Envirolutionists Letsema Project - Women In Farming

Mpho Lashani: “So if I fail, it won’t be due to a lack of skill. It would be other things like lack of funding”

Women have come to be the focus of economic ‘empowerment’ experiments, but it appears even with their best intentions, at best the empowerment experiments raise false women’s hopes, only to leave them in deep depression when their efforts to follow through are met with resistance. Mpho Lashani is the eldest in her family in a family of three. Although her family is originally from Rakops, about 430 km from the capital city, she was raised and schooled in Gaborone. Between 2005 and 2009, she obtained d her college degree from the Botswana University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (BUAN). Her early inspiration into farming was through her grandmother that had been a subsistence farmer, and later his uncle who went into it more for the money than the passion. Comparing traditional agriculture to the new agricultural approaches, Mpho explained that everything had changed. Seed banking was no longer an option because of the use of hybrids, and so, with every planting season, one had to spend on seeds.

Mpho had both the passion and the will to turn the passion into a business. Her first attempt at becoming a farmer was through applying for the government national youth development fund (YDF), but she was unsuccessful because of the very the very stringent requirements such as having a clean credit record, availability of a borehole or water rights, access to land with a title deed, or a lease agreement. Mpho was unable to meet all these requirement, and said, “It was a hustle for me. Until my uncle allowed me to use his land, near Mahalapye”. The town is in the central district of Botswana, about 200km from the city.

According to Mpho, lack of skills was the main problem for horticultural farmers. Most went into the business without training and worked on a trial and error approach. She gave the example of hydroponics, that it needed correct amounts of fertilizers. Soil and water testing was also crucial so as to know what is needed to enrich it, and these are not cheap. Also adequate financial resources were necessary. When she first started growing vegetables like tomatoes and cabbage at her uncle’s farm, the project was not successful because she had gone in without adequate information such as the importance of soil testing, so her crops were not suited to the soil. She had also not thought through the financial costs.

Mpho had taken advantage of the Business Incubation Program by government supported Local Enterprises Authority (LEA). She had recently completed her training on new agricultural skills like hydroponics at incubation plant of and working on an agricultural business proposal. She was left with quotations and projections, and had engaged an accountant to help her with that. She hoped her business would take off during 2019. “I’m not, I’m not scared to run a farm. I can run it, because, I know, I learnt that at BUAN and through LEA. At LEA, they taught us farming technologies, food processing business planning, bookkeeping, EDT, entrepreneurship, and development training. LEA had supported her in a number of different ways. Trainees such as herself were taken South Africa to a big international agricultural show, with large scale commercial farmers. The machinery was very expensive. They went to another show also in South Africa she learnt a lot there and came back motivated. However, coming back home and trying to implement what has been learnt was always a challenge because of a lack of support from the relevant authorities, especially funding bodies.

Mpho felt better prepared this time around. She had the land and water. Her ambition was to upscale her horticultural farm into a big production that could feed Mahalapye, and surrounding areas, with population of about 50 000. She trusted her capability to run a farm that big.

Although not playing any role in her political party, the Botswana Democratic Party, she often attended rallies, just to listen. And she votes, which she called exercising her right.  Asked if the rallies ever address issues around farming agriculture, she replied, “Aah, not that I’ve heard”. In her view, the political rallies contained very little useful content. Other than a mention of government agricultural support scheme for subsistence farming, there was no real engagement on the transformation of agriculture in political rallies. She thought perhaps the lack of attention on agriculture was because of the lack of interest on farming among the youth, as they were much more interested in setting up internet cafés and other IT related businesses. Also farming was not a quick and easy business, it required long term financial and political commitment from the government.

Because of the high rates of rejection of funding proposals for farming, depression was area of concern for Mpho. She constantly had to read motivational books. She explained how painful it was to have a funding application rejected, and how she’d spent sleepless night. “Like I’m saying it’s your baby”. Compounding the problem is that, for people like her with university degrees, they also do not qualify for the free poverty eradication farming programmes, which are much easier to access, even though they live in poverty with dreams of wealth creation.