Ana Bela de Reis Borges: The Accidental Queen of Chickens

Ana Bela des Reis Borges never intended to get into the poultry business but now that’s she in it, her plan is to breed 200,000 chickens every 45 days to enable Mozambicans to buy more affordable, local products. You see, Ana Bela is on a mission. She wants, of course, to be successful in business and generate profitable revenues to support her family, but equally she abhors hunger and wants to ensure people have enough to eat. 

“What made me who I am today was the suffering and hunger I experienced when I was pregnant with my fourth child. I refused to accept deprivation and starvation in my house so I got a divorce and set out on my own. The main aim of my life has been to raise my children independently without having to depend on handouts. That has been my guiding light and pushed me to do more in business so I could support and educate them but also to prove to everyone that a woman is capable of such things.”

Born into a large family in Maputo, Ana Bela was a considered something of a troublesome child. Her parents insisted she learn to cook and clean because she was a girl, but never in agreement she’d run off to climb trees and read. She was sent away to boarding school at the tender age of seven where she spent five years without visiting home as her parents had since divorced. Her secondary school education was also far from family, about 1000 km north of Maputo, and it was here she dreamed of someday managing many workers without really understanding what that meant. At the University of Maputo, she studied chemical engineering, but left before graduation for her parent’s home country of Cape Verde when life became difficult for her and her 6-month-old daughter due to the civil war. She returned after eight years when the peace agreement was signed in 1993. The young mother made good use of her time, earning a Master’s in auditing and accounting during her time away.

“Being a business person is hard. It’s not the easy life I imagined, but I am resilient − I’ve already proven that and this work only makes me stronger.”

Ana Bela and her family relocated to Nacala Porto, a city in Northern Mozambique on beautiful Fernao Veloso Bay, East Africa’s deepest natural port. But life was not easy.  

 

“My marriage was going through problems and I had no family to support me. My husband refused to let me work and I was completely dependent on him. With my fourth pregnancy, I was not getting enough food for myself and my unborn baby, which made me revolt. I decided this would be my last child and I would gather courage and strength to raise these children on my own and make sure they had enough food.”

So like the little girl who refused to follow convention, with no job, Ana Bela left her marriage with the little savings she had to support herself and four children. Thanks to her qualifications, she managed to get a job as an accountant and later managed private canteens at a telecommunications company, but money was always tight. When her contract expired after two years, she decided to start her
own business.

“I knew going out on my own would be more profitable. My first purchase was two slug football tables, which I strategically placed in the market on some land I bought. I also sold water from my house to the public. The money from the slug football went into making concrete bricks from which I slowly built a bar and a restaurant over two years. I was patient,” she laughs. “People from all over Nacala used to come and eat at my venue because it was on the road to the beach.” 

Ana Bela’s bar and restaurant were very successful, almost too much so. The demand was so high for her peri peri chicken, she had to travel to and from Nampula, over 400 km away, each week to get supplies. After endless trips, she’d finally had enough and applied for a loan from Fundo de Desinvolvimento Local FDD to purchase 300 chicks with the intention to supply her kitchen. But then locals demanded she sell to them directly so with that pressure, she increased her capacity to 1500 chicks and so on and so on, like the concrete bricks she made in batches to build her restaurant, until she reached the her current capacity of 22,000 chicks bred every 45 days. 

And it doesn’t stop there. Because Ana Bela had to feed the chickens, she decided to start making chicken feed too, mostly soya beans and maize. When they started, her workers were mixing 400 kg of feed manually using a shovel each day. Today, the feed production is done in a proper factory with capacity of 20 tonnes daily. The business grew so large, she rented out the bar and restaurant and now focuses solely on the poultry venture.

And still she or Rainha dos Frangos (Queen of the Chickens) as she is known, aspires for more. “My goal is to be a real ‘Queen of Chickens’. I haven’t reached my full potential. I want to produce 200,000 chickens per cycle of 45 days so Mozambicans are no longer reliant on imports. I’m also diversifying outside the food business and am an agro dealer selling maize, beans, sesame seeds and so on as well as agricultural equipment.”

Ana Bela is on track to achieve her vision. In 2016, she was the beneficiary of a shop and warehouse from the Graça Machel Trust’s African Women in Agribusiness Network. In 2017, she received participative financing from the USAID FinAgro programme. She chipped in 30% that she raised from the African Banking Corporation with an interest rate of 37%, and USAID  provided the remaining 70% to purchase equipment and a 5-tonne Tata truck and to increase capacity at the chicken feed factory to meet growing demand. The 54-year-old already has the 200 hectares of land ready to expand production to support 200,000 chickens and has started construction of a slaughterhouse. 

People in the community are amazed at what this single mother has managed to achieve, especially in a predominantly Muslim area where Ana Bela feels business women are still not really accepted or taken seriously. 

“The chicken business is viewed as a dirty one but I’m planning to change those perceptions. Together with my children, who have been my partners on this journey, we want to show others there is profit to be made in poultry. Being a business person is hard. It’s not the easy life I imagined, but I am resilient − I’ve already proven that and this work only makes me stronger.”

That troublesome child has grown into a determined woman. Never doubt a mother’s perseverance when it comes to her children’s future.

Tips from Ana Bela
  • You have the strength and ability within you, you just need to find and unleash it.
  • Be determined and persistent. Hit the same point over and over and don’t stop until you get what you want.
  • Being self-employed and running a business is really hard work. Make sure you are able for it before jumping in and have a good support network around you for when the going gets tough.

Ana Bela’s story first appeared in Women Creating Wealth, A Collection of Stories of Women Entrepreneurs from across Africa. You order or download a copy here.

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