by ANNA NTABANE
MIDDLEBURG, (Mpumalanga Guardian) – GROWING up in Middleburg’s Mhluzi township, Khulile Mahlalela’s dream was to become a geologist.
However, when her mathematics and science marks were lower than anticipated, she had to halt these aspirations and instead pursue a career in farming.
This has proven to be a masterstroke as today, aged 31, she is one of Mpumalanga’s, if not the country’s, most prominent and successful pig farmers.
Her recognition as the best female farmer in Mpumalanga in line with celebrations of Women’s Month is the latest feather in her cap.
It is testament of the impression she is making in the sector and highlights the potential for further success in an industry, which like geology, is dominated by men.
In an interview with Mpumalanga Guardian, the mother of four (two boys and two girls) reminisced how she aspired to study Electrical Engineering with hopes to eventually becoming a geologist.
She opted for Animal Production, an unfamiliar route for females, at the Mangosuthu University of Technology in the outskirts of Durban.
Mahlalela obtained a Diploma in 2010.
Last year, she attained a Bachelor of Technology in Animal Science and received an opportunity to go to China for training on meat processing.
“While growing up, I’ve always watched my grandmother farming even, though she was not into pigs,” she recalled.
“I was inspired to take this route,” Mahlalela said of her change of plans after her geology aspirations fell through.
She quit her stable job as a supervisor at a local estate farm to start Legendary Piggery in 2015, using her savings.
“Since my varsity days, I knew I wanted to be my own boss,” the award-winning farmer said.
“I fell in love with pig production. I chose this farming subsector because of the fact that when they give birth they produce many offspring. To begin the business, I bought three pregnant pigs. They gave birth to more than 30 piglets and sold those pigs and bought another five.”
She received 11 more pigs, including ten females, after winning a competition run by the Department of Agriculture, Rural Development, Land and Environmental Affairs.
At the time of publication, Legendary Piggery had 231 pigs.
Two people are employed full time and another two are seasonal workers.
Mahlalela is overwhelmed by the success she has attained at this relatively young age and a male-dominated industry.
“I’m very happy because agriculture department always sends male farmers to my farm so that I can mentor them how to take care of pigs,” she said proudly.
The entrepreneur mentioned outbreaks of diseases like swine flu as among major challenges.
“Pigs also eat a lot. There must always be more food for them. Sometimes I have to use my own money (not the business’).”
Buoyed by the recent award, she plans to purchase land and build a food processing plant in Mpumalanga.
“My future plans are to own one or more food processing plants and create employment to South African youth,” she concluded.