Lessons from 2015, the way forward in 2016
Going into full time farming in 2016 could be your dream as an aspiring young farmer in Botswana. But on taking the leap, one may find that the landscape is whole different scenario when all the plans on paper get replaced by unexpected heart breaking realities.
After leaving full time employment in 2013, Leatile Mokgware, a local young farmer and the interim chairman and spokesman of the Botswana Young Famers Association believes he has lessons from his experience as a full time farmer that other youths would do well to learn from.
“Sometimes we take things for granted. Plans may appear easy in paper, but it’s a different scenario on the ground. You really need to do your homework. Reading and googling is not enough,” says Mokgware who upon leaving a full time job went into layer production in Ramatlabama but later learnt that the farming business is a whole different ball game.
The school of hard knocks
Mokgware had his first lesson when he and his partner set up their layer production venture in Ramatlabama where they got lesson number one from the school of hard knocks. Their project though successful, was far from the main market; Gaborone.
“Although we had support from the surrounding community, we discovered that the market for which we were the producing eggs for was far (about 120 kilometres away),” says Mokgware.
Fortunately for Mokgware and his partner, they found a fully serviced 7 hectare piece of land in Kumakwane, a few kilometres from the road on which they intended to produce cabbage and rape.
“We had secured contracts with fruit and vegetable outlets and other prominent retail outlets it looked like everything was in place.”
But unknown to Mokgware and his business partner there were about to make another blunder.
“We had overlooked certain things like land management. We ordered seed before preparing the land, used wrong equipment and flood irrigation instead of a dripper irrigation system. This resulted in the soil becoming too loose such that the water could not work well on the seed. This forced us to buy a dripper irrigation system but things had already gone wrong,” he said.
Having spent P7000 on seedlings and more on plot rentals , fuel costs and fertiliser, Mokgware and partner discovered that they had already lost P20 000.
“From the P7000 invested in cabbage and rape seeds we had anticipated P75 000 in return,” he said.
The way forward
Despite this heartbreaking experience, Mokgware is determined to get back on his feet and he has a good reason to.
“Cabbages and rape are in demand are in demand so the market for these still there. People prefer cabbage as a meat replacement and vegetarians like cabbages too,” he reasons.
“We want to take advantage of the ESP (Economic Stimulus package) and also apply for funding from the Youth Development Fund and the Women Economic Empowerment fund since my business partner is a woman. I encourage young people to go into farming because the government is buying more from Batswana,” he said.
“I am going back (into farming), but now I know what I did wrong and want to share what I learnt with other young farmers so they don’t fall into the same trap, ” But what lessons does he have for those who want to take a leap into the world of farming?
While part time farming is generally frowned upon, Mokgware has a different take on it today.
“It is possible to take up farming on a part time basis the problem is that in our environment, there is a tendency to look down upon people who take up farming on a part time basis. They tend not to take part time farmers seriously but one needs to have more income streams,” advised Mokgware, who himself had to resort to other means of making an income like business consultancy where he would help people with their business plans to keep things moving when he ran into financial challenges.
Now working for a tyre services company, Mokgware says he now can manage to pay for the operating expenses on his farm from his salary.
“With my salary here I can manage to pay things like the salaries and other expenses required to run the project.”
He also recommends that one has contingency funds in the place in case the unexpected happens.
And he has a word on the need to find the right mentor.
“I would advice looking for someone on your scale. You can’t be ploughing on a 1,5 Hectare plot and have a mentor who runs a 200 Hectare farm. I know some would question the rationale of having someone on the same scale as a mentor. But it is not about being big but about learning the practices. I did not have a mentor myself but had the support from the surrounding community that kept urging me on even when things were not looking good, “he said
He laments the shortage of agricultural extension officers.
“Most of the time they are not accessible because they don’t have cars and I also think they are a few officers allocated to an area for example, there can be one extension officer per 25 farmers.”
“In my opinion t think they also need to be given adequate training. Mostly, the most relevant and up to date training is given to highly academic office staff and yet the extension officer who spends most of the time with the farmer is not properly equipped with regards to modern.” FMB