Horticulture farmer Luke Chikahonda says his short experience in the industry has taught him that an interest or hobby can be commercialised.
With his assets as collateral, he approached a local development finance institute for funding, but was unhappy with the limited repayment period. He said a friend suggested to him to approach the Citizen Entrepreneurial Development Agency (CEDA) and in late 2011, he received a loan of P800, 000 against his assets with a grace period of three months.
“There was one fellow at CEDA who guided me on where to go and what to do in the processes they required. CEDA officials checked my CV and saw that I already had extensive financial management experience and thus would not require further training. The business got on its feet early in 2012 after I received the approval of my loan,” said Chikahonda.
He said he had been thinking about going into horticulture for a long time, but the problem was that the project needed water and the proper land to be successful. He added that it took him five years to put up a borehole, fence his field and erect other structures for the business.
“I was advised to provide samples which were well received by the market research participants, who then urged me to approach local supermarkets for potential supply contracts,” he recalled.
He also pointed out that he began investigating how he could establish a horticultural business which would provide for his family when the chapter on his 25 years long milling career finally closed.
Chikahonda said he pumped the funds into additional structures at his Seleme holding such as drip irrigation, shade nets and tunnels which are used for growing seedlings. With the fundamentals in place, Chikahonda revisited the market research he had conducted as one of the requirements for CEDA loan approval.
He stated that he contacted the businesses he had interfaced with before and informed them that the project had kicked off.
He revealed that his company Little Hippo’s first financial farming year, which ended in September 2013, was challenging, requiring him to fully focus and commit to the success of what was new ground for him.
“It was my first time in the business, but I had a friend who knew the industry. I hired a qualified horticulturalist and we have since become a very good team. I worked between my milling job and the project, travelling in between the two,” he recalled.
He said in that first year, Little Hippo produced 60 tonnes of tomatoes from half a hectare of land, and another 53, 000 heads of cabbage from another two and a half hectares. He added that the supplies were snapped up by Spar supermarkets stretching from Gaborone to Molepolole, as well as Pick n Pay outlets and the Food Market.
“The business has also grown from an initial eight employees to 16 at peak season and down again to the current ten. I am to increase the workforce by January as activities ramp up again,” said Chikahonda.