The business of pork

The business of pork

LemohangRakotsoane

MASERU

 

WHEN Lebaka Makana and Rethabile Mohapeloa quit their jobs in 2012 to focus on a piggery project some people thought they had lost their minds. The friends had decent jobs.

Mohapeloa was an administrative manager at a car dealership in Maseru while Makana was managing a lodge in Morija. For years they had dreamt of starting their own business.

So in 2010 they started contributing a portion of their salaries to start a piggery. Although they had not done much by way of market research, they were confident that they would succeed.

And for some time it seemed like they had correctly read the market. With hindsight they now admit that the only reason they thought they were doing well was because they were still earning their salaries.

The money from the piggery was merely an additional income. Trouble started in 2012 when they quit their jobs to focus on the business. Suddenly the piggery project was their only source of livelihood.

To earn more they needed to produce more pigs. After slaughtering six of their 20 pigs they realised that they did not have a market for the meat. The people who had promised to buy from them were not forthcoming.

“Before slaughtering them, a lot of people had shown interest in buying meat from us but after slaughtering all of a sudden everyone had bought meat from elsewhere,” Makana says.

Without buyers they had to sell their meat cheap before it rot.

“That was a blow for us because we had spent three quarters of our salaries on the piggery thinking that soon we would have a thriving business,” he says.

“We had sacrificed our families’ money, left them with only enough to buy maize meal.Now we had to go back to them to negotiate more capital from the little they had.”

Soon they had gone through their savings.

“We learnt the hard way and we nearly threw in the towel at some point but we forged forward because we were determined not to fail but to achieve our dream”.

Makana admits they had made a blunder by keeping the pigs in two locations.

Makana was keeping some at Morija while Mohapeloa kept some in Mohale’s Hoek. That almost doubled their costs, wiping their already thin margins.

Eventually they were forced to move the animals to Morija to cut operating costs and to be near their buyers who are food vendors in Maseru.

“We had to put our thinking caps on. We could not go on producing and not being able to sell. We sat down and decided to create our own market and came to the conclusion that we should start our own butchery in Maseru,” Makana says.

They rented space next to Twisters Pub in Ha-Matala where they established Sharp Corner Butchery. The results of that move were instant.

“Creating our own market was the greatest step we took. Our pork sold out,” Makana says.

“We are only able to provide a quarter of the market’s needs and we import three quarters of our meat from South Africa”.

Though theylook like they are already living their dream the two men say they are still very far from getting where they want.

“There are obstacles to overcome and until we are able to satisfy our market we will not rest,” Makana says.

“We have a serious challenge with water.Because we are at the end of the village WASCO does not supply us with water,” he says.

“It is impossible to run this type of business without water. We have tried to make a borehole and failed three times but we won’t give up.We are going to make it the fourth time.”

Makana says because of the scarcity of water they buy 10 000 litres of water twice every week from WASCO”.

“Water is not expensive but the transport is”.

Another problem is that of land.

“We applied to the Makhoarane Council for extension of our land in 2014 but we did not get an answer until recently. The answer we got was that the land that we already have is more than enough”.

“We were disappointed with the answer the people who are supposed to be drivers of development gave us.They are the same ones rejecting the development. They didn’t even come to see what we were talking about, they just rejected our request,” he says.

Makana says the local government authorities like the Makhoarane Council should see that the piggery’s expansion will create more jobs for the community.

“So far the only land we have is that which we bought from our neighbours. Hopefully we will have enough money to buy most of the land in future”.

Like many other farming businesses, the recent drought has affected them.

“The food prices have escalated ridiculously but luckily our breed only eat 2kg per day,” he Makana.

According to Mohapeloa, the piggery still has a long way to go.

“We need to slaughter at least three pigs a day and 90 per month but we are far from that. If we can have 5000 pigs here at the piggery then we would be comfortable,” Mohapeloa says.

“Though we are not able to satisfy our market with our own meat the little that is available makes a huge difference especially during those times when meat is not available in South Africa,”adds Mohapeloa.

Mohapeloa says they started the piggery with large white and landrace pigs but later realised that they had a lot of fat and little meat.

“We bought a top pig and a duroc and ventured into cross breeding. The results were spectacular because it has leaner meat,” Mohapeloa says.

He further saysthey have also discovered that their bred pigs reach maturity quickly and eat less.

“By five or six months our pig already weighs 70-90kgsdespite eating about 2kg only per day,” Mohapeloa says.

Both partners urged Basotho to stop waiting for someone to give them funds to start working on their dreams.

“Usually people wait to have a lot of money before chasing their dreams. They expect to have M5million when they start,” Mohapeloa says.

He says there is nothing “as satisfying like seeing something that you started with nothing but sweat and passion grow on a daily basis and bringing you a step closer to your ultimate dream”.

“We had nothing but a dream and the determination to see it materialise into reality. As long as you have passion work hard and you will make it,” Mohapeloa says.

He adds that although they are still far from their ultimate goal they see light at the end of the tunnel.

“When we started the butchery we didn’t even have equipment. The only thing we had was a deep freezer and we had to slaughter about 15 pigs so that we could buy things like the display unit,” Mohapeloa says.

“I recall that we would take the meat to the next butchery to have it sliced because we didn’t have a slicing machine.Our challenges and struggles made us better,” he says.

“We have also learnt that experience is the biggest teacher. Learn as you go, start small and grow gradually.”

They have hired 20 permanent staff and two part time workers for both the piggery and the butchery. The farm has over 200 pigs.

Mohapeloa says they have also trained four people on the proper rearing of pigs and thereafter sold them piglets.

“We have a deal with them that they buy our piglets, rear them and then when they have piglets we buy those piglets and raise them ourselves. We do not want them to struggle like we did in terms of market but if they choose to do otherwise we let them do,” Mohapeloa says.

“We don’t buy pigs from anybody who does not know how to take care of them properly.Even those we sold our pigs, we monitor them to ensure that they are doing what we taught them, we cannot compromise the quality of our product”.

 

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