Hard work and tenacity have turned a tiny enterprise into a flourishing commercial operation.
While running a piggery is difficult, with a bit of determination and hard work, making a profit from pigs is quite possible, as the People First Piggery co-operative has proven.
Every month, the People First Piggery co-operative in Rustenburg, North West, despatches approximately 160 pigs for slaughter, earning about R240 000 in the process. Considering that Petrus Lepota (54) started eight years ago with 15 indigenous pigs, this is quite an achievement.
“People thought of me as a person who loves to look after his family and take care of livestock,” he says.
Certainly, few would have guessed that he dreamed of switching from subsistence to commercial farming. But thanks to a good friend and a chance encounter with investors who were impressed with the duo’s passion, perseverance and ingenuity, that switch has been made – and with considerable success.
Eclesia Pele tends to the pigs. The piggery’s feed and other input bills come to about R58 000/week.
Petrus has had an interest in farming since he was a boy. But a difficult childhood saw him dropping out of school after completing Grade 11. Later, he enrolled at Tompi Seleka College of Agriculture in Limpopo, but could not afford the fees.
He went on to work at Rainbow Chicken, where he stayed until being retrenched 15 years later.
Trying to find a way to support himself and his family, he met up with Ambrose Magomarele (58), and the two discovered that they shared a similar interest in livestock. In 2006, the two paired up and invested R2 600 in 15 indigenous pigs.
Petrus recalls how they worked and slept in the abandoned municipal offices they had turned into a piggery to reduce expenses.
“We used to feed our pigs with leftover food from the mines,” he adds.
He and Ambrose realised that to start making money they had to improve the productivity of their animals. At the time, though, achieving this goal seemed to be “an insurmountable journey”.
Even Petrus’s wife, Frieda, who was always supportive of his efforts, was sceptical about his ability to take the next big step.
In 2010, while appealing to a local mine for leftover food to feed the pigs, Petrus and Ambrose met officials from Anglo American Platinum.
They were impressed by the pair’s industriousness, and details were exchanged. Petrus and Ambrose then applied to Anglo American Platinum for financial assistance and the company injected approximately R5 million into the piggery.
The money was used for the construction of a proper piggery on a 14ha piece of land and to purchase 640 pigs, among other things.
The two men were then joined by five women – Frieda, Eclesia Pele, Christina Ngoako, Nyanisi Chiromo and Mokgaetsi Magomarele – and the People First Piggery co-operative was born.
“We’ve not yet shared in the proceeds, we only get stipends. Decisions on finances are taken at our meetings,” says Petrus.
In collaboration with the Small Enterprise Development Agency (SEDA), Anglo American Platinum provided training for the co-op members.
They were taught new farming and pig management techniques, including quality control, business development and administration.
SEDA has also shown them how to commercialise their farming activities and turn the piggery into an income- generating operation. Meanwhile, there has been a trickle-down effect, with the local community also benefiting.
“Our success has created awareness within the community that, with hard work, anyone can start their own business and be a success,’’ says Petrus.
Ambrose, who manages the marketing side of the business, says the co-operative has already gained a reputation for quality.
“When I phone potential customers and they ask about the quality of our livestock, all I have to say is, ‘I’m from the People First Piggery’, and the deal is done because we are well-known for our great quality,” he says.
The co-op’s primary market is still local abattoirs and butcheries, but the members are looking for more lucrative outlets elsewhere in South Africa.
The four concrete-floored pigpens can hold 640 weaners at a time. The co-op does not breed its own pigs, but buys white and Landrace piglets that have reached 18kg to 24kg, and grows them out to a minimum of 65kg before selling.
“We feed them weaner feed for two weeks, and then grower feed until we take them to market,” says Petrus. People First Piggery spends about R58 000/week on feed and other inputs. Stipends (not salaries) of R1 700/month are paid to each member.
Petrus explains that farmers who are on the brink of becoming commercial producers like him receive intensive mentorship from the South African Pork Producers’ Organisation (Sappo).
“As part of the Sappo mentorship programme, Dr Koos Botha, a vet, keeps a close watch on the disease status of the units and regularly visits us,” he says.
People First Piggery already has plans to start breeding its own pigs. According to Petrus, this will increase profits and allow the co-op to employ more people. This sentiment is echoed by Dikago Mathule, community development manager at Anglo American Platinum.
“We have to look at what the ultimate goal of this type of empowerment is. In essence, we want to create sustainable businesses that will create employment in areas where people are struggling,’’ he says.
Looking ahead, Petrus says that a shortage of butchery skills is one of the challenges faced by the pig farming industry. Pork sales, as a percentage of the meat basket, are small and, more disturbingly, on the decline.
But the main challenge for new entrants, Petrus says, is finding a way of converting basic, informal pig-keeping operations into profitable commercial enterprises.
This, he explains, is hampered by high initial capital costs and subsequent high maintenance and feed expenditure.
Moreover, pig farmers need to look for new or alternative markets to increase the country’s per capita pork consumption if they wish to sustain profitability.
His final word of advice to aspirant farmers is drawn from his own experience: “Never let your current situation determine your future!”
Phone Petrus Lepota on 083 478 1694 and Ambrose Magomarele on 073 531 8530, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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