Whether or not it is now a business norm is not the question, but what has become clear is that a manufacturing plant without a government tender fueling its success cannot be guaranteed survival.
That is not so with Julia Molosiwa, owner of Oodi Sorghum Milling. A common deficiency that is often reported on regarding local manufacturing operations is the dire lack of a market to sell the products to, which given the high frequency with which the issue is discoursed draws the conclusion that government tenders are the heartbeat of manufacturing in Botswana.
When Sunday Standard came to know the beginnings of Oodi Sorghum milling, a manufacturing plant located in Oodi tucked neatly beside the village’s main road, it quickly developed into a story that challenges the status quo.
As the name suggests, Oodi Sorghum Milling produces sorghum meal. The plant was established 19 years ago following what first seemed a quixotic ambition of a woman who at the time would have easily been disregarded. Molosiwa, however, went on to defy the odds, doing so because of a thrust passion which when recounting the story still beams in her eyes.
Molosiwa recalls the beginning from a drive to Oodi in 1990, a village she identified primarily because of its close proximity to Gaborone which she thought would provide better access to the market as opposed to Kanye, where she hails from.
Oodi at that time was far from reaching the crest of development with minimal supply of water, electricity and tarred road. After identifying a piece of land a series of meetings with the land board began and the request was finally granted. It was funding from the Financial Assistance Programme (FAP) that catapulted the establishment of the plant, a feat which, however, did not come easy. The advantage she had was the higher percentage of funding as a woman compared to that of men. Molosiwa’s FAP application for a medium scale funding was approved but it required her to bring to the table P63 000 to demonstrate commitment to the project, a sum that she considered far-fetched as she did not have personal funds.
Her loan application at National Development Bank was declined on reason that she did not have the requisite experience for the business she wanted to venture into. After careful consideration she then re-applied to FAP, this time for a small-scale funding which asked for a lesser contribution of P13 000 on her part.
Working as a secretary at Standard Chartered Bank at the time, she went back to her previous employer, Tswelelo Pty, then a subsidiary of Botswana Development Corporation (BDC) which offered small scale loans, and was granted the P13 000 to purchase the milling machines.
“I had left Tswelelo and started at the bank; I went back to ask for a loan,” she said. With machines but no building to house them, she started selling panty-hoses where she worked to raise funds for its construction.
In 1997 she opened a two-roomed building for business and employed two people, one assistant and the other a machine operator including herself. Three years later expansion funding from FAP in addition to her own funds put up a second building. Today three buildings stand inside the plot where various chains of productions take place.
Oodi Sourghum Milling receives orders from Choppies Distributors, Flamingo Supermarket and Trade World which come in differing quantities. Finding a reliable market as Oodi Sorghum Milling did in the local mass grocery stores proves a difficult task to many in her industry. A day’s job, starting at 7am and ending at 5pm during the week involves taking order numbers, milling and packaging the demanded quantity which is then followed by at least two deliveries a day.
Molosiwa describes the business to have a small profit margin and also said that it contends with challenges that appear to be inherent of unreliable rainfall which disturbs the availability of sorghum and prices of utilities which results in inhibitive costs.
She attests to her “determination and love of the business” as a shield to the challenges. “You can’t grow a business with very little, but if you can, it means you’re serious about business,” she says.
Another significant challenge she mentioned is accommodating the target market as far as pricing is concerned; particularly that sorghum is a staple food to many people and cannot therefore be sold luxuriously. In some instances the importation of sorghum due to lack of local source forces the milling plant to absorb the high cost so as to maintain an affordable price to its customers.
Molosiwa, having been in the industry for almost 20 years, has not yet considered membership into Botswana Exporters and Manufacturers Association (BEMA), a membership-inspired organisation that represents the voices of those involved in production, export and trade services.
The reason she gives is that she is yet to understand the nature of the organisation and its benefits. Her involvement in the industry, which is often denoted as male-dominated, earned her a nomination in the annual Women in Business Association (WIBA) Excellence awards under the male dominated category. The voting process is currently ongoing leading to the awards ceremony which will be held on October 21, 2016, and she is hopeful that people will recognise her work and vote her the winner.