Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Meet Visagie, an ex-miner at BCL who now sells donkey milk products

According to a report published by Allied Market Research, titled, ‘Donkey Milk Market by Application and Form: Global Opportunity Analysis and Industry Forecast, 2021–2027’, the global donkey milk market size was valued at $28,180 in 2019, and is projected to reach $68,139.0 thousands by 2027, registering a CAGR of 9.4% from 2021 to 2027. Increase in use of donkey’s milk in various cosmetics and personal care products such as creams, soaps, moisturizers, and others drives the growth of the global donkey’s milk market.

In Botswana, Johannes Visagie who hails from Werda village in Kgalagadi district is set to be part of the statistics of global donkey milk market. 

Visagie, an ex-miner at BCL Limited in Selebi Phikwe is the founder of Secret Kalahari, a family business that was started in the capital Gaborone as a research on commercialisation of donkey milk in 2014.

Now Secret Kalahari pride itself with product lines that ranges from donkey milk cosmetics like soaps, scrubs, moisturising creams to edibles like fresh donkey milk and various indigenous capsule alternative medicines made from powdered donkey milk and plant extracts indigenous from the Kalahari Desert.

This past week, Sunday Standard visited the Secret Kalahari stall located at the Main Mall, where this author noticed a lot of traffic from both young and old people coming in for consultation and some grabbing products that they seem to be already familiar with. Visagie’s larger than life character is also a boost to the family owned business as he gives prompt attention to his clients. On the day he was with his youngest son who also seems to have the same interest for the family business as his father.

Visagie says the most important ingredient that they use is donkey milk because it has a lot of medicinal properties.

According to WebMD, donkey milk has been mentioned as a health supplement and beauty product since ancient times. Cleopatra was famously rumoured to bathe in donkey milk as a skin care treatment. Nowadays…It also shows up in skin care products thanks to its reputation for skin hydration. Donkey milk is considered a “pharma food” because it has such notable health effects. Research has shown that it can boost immune function, improve circulation, and reduce inflammation in lab studies. It may even reduce symptoms of type II diabetes.Donkey milk has properties that make it a high-quality addition to a healthy diet. It’s very nutritious and people who can’t tolerate cow’s milk can often drink it. It can’t replace prescribed medicines but it may reduce certain symptoms like inflammation or uncontrolled blood sugar.

During an interview, Visagie noted that donkey milk has been in his family for more than 200 years together with a lot of other indigenous herbs. The company also uses indigenous oils like Moringa, Melon and Marula seed oil to make cosmetics. Visagie explained that they combine seasonal herbs to make supplements or what they call alternative medicine for non-communicable diseases.

Visagie shares that he learned how to make soap at the age of 13, taught by his mother and years later he developed it to make it commercial.

He says they have all the safety valuations and all certificates of origin for AGOA, SADC, UK and Europe. “We are actually at a point of Go-to-market and all we need to do now is upscale,” he notes.

He also mentions that they are in the process of registering their alternative medicines with the Botswana Medicines Regulatory Authority (BOMRA).

The company has listed with Trans Wholesalers, Squaremart for possible retail of their products within the next month. He says they are also working closely with Botswana Digital & Innovation Hub (BDIH), Botswana Investment and Trade Centre (BITC), Local Enterprise Authority (LEA) and USAID Trade Hub on a lot of things.

He says he recently met with the EU representative in Botswana, who was quite impressed with what they are doing. “He is very interested in our indigenous knowledge and how we can upscale and commercialise it to benefit Batswana,” he noted.

Visagie says their products are done inhouse in their backyard, and that when they upscale they will have to go to factory level and do it on a large scale but for now they are at startup level. He says they started very nicely from 2017 up until 2020 when Covid-19 stalled everything.

Though he is quick to point out that the pandemic also taught them to look outside the Botswana market and that is why they had to go into testing these products which are now ready for the market. “We did well from 2017-2020 but we haven’t recovered from the pandemic, and after Covid-19 we had to pay for tests. It’s tough,” he noted.

He says they have a few products on Amazon. They are also on Takealot, a South African Online store which he says is not very profitable for him at the moment. He says Amazon takes a lot of percentage of their sales but it’s better. Their Online store is currently under maintenance.

Visagie says once they get funds to upscale they will look into the SADC and ECOWAS region. He notes that Certification used to be a major hurdle to get products out there but now that they are certified the only thing hindering them is finance, they need funding to upscale and go to market.

When asked if he is in talks with any financial institutions for funding in Botswana, his response was that they laugh at the idea of a donkey so it is very difficult to get funding because at the moment they do not have the necessary security.

Another challenge that he says they encounter is the market in Botswana because there is a lot of unemployment and as such past customers are now out of jobs.

After successfully registering their alternative medicine, their intention is to approach the government to buy into it and support them.

NOTE: You can visit their stall located at the Main Mall opposite Payless store in Gaborone or contact them on: +267 74569774 or visit their Instagram, Facebook and Twitter pages: Secret Kalahari.

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