freddy Pattiselanno

Animal Production Laboratory

Faculty of Animal Science, Fishery and Marine Science

Universitas Negeri Papua

Manokwari, Papua Barat


Mail: PO BOX 153 Manokwari

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