How Malisema Masheane traded fulltime job for pig farming
What started off as a backyard piggery project in Naleli, Maseru, a few years ago has now morphed into a fully-fledged pig farming venture – thanks to the efforts of an-minded family whose desire is to become of the big commercial pig producers in the country.
The story of Serumula Farm (Pty) Ltd is an epitome of how Basotho can be empowered to become employers in their own right instead of being employees. As a relatively young business, the farm has defied the odds to become one of the top breeding pig suppliers in the country despite a few limitations.
Situated at Sehlabeng sa Thuathe on the outskirts of Maseru CBD, Serumula Farm was established in 2015 after one of its directors Malisema Masheane decided she had had enough of a regular 8-to-5 job to focus on pig farming.
This was besides the fact that she has a Degree in Admin/Sociology from the National University of Lesotho (NUL) and Hons Degree in Sociology from the University of the Free State(UFS), South Africa. She also has post-graduate degree in Labour Law (Conciliation/Arbitration – NUL/UCT/UNAM).
Ironically, Masheane had worked at the Ministry of Employment for 25 years where she was responsible for labour relations issues in Government. She also worked at the Directorate of Dispute Prevention and Resolution (DDPR) as an arbitrator on labour issues for 10 years.
“When my fixed-term contract came to an end in 2015 I decided not to apply for renewal as I had already set my sight on farming. Although I did not have enough experience in pig farming, venturing into such a project was not too difficult as I grew up watching my mother raising pigs for domestic consumption at Lesobeng Ha Mohau in the Thaba-Tseka district,” she says.
However, Masheane equipped herself with enough knowledge about breeding pigs and taking care of them. She has also undergone a one-week training course at Baynesfield Training Academy (BTA) in KwaZulu Natal in 2019
Serumula Farm (Pty) Ltd was registered in early 2015 with the Registrar of Companies at the Ministry of Trade in early and embarked on a serious journey to become a medium sized commercial pig farming enterprise that it is.
“In December 2015 I was awarded a grant by the Smallholder Agriculture Development Project (SADP) to start a piggery business. I heard about the SADP in June 2015, so I applied for a grant amounting to around M300, 000 and I was successful,” Masheane says with excitement.
Now in its second phase and administered under the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security, SADP is a World Bank project that aims to assist smallholder farmers in Lesotho improve their yields through better farming methods. Small-scale farmers can apply for funding under SADP II and are also offered technical training and advice on the best way to develop their farming activities. With this funding Serumula Farm has managed to improve its operations.
“In 2016 we constructed a farrowing house called Malithethana (named after a stream flowing down my home village). We then started operations in April 2016 when we received 11 Camborough pigs (10 sows and one boar). These were our breeding stock from the Pig Breeding Company (PIC) in South Africa,” she says.
“When we started with 10 sows, we farrowed at least two sows per month. We later increased our farrowing scale from two to at least four sows per month, because people liked our pig breed, and the demand was high. We are now farrowing at least six sows per month and our target is to sell at least 60 piglets per month,” Masheane says proudly.
The zeal to even produce more piglets for breeding purposes culminated to a higher demand for piglets from other producers as well as for pork for meat from the butcheries. This meant that Serumula Farm had to be expanded further.
“In 2019 we constructed yet another farrowing house (named Liseleng - which is my husband’s home village) and it is mainly used for breeding purposes. I am currently breeding Camborough F1 (first generation) piglets and I am selling them to individuals who are interested in piggery business,” says the now very successful pig farmer.”
In the same year, her husband, who was formally employed also quit his fulltime job to joint her at the farm. The couple says they even want to expand further and go into commercial pig production on a larger scale given the availability of more land for expansion and funds.
Serumula farm currently employs two permanent workers and two casuals. Masheane says it is her wish to see young graduates coming straight from college to establish their own enterprises especially in the agricultural sector.
“Our dream is to have a commercial piggery business of a minimum of 250 sows. So our wish is to manage at least a 100 sow- unit in the next 5-10 years. We are currently operating a farrow - to - feeder type of business. We are focusing on maintaining sows for purposes of reproducing and selling piglets once weaned.
“Our plan is to have a farrow - to - finish type of business, where we will raise piglets from the day they are born until they are slaughtered. We are also thinking of building our own butchery facility where we will be able to sell our pork produce to the market,” says the ever-so-determined farmer.
Masheane however, agrees that pig farming in Lesotho is not without its challenges as they are, in fact, many but they can be overcome if farmers and the government come together to build a formidable industry that can counter imported pork from South Africa. She believes that only then can such challenges be surmounted.
Among the challenges that Masheane points out include the following:
High feed prices
We are dependent on imported animal feed as opposed to producing our own feed in the country. The long term solution will be to produce maize, soya beans and other grains so that we can do our own feed mixing to reduce feeding costs.”
Lack of abattoirs
There are no pig slaughtering facilities in the country, so we are not able to sell pork meat in the formal market. We still sell pork to friends, family and neighbors as well as to some street vendors but the large supermarkets and wholesalers still insist on pork meat from certified abattoirs that are all in South Africa.
I believe there is no political will from our Government to build slaughtering facilities, therefore the country imports tons of pork from outside the country. I think the only possible solution is for farmers to come together to build adequate and hygienic slaughtering facilities.
High cost of imported pig breeding stock
We are playing a major role in organizing the farmers to buy pig breeding stock from South Africa in order to share high import costs.
Lack of veterinary services support
The few veterinarians who are willing to visit our farms either have no vehicles to travel or have no drugs to treat the animals. We have to do intensive research to learn about common diseases in pigs and how to prevent them.
Lack of financial support
Our commercial banks are very hesitant to finance agricultural activities in the country. However, as Serumula Farm we have approached one of the well pronounced local banks (Lesotho Post Bank) and we were successful after proving to them that our company is creditworthy. It is our wish that other commercial banks can do likewise so that other farmers can do the same.
Lack of training
There are currently no training services in Pig Production Management in Lesotho. We have to travel to South Africa to do a Pig Production Management course. We have however decided hold some workshops to share our knowledge with other farmers locally.
Masheane also offers advice for people who want to venture into pig farming:
a) Pigs are very easy to farm and they have a high resistance to diseases.
b) They multiply really fast, as a single pig can give birth to 10 to 18 piglets in a single cycle. They give birth twice a year, so they can produce between 20 to 36 piglets in a single year.
c) They have a faster growth rate when compared with other livestock in the same category. They can reach market weight of 70 - 80kg in 6-7 months and they yield more meat at 70% edible meat when compared to other livestock.
d) Pig meat is very tasty. It is in high demand for grills, roast, smoke, spit braai and stir-fries – (Mokete o se nang pork ha se ona). For someone who may decide to venture into pork processing, other processed pig byproducts like ham, bacon, sausages or lard, there is a very good market worldwide.
e) Pig dung can also be used to fertilize and improve the nutrients of the soil to make it suitable for crops like maize, soya beans and other crops that can later be used to make the animal feed mix.
f) Pig farming can also create employment and contribute to the national economy.
“I strongly urge pig farmers to learn about pigs because pig farming is not as simple as some people think. Knowledge is power when put into good use, so people who are interested in pig farming should be willing to learn, to grow and to succeed in their business,” Masheane concludes.