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RSA 2010 World Cup, what did it have for ordinary SMMEs?

December 9, 2012

The count to the Fifa World Cup was down to days. The excitement in big towns was palpable. Even in the major townships you could not miss the facelifts in preparation for this historical event.  I then once walked down Mandela’s old Orlando West street and felt as if I was walking down Soweto’s Avenue des Champs-Elysees.  The media were abuzz with jiggles and colourful stories about the state of the stadia.

“2010 – this is the year for South Africa and Africa,” I had thought. As I had struggled out of 2009, which was a year of financial woes and the credit crunch, I felt such a crunch on my purse that in desperation I had asked myself what 2010 was bringing for an emerging farmer.

If there was an emerging farmer, a government department or a business guru out there who had some good news, I pleaded with them to share it because at that time 2010 did not look that bright to me. At the beginning of that year, I had to “right size’’ my broiler operation. In the last quarter of 2009 I had between 9 000 and 13 000 chickens on site and in the first two months on 2010 I had cut that by two thirds.

Now, I am convinced that whoever coined the phrase ignorance is bliss was a sadist with a twisted sense of humour.  Ignorance has caused me pain.  It was my lack of information about managing the breed of my broilers which plunged me into losing up to half of my birds.

I was heart broken as I watched my “profit” die in scores and it was a long drawn out pain.

Every time I looked at my vet bill I froze a little bit and when I looked at the feed bill I wanted to die. The irony was that overfeeding was killing my chickens. The fattest, most beautiful and biggest of the lot simply had “heart attacks’’ and died.

I finally took my problem to the breeder’s technical advisor and her diagnosis came in two sentences: “Your brooding programme is sub-optimal and your lighting programme is wrong. If your chicks get cold within the first seven days they will die at five weeks and there is nothing you can do about it.’’

You see, nobody had handed me a management programme for this breed and I relied on my poor knowledge from the previous literature I had read, which of course was for a different breed.  So my brooding temperature was always about five degrees off and that condemned half my chicks to death at five weeks. Mind you, five weeks is a week before I sell them.

I later discovered that the death of these chickens was more costly than just in lost sales, unhappy customers and piling bills.  I was losing money on four fronts: high electricity bills because I did not switch off at night for the chickens to rest; my feed bills soared because as long as there was light the chickens ate; I had high vet bills as I fought an already lost cause trying to save these birds dying from over feeding; and lastly I lost sales and had unhappy customers.

So as 2010 dawned, I had no option but to right size to ensure I had enough brooding equipment and to manage my debts. Since then the mortality went down to 8% but I did not get out of the hole easily.

I still sought answers to profitability and I placed my hope where many other sectors of the economy had – the 2010 World Cup. So I asked: “what does 2010 have for an emerging farmer? How can an emerging farmer benefit from it?” And I was not interested in the “daa” answer such as “these thousands had to eat’’.  I knew that and it did not work for us.

Africa kenako, they said. Well it was not to be for perpetually emerging farmers.

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