Mampe Mmeregi always dreamt of owning her own farm one day. Her aspirations, however, seemed far-fetched, as there were little to no agricultural activities in the concrete jungle of Johannesburg, Gauteng, where she lived and worked.
As a result, Mmeregi substituted her farming ambition for a career in administration, working for the Gauteng Department of Education for 24 years. Eleven years ago a realisation sparked an entirely new chapter in her life when Mmeregi resigned and wholeheartedly pursued her farming dream.
Today she farms with pigs, crops, soya beans and hay. She also owns and runs an AgriSeta-accredited agricultural training school on her 214-hectare farm in Gauteng. This gutsy 60-year-old believes, “If you want to be recognised in this industry, three things are required. Quantity, quality and common sense.”
A dream comes true
Mmeregi first put on her agricultural boots when she was groomed for free by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forrestry (DAFF) back in 2006. She formed part of a cohort of Gauteng women that were trained on commonage land by the department. There, Mmeregi farmed with five pigs and five goats until 2009, when she finally received land through the Proactive Land Acquisition Strategy (PLAS).
“There’s a lot of restrictions when you farm on commonage land. It was a great start for me, but I needed to grow my pig farming business,” Mmeregi explains.
Her enthusiasm for the animal was sparked when she realised that goat farming wasn’t all that easy. “Sometimes the goats would run away and feed on the grass of neighbouring farms. I’m elderly, I don’t have time to run after animals,” she says.
“Those goats were just out of order. They would run around and go into my neighbour’s yard and eat their things. There were days the shepherd would spend an entire day running after the goats. At times I felt sorry for him,” she laughs.
“Don’t spoil your good name by selling things you yourself would not consume. Quality will always drive your business,” Mmeregi believes.
In 2012, Mmeregi decided to focus her attention more on pig farming. She invested in 100 pigs right after The Department of Land Reform built two pig shelters on her property. She was again gifted with three more shelters and bought an additional 150 pigs.
The farm is home to 252 pigs, sheep, goats, cows and also produces hay and vegetables. Last year Mmeregi’s farm harvested 30 tons of maize, which she sold to AFGRI.
“I sell the pigs to Devon Meat Wholesalers and the sheep, goats and vegetables to members of the public,” she explains.
‘Don’t spoil your good name’
But do not be misled, this astute farmer’s journey hasn’t been all flowers and sunshine. She has faced mechanical challenges with implements and suffered from stock theft. Between February and November, Mmeregi lost more than 30 cows, leaving her with only three!
“I’m not even sure if one can call it theft, because it’s as if I left my gate open for people to freely help themselves to my animals,” she exclaims with disappointment.
In the 14 years that Mmeregi has been a farmer she has learnt many lessons, some more costly than others. But the farmer believes it is hard work and great ethics that has brought her this far.
Mmeregi says a farmer should be known for their quality. “Don’t spoil your good name by selling things you yourself would not consume. Quality will always drive your business,” she explains.
Speaking from experience, Mmeregi advises young farmers not to waste their profits on things they do not need.
“70% of your earnings must go back into the farm and 30% can go to you. That is how you’ll grow in this industry,” Mmeregi believes.
It is this approach to farming that cemented Mmeregi’s second runner up position in the Agri Business Woman of the Year competition in 2011 and first runner up in 2013. Last year she was announced as the winner of the Gauteng Female Entrepreneur Awards in the Top Entrepreneur: Commercial Farmer category.
Winning the awards led to Mmeregi’s farm being developed for five years with assistance from the AFGRI Harvest Time Investment Farmer Development Programme. The development programme assisted with implements and helped with increasing production. The business has also been able to employ ten permanent staff members.
Temaretha Agriculture Training School
The award-winning farmer says it warms her heart to be recognised by the industry. However, she admits to there being no greater feeling than the delight she finds in sharing her agricultural knowledge with younger farmers. Which is what encouraged Mmeregi to start an agricultural training school in 2017.
“I realised that a lot of people have an interest in agriculture, but lack training and support. I wanted to teach people, especially the young ones,” she says.
Her AgriSeta-accredited school, Temaretha Agriculture Training School, trains learners and exposes them to various parts of pig farming. From building shelters, feeding processes, health and medication to business insights and understanding the market.
“We also train farmers in animal production 1 and 2 as well as plant 1. They even get free motivation,” Mmeregi jokes.
When the passionate farmer is not training her students and building her farming empire, she continues to dream. Now Mmeregi envisions developing the school into a college with dorms where students can stay. She says there are not enough agricultural institutions in Mzansi and wants to be part of the group of people who brings change in the industry.