Nthabiseng Mathebula has no regrets about joining her family’s pig production business after university. She is one of the extraordinary female farmers participating in the Corteva Women Agripreneur Programme 2021, a year-long blended development programme at the Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS) Entrepreneurship Development Academy (EDA).
Pig farmer Nthabiseng Mathebula’s journey into farming was both based on a lifelong passion for animals and a desire to contribute to her family’s goals. After she finished matric, she had intended on fulfilling her childhood dream of going to veterinary school. Instead, she settled on animal production.
“I generally had this love for animals growing up,” recalls the the 33-year-old farmer.
“My passion for animals is why I wanted to do veterinary sciences initially, but then, when my parents started the farm, it felt like it was sort of on time. I thought ‘ok, maybe you should do this type of course [animal production] to assist in the farm’. It was all part of it.”
Mathebula graduated from Tshwane University of Technology (TUT) in 2009 with a Bachelor of Technology (Btech). After completing a brief stint as an intern at a research company as well as within a government department, she joined the family business in 2011.
Ten years later, she is working as the operational manager on her family’s farm, Dreamland Piggery. She enjoys her role and is still passionate about the business.
“I am overseeing the pig production unit, the admin side of the business, and the abattoir side. I love what I am doing. I have a love of the pig production side [of the business].”
The family business
Dreamland Piggery was started by Mathebula’s parents while she was studying. The pig farming business, based in Vanderbijlparkpark in Gauteng, is run by her mother, herself and her two younger brothers.
“Initially, they farmed on a plot in De Deur (close to Vereeniging). There was a lot of demand back then, so we opted to get a farm here in Vanderbijlpark, which is a 380ha farm. It is a bigger production space from where my parents started.”
Mathebula says that, as a woman in farming, she has definitely felt discriminated against in an industry that is still largely male and white.
“I always feel that way, maybe 80% of the time, especially when I go to agriculture workshops, and I get to feel the ‘dominance’,” she laughs. “It does sort of demotivate me a bit, but once I’m on my farm, I’m fine.”
It is not all bad news however. Mathebula says that the industry is definitely changing, albeit slowly. “It is changing. Over the years, it has been getting better.”
Mathebula is deeply passionate about the farm and stays motivated by the continued success of the business. “When my team wins at the farm, when production keeps increasing, it is exciting for me. It means more money, thus bettering lives.”
Some advice for aspiring pig farmers
For Mathebula, going big when you start out is better. “Whatever you do, if you’re a black woman and you want to go into pig farming, its best to go big, to start big, and start the right way. Also have your pig production houses intact.”
She says that the bigger your pig production is, the quicker you will see returns.
“And with a big production, people will take you more seriously. [Considering] my experience, I would say start as big as you can, as long as you have a solid market for your pigs.”
Mathebula says that she is in farming for the long haul. “Farming is the future. That is what I like about it. There’s no uncertainty and there’s always a demand for food. People must all eat to live.”