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The emerging (happy) pig farmer


As consumers become more informed about what they put on their plates and demand for free-range and pasture-reared products increases, it is sparking an interesting trend within the South African landscape. That ethically-raised pork that you are eating could very well come from an emerging farmer who for the very first time has access to land and opportunities that were previously limited. 

A small but growing number of independent black farmers around the Western Cape have been given a section of land to work for themselves as free-range pig farmers on conventional farms and so far, demand for their pork is outstripping supply. 

“We have a pilot project on my farm in Montagu which we started nearly a year ago where I gave over a section of my farm for pig rearing to two of my workers,” says Ken Bromage. “The guys run their own show which doesn’t interfere with any of the farm work as pigs are not too much effort, and they supplement their income by selling piglets or the larger pigs. At market they get a better price for the meat as it’s free-range and there is a great shortage, so they can divide R2000 to R3000 per month between them,” he says. 

Very few consumers know that pigs in South Africa are the worst treated of all commercially farmed animals. According to Compassion in World Farming, there are around 130,000 pregnant sows in the country that produce the 50,000 young pigs that are slaughtered weekly for their ham and bacon. These animals are confined in metal cages that prevent them from moving and they go to slaughter never having seen a blade of grass or a patch of soil. Sow cages are either banned or are being phased out in other parts of the world and the South African Pork Producers Organisation (SAPPO) is in the process of eradicating cages here by 2020. 

In the meantime, there seems to be many good reasons to encourage change in the way we do things. Freedom from confinement means being able to behave naturally and pigs that are allowed to root and graze in the sun and fresh air produce a wholesome and tasty pork, just like it used to be. Outside and unconfined, the animals do not suffer as much disease as those in cages and therefore do not need to be constantly fed antibiotics to keep them in good health – a trend that has lead to the dangerous overuse of antibiotics with wide-reaching ramifications for human health. 

Free-range pork is also better for rural communities as most producers are small family farmers whose profits are repaid directly to the community. It is also an attractive option for the farmers as it can potentially reduce the pressure of the higher wage bills that have been recently enforced. 

“This is a good opportunity for me,” says Kenneth Inkosi, one of the workers of the pilot project in Montagu. “We started at the beginning of 2013 with this small business and we now have 11 pigs living outside in a fenced off area. I enjoy working with the pigs and business is good,” he says. 

A key aspect to this story is the concept of a mobile abattoir which would, aside from increasing traceability and making these small-scale free-range farms economically viable, reduce the suffering of animals by avoiding the often long transportation to a conventional slaughterhouse. Used in Europe and America for the benefit of the smaller farmer, the South African Government is currently looking to establish a mobile abattoir system for chickens and small livestock that will continue to empower the small farmer.

 There is an expression about pigs that says “you can use everything but the oink” and as the movement towards ethical meat gathers even more momentum, it seems natural that all the benefits of a humanely raised pig should profit the small-scale, rising farmer that was previously not afforded such opportunities, as well as the paying consumer.

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