In a determined mood, some retirees and civil servants collaborated with some youth to form what is now registered as; Tloaneng Ostrich Enterprise Producer Cooperative Society Limited, whose core business is ostrich farming.
This came about as a result of a seminar in ostrich farming held at Rural Training Centre in Sebele, organised and facilitated by the Department of Animal Health and Production, under ostrich division.
“We met after the workshop and agreed that indeed ostrich farming can be tackled individually, but due to high start-up costs as well as high prices of ostrich feed, it is better for us Batswana to collaborate. Therefore 20 of us agreed to form the cooperative. We followed procedures of forming a cooperative. We drafted by-laws and completed everything; concluding with a detailed business plan,” revealed Fana Rabatoko, the Society’s Chairperson in an interview.
He said when they approached Citizen Entrepreneurship Development Agency (CEDA) for funding, they were turned down on grounds that CEDA does not sponsor Societies but individual entrepreneurs and companies. CEDA sponsors business entities that have assets that can be attached should anything crop up in the servicing of loans. Though they were disappointed, they did not allow frustration to overwhelm them but instead went back to the drawing board and changed the approach.
“By the time CEDA responded, all other members of the envisaged cooperative had gone to their bases. But a decision had to be made, and promptly! The cooperative comprises Tloaneng farm, which is planned to serve as headquarters, providing administration services, hatcheries and breeding pens. On behalf of the other 16 members, the four- member committee decided to come up with a company name, prepare all the necessary documentation, and that is what gave birth to the name Tloaneng Ostrich Enterprise,” narrated Rabatoko.
The cooperative has yet two more barriers to tackle before smoothly implementing its ‘convincing’ business plan. Firstly, there is the requirement of the law that for any farming enterprise to be undertaken, a detailed, convincing environmental report, compiled by a qualified and experienced Environmental Impact Assessor should be produced.
Rabatoko’s story is that their headquarters combined with the 19 satellite farms total 88 hectares. The amount needed to pay for the EIA is more than the amount the cooperative envisaged borrowing from CEDA. Given that some of their members are youth who are still disadvantaged in as far as entrepreneurship is concerned, the cooperative has literally hit a hard wall. But the cooperative has not given up. Hopes are high, Rabatoko said, since they approached the Ministry of Agriculture concerning the matter. They are hoping for a positive response, which is either a subsidy or a waiver.
Secondly, there is issue of the market. He says his cooperative has through the internet identified markets abroad in Germany, Canada and China. Unfortunately for them, when they revisited the arrangement made by the government on ostrich farming market, they discovered that regulations have been set which dictate that selling should be channeled through a local major ostrich farmer who owns Talana Farm.
“The arrangement is defective in that the said farmer’s market is European Union. Though a good market in terms of buying rates, conditions attached to it are too demanding. The quote it demands is so high that I remember the farmer had to keep meat for months; waiting to collect the EU’s demand of 15 tonnes. I had asked him what the rate was so that when we sold through his farm we would know how much we would make. We had to wait for him so that he could give us a current market-informed response,” he said.
He pointed out the fact that the cooperative has to patiently wait for the dust to settle in market paradox because the local market should also be established. It is quite risky to depend on the EU market, given its conditions. But it has not yet been established if the government will provide ostrich meat to institutions like schools, hospitals amongst others.
Nevertheless, Rabatoko prides in his cooperative’s capabilities. With their vertical model of production, they are going to professionally run the business and the sky is bound to be their only limit.
“Having customised the government’s farm in Dibete, we are going to be a breeding enterprise. From the headquarters where administrative services are going to be made, we are also going to provide hatching for 42 days. This will be followed by intensive care in the brooder pens for seven days, after which they will be distributed to the satellite farms. Strict patterns of farming and bio-security will be practiced at the satellite farms guided by guidelines from Department of Animal Health and Production (DAHP).
These birds will be returned to the headquarters after six months and be kept for three months. We expect them to be weighing between 90 and 110 kg and ready for slaughter with expected sales between P4500 and P5000 for each carcass,” he said adding that the EU market requires that they be nine months when they are slaughtered. He said to increase benefits from other by-products, like the skin, they are going to slaughter them when they are 11 months because at that age their skins will be strong and thus, sold at good price.
He said in order to achieve this; they are going to erect high quality kraals that would keep the birds from injuring themselves. They are not going to be able to scratch their skins, something that will lead to the reduction of their prices. Guidelines for erecting ostrich paddocks are available from DAHP-Ostrich division.