No land for this promising pig farmer

Ivan Cloete started farming with pigs in Blackheath near Cape Town seven years ago.

Before committing himself to pig farming, he did some research and visited the area. “I could see the small farmers who had already settled here were struggling. There was no infrastructure, no running water and the farmers were battling to establish a functioning association,” says Ivan, who ran his own flower shop at the time.

“But I felt these problems could be overcome and I believed pig farming would be a good business opportunity.”However, only after he’d taken the plunge, did he realise he had a major problem.

“The land belongs to the state and the farmers haven’t been able to get ownership of it or secure a long-term lease,” he explains.

And to get funding from government you have to either own the land or have a long-term lease. Ivan points to a mountain of paperwork. Seven years of correspondence with various government departments haven’t brought him one step closer to securing that lease.

“I’ve pleaded with more people than I care to remember,” he says. “I have so many letters here saying our lease application will be finalised within weeks, but they’ve all been empty promises. Just when you think you’re gaining ground, the case is moved to a new department, or the administration changes, and the whole process has to start all over again.”

Ivan says the farmers feel the state is holding them hostage by not granting them ownership or at least a long-term lease. “Without that we can’t get funding,” he says. “Without funding we can’t progress. We struggle and it feels as if we’re stuck in the mud like the pigs.”

He says he understands certain requirements have to be adhered to, and he expected it to take some time for the lease to be granted, but this is ridiculous.

“We read about government promising to help black farmers, but when you approach them with a reasonable request, nothing happens. How do you explain that?”

Production challenges
Ivan has an 18-sow unit and two stud boars, and farms with about 135 pigs. He benefited from the courses held by the South African Pork Producers Organisation (SAPPO), but he doesn’t have the resources to put what he learnt into practise.

“It’s very frustrating knowing that if I had the money I could implement better production practices that would help me produce better-quality pigs. My dream is to move from an emerging to a commercial farmer,” he says.

In 2005, SAPPO gave emerging pig farmers the opportunity to buy top genetic weaners from commercial farmers at reduced prices, and Ivan took advantage of this. However, the offer only lasted for three months and was a once-off proposition.

Ivan bought 15 weaners and six sows. With some support and guidance from SAPPO, he raised these pigs on quality feed and in proper housing. They were then sold to Winelands Pork and were rated as export quality.

After this, pig feed became more expensive. Ivan couldn’t get access to more top-quality weaners and he hasn’t been able to sell his pigs to a commercial abattoir since then. Currently, he only sells pigs to informal traders.

“But this proves I have the ability to produce the same quality as any commercial pig farmer, I just don’t have the same resources,” he insists.

Ivan says he’s tried to buy good-quality weaners from commercial farmers, but when they do have some available, he can’t afford it.

Why new farmers struggle

Ivan says emerging farmers struggle to become successful due to the lack of infrastructure, such as proper housing, drainage and roads, and access to water. Then there’s a lack of good genetics and long-term lease agreements.

“Our production systems also run slower and are therefore less profitable than on commercial farms,” he adds.

“On my farm it takes 480 days from conception until marketable or slaughter-size pigs can be sold. On commercial farms it takes only 265 days. I don’t have the same facilities.”

But Ivan refuses to give up. “I have goals and I’m determined to achieve them,” he says. “However, there’s no way we’ll be able to farm sustainably if we don’t get some form of assistance from government and the industry.”

Contact Ivan Cloete on 082 472 6282 or [email protected].