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October 10, 2010

Botswana vegetable farm eyes South African market

by Calistus Kolantsho

Speaking during a recent media tour, Talana Farm's General Manager, Jannie Willemse, said the farm is being operated by Botalana Ventures in partnership with Botswana Development Corporation (BDC) from which they have enjoyed massive support since they started operating and have been their partner since 2006.

Willemse said they sold 1,800 tonnes of vegetables in the Botswana market last year and aim to produce 16,000 tonnes for both the local market and for export, especially to South Africa.

"We are currently ploughing six types of vegetables and we are planning on introducing other varieties in the near future," he told the media. "We sell our vegetables in Gaborone and stock a warehouse in Selebi-Phikwe for distribution to the central and northern parts of the country. Ninety percent of our produce is sold in Gaborone."

Willemse explained that they irrigate the 380 hectares of land that they have ploughed with water from the Motloutse and Limpopo Rivers.

Talana employs 428 people made up of 50 percent Batswana and 50 percent foreigners and have 60 foreigners and 40 Batswana as casual workers. During harvest, the farm hires nearly 800, most of them locals.

"Farming in Botswana is faced with a shortage of labour because most Batswana are not interested in farming, which forces us to hire foreigners," said Willemse.

He pointed out that the farm's start-up capital was P5 million, turnover in the past year was P35 million and that they have ploughed the profit back into the farm.

They are leasing the land from the BDC. Willemse described prices in the Botswana market as stable by comparison to the South African prices. Talana Farm vegetables are of such high quality that they even beat vegetables from South Africa, he said. There will be a shortage of tomatoes and potatoes in South Africa this year due to frost that swept across the neighbouring country in winter. "Talana Farm has better weather conditions during winter," Willemse said. "Our disadvantage is the distance from the market."

In his view, Botswana's farming industry needs government protection because it is still in its infancy.

Willemse explained to the journalists that they have assisted the villages of Lentswe le Moriti, Motlhabaneng and Mathathane to start up their own vegetable gardens, through the Molema Trust and went an extra mile by assisting with marketing the produce.

BDC Board Chairperson, Simon Meti, explained that the farm is 100 percent owned by the BDC. He said the project is meant to develop the agriculture sector in the country. The farm measures 1 800 hectares, though only 388 hectares have been utilised so far.


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