Across Africa, agri-entrepreneurs are reaping the returns from small-scale and low-cost pig production. © Sean Sprague/Alamy Stock Photo
While cultural and religious factors have historically limited demand for pork in Africa, a number of young entrepreneurs are exploiting the many advantages of farming pigs, opening the door to a new and expanding African market. As a proportion of body mass, pigs yield much more meat than cattle, goats, and sheep, and cost little to feed when compared with other livestock. A sow’s gestation period is just under 4 months and an average litter is 10 piglets, which allows a single sow to produce 20-25 piglets in a year. In addition, piglets have a rapid growth rate and require little space for habitation. Small-scale operational set-up costs are also relatively low, with a few animals capable of producing large and fast returns; a single piglet, costing between €25 and €40, can reach a market value of up to €325 in 6-8 months.
Anna Phosa of Soweto, South Africa, is one such entrepreneur who is reaping the returns from pig production. Before Phosa was introduced to pig farming while visiting a friend, she previously only made a living from a small chicken and vegetable farm, “I started loving it – if you can do chicken farming, then why not pigs?” asks Phosa who, in 2004, invested €67 (ZAR 845) to buy four pigs. Within 6 years, Phosa’s operation had grown exponentially as she was contracted by South African supermarket giant, ‘Pick ‘n’ Pay,’ in 2006 to supply its stores with 10 pigs per week. This quickly rose to 20 pigs per week and, by 2010, a new contract required Phosa to supply 100 pigs per week over a 5-year period.
To meet the demands of the new contract, Phosa sought additional funding which she received from ABSA Bank and USAID. The financial support of €980,000 (ZAR 14.6 million) allowed her to purchase a 350 ha farm, with the capacity to raise almost 4,000 pigs at a time, and to employ 20 staff. “A market was created for Phosa via Pick ‘n’ Pay,” explains Sisa Ntshona, head of Enterprise Development at ABSA. “On the back of that market we were able to fund her. We didn’t approach this in the normal sense of using collateral security, because Phosa just didn’t have any – and that is representative of entrepreneurs throughout the country.”
In contrast to Phosa’s larger operation, Augusta Thomas farms just 3 ha on South Africa’s West Coast. Twenty years ago, Thomas started with only two piglets but now runs a 10-sow operation, which allows her to feed her family and provide for other community members. With a focus on “good-quality produce and low input costs”, Thomas asserts that the simplest way to make money from pig production is by selling weaners to informal buyers for household consumption. In true entrepreneurial spirit, Thomas also has a few cost-mitigating techniques: to keep feeding costs to a minimum, she collects wheat by-products from local farmers that are usually discarded. These are soaked for 12 hours before being cooking into a porridge, which makes it easier for the pigs to digest. She also sells pig manure for €0.7 (ZAR 10.45) per 10 kg bag, or exchanges it for fruit and vegetable waste to provide additional nutrients to the pigs’ diet.
Like Thomas, Ugandan farmer Rachel Mubiru started out with a small poultry farm before trying her hand with pigs. Beginning with local breeds, Mubiru noticed the potential for exotic breeds – like the Landrace and Largewhite – to grow faster and ultimately much larger, and thus sell for higher prices on the market. Exploiting the demand for these pig breeds, Mubiru’s profitable farm maintains a parent stock of 10 pigs.
Phosa, Thomas and Mubiru are all entrepreneurs who, beginning with a small-scale, low-cost operation, have gone on to run successful pig farming operations with very different business models. To those considering taking up pig production, Phosa advises that, “It is good to start small. But, like any business, it takes time to establish a successful pig farm. To succeed, you must have passion in what you do, and a willingness to take a hands-on role within the business.”