My friend Louise's husband passed away after a three month struggle with cancer. She was left having to pick up her life again and find a new beginning somewhere else. In previous blogs, I have written about our trip through the Northern and Western Capes of South Africa, and the therapeutic impact the trip seemed to have on her. It was on this trip that a friend suggested she meet with another friend of his in Botswana. This Botswana man was a dairy farmer and he was looking for someone to invest in his farm as a partner.
To the average woman out there, this may seem like a ludicrous idea, especially considering that Louise had virtually no experience of farming and certainly none of dairy farming. However, Louise is not the average woman. She is a tenacious go-getter with a healthy sense of curiosity who had been speaking of venturing into the cattle industry for a while. She decided to go check things out for herself.
Louise could hardly have hoped for a better partner than the man she met with in Botswana. His knowledge of farming in general was extensive while his knowledge of the dairy industry was in-depth and thorough. His bookkeeping and record keeping was meticulous and could back up his claims. He was intimately familiar with the country, the government and the people of Botswana, to the point of being fluent in Tswana. Add to that the ease with which he deals with people and difficult situations, and you have the ideal person to partner up with in any business venture. Louise, being no fool when it came to these matters, immediately recognized the strengths of the venture and the two of them went about drawing up the necessary contracts and legal documents to get the ball rolling.
I am not going to bore you with the details of what all of this entailed. I will probably not hit all the right notes anyway. Suffice it to say that this meant obtaining visas and permits, customs clearances, registering a business with contracts to ensure personal safeguards, insurance, medical cover, etc. And that was before they even started looking for cattle! They finally found a herd that met their requirements, but the herd was in South Africa. This necessarily meant veterinary clearances, quarantine, inoculations, etc. Finally the cattle were in the country and they were ready to start production.
All that was left to do at this stage, was to procure the necessary contract with Clover, who has sole mandate to buy milk in Botswana. The contract was easy enough to procure, as the Botswana government has basically contractually ensured that Clover would buy ALL milk produced in the country. Do not imagine that this means the relationship between the dairy farmers and Clover is always one of smooth sailing. It has its ups and downs, just like it has in South Africa. The only difference is that the government plays a very active roll as watch dog in this relationship and all parties are subject to admonishment should they transgress.
I remain hugely impressed with the Botswana government. They simply seem to be doing things right. On a trip to Gaberone the government buildings were pointed out to me. Each 'division' has its own building which is located in a small horse-shoe shaped radius around the main building. This means that each section can operate individually, but they are close enough in proximity to each other to ensure effortless cooperation. Also, once a month, a date and hour is published in the local newspapers when the various ministers may be contacted directly by members of the public to discuss burning issues. Open communication channels are maintained at other levels as well.
During my visit I have seen the government vet pay a visit to the farm to ensure the health of the herd, instead of for inspection purposes only. I also noticed how evident it was that a good relationship existed between himself and the farmers. On another occasion, a pick-up-truck arrived to hand-deliver a notice of a meeting that might be of interest to the farmers to attend. There was constant communication between the farmers and the different levels of government, be it telephonically, by email, or in person.
During my visit in the beginning of the year, early in the season, the government had also launched an initiative where farmers could apply for an agricultural grant aimed specifically at crop production and sewing. The dairy farm in question had put in their application and was given the grant. This entailed the government paying back the cost of fuel for sewing the land. They also provided seeds and fertilizer to be sewn, as specified by the farmers. After sewing, the costs were calculated and the moneys had been paid back before my first visit even came to a conclusion. Botswana has a reputation for government moving slowly, but what little I saw of it impressed me to the contrary. However, one would need much more experience of the processes before venturing an expert opinion.
What is the point of today's blog? I wish to leave you with a couple of thoughts. Firstly, the end of one good thing, does not necessarily mean that all good things have come to an end. Taking a risk on something new, and completely outside of your field of experience, may be the best thing you've ever done, even if society has a hard time coming to terms with your decisions. And sometimes, expatriating to a new country, is not about push factors, but more about pull factors. So take the risks and venture out. Who knows what the future may hold for you?
I will leave you with two poems I wrote. The first is in English, titled The Risk, and the second is in Afrikaans, titled Expat.