Fortune Poto, a farmer from Bela-Bela in Limpopo, built up her small-scale piggery from a modest start. The national lockdown restrictions, which have hit many businesses hard, gave her the break she needed and put her in a prime position to grow her venture. Less than a year on, she aims to now become a fully-fledged commercial farmer soon!
The national lockdown imposed by government at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic gave 29-year-old Fortune Poto the time and the opportunity to run with her piggery business. The planned project had been delayed for years by Fortune’s busy work schedule.
However, when President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the hard lockdown in March last year, Fortune and her family moved from their home in Pretoria to their farm outside BelaBela. “We wanted the space and the freedom to spend time outdoors, because in the city we wouldn’t have been allowed to move beyond the walls of our properties,” she recalls.
FARMING AND FAMILY
Fortune’s parents are entrepreneurial – her mother works in the real-estate sector and her father in logistics, with Fortune having followed in his footsteps.
“When I left school in 2009, I started working with my dad at the company. The business lets fleet cars to various operations, including municipalities,” she explains.
In 2018 her father bought a 36ha farm in Bela-Bela with the idea of farming livestock. “My dad grew up in Zebediela in Limpopo, and his family ran livestock, so it was a natural move for him,” says Fortune.
The farm was acquired with an existing small piggery. “My dad bought a few cattle, sheep, goats and chickens. I decided to buy the eight pigs that, at the time, were looked after by the previous manager, who stayed on,” she says.
“Everything produced on the farm – eggs, chicken, pork and lamb – was for home consumption.” She dreamt of expanding the piggery but, with a busy job that took up most of her time, her dream kept taking a back seat.
During the family’s first week on the farm, one of the pigs farrowed (gave birth) and Fortune was there to experience it all. “I even assisted with the birth. I knew then that I wanted to farm pigs full time,” she says. She began to research the local pig industry and discovered that South Africa is a net importer of pork.
“This meant there were opportunities for new entrants. There is also an insignificant number of young black farmers, especially women, in the industry.”
To date Fortune has grown her operation to 57 breeding sows. “Except for boars, I am not buying in more breeding stock. I select gilts [young females] from my own animals,” she says. Her aim is to produce a quality product with less fat and more meat. In order to achieve this, she wants only the best animals with a good feed-conversion rate.
“At first we had the Large White breed, which is highly prolific and an efficient feed utiliser. Large White boars have an average weight of 300kg to 450kg, and the sows average between 250kg and 350kg,” says Fortune. The breed has good carcass quality and is known as an excellent bacon producer.
After further research she decided to cross her Large White sows with a Duro boar to improve existing traits. The Duroc, according to her, is a hardier breed – these pigs take less strain under stress, are efficient, economical feeders and have a good growth rate.
“The Duroc crossed with the traditional white breed is a successful combination. The offspring grows exceptionally well and feeds efficiently, remaining lean at a higher slaughter weight of 105kg to 120kg.”
Fortune supplies a butchery in Polokwane on a weekly basis and has established her own informal market in Pretoria.
“We supply about 10 full carcasses to the butchery and between two and four carcasses to our household clients,” she says. An abattoir in neighbouring Modimolle slaughters the animals at a live weight of between 75kg and 101kg.
“We’re planning to open a butchery in Pretoria to cater for a wider market. Research shows that the pork market is growing and is not being exploited fully. The shisa nyama market has huge potential, as the demand
for pork keeps growing in the townships.”
Yet scaling up the business comes with challenges, Fortune admits. “A growing number of breeding pigs means we have reached our housing capacity. We need to increase the capacity and improve the standard of our units for commercial production,” she explains.
Her goal is to expand into a commercial 300-sow unit. Although she believes the farm has the space and the water for the increased capacity, the big challenge – one that is common among many black farmers – is raising the necessary capital.
But there is no doubt that Fortune’s business savvy, determination and problem-solving skills will help her overcome the hurdles to achieve success and profitable growth.