I bought my first business plan in 2016. I was at the tail end of my work-related learning at the National University of Science and Technology (NUST) and the prospect of entrepreneurship was appealing.
I bought my first business plan for US$12.50 from Startupbiz Zimbabwe. The company had a range of template business plans available at relatively low cost. I chose the one for Pen Fattening, a project I intended to execute with my cousin, Michael.
Pen Fattening is a business of buying cattle, feeding these for a few weeks (ideally 90 days) and then sell to abattoirs / the market after the quality, size and weight of the cattle improves. After customizing the business plan, I projected we would need capital of US$5 000 to begin, and 18 months of operation to break even and begin making profits.
Michael and I discussed the merits of this business plan, and agreed it was attractive. We sought various partners: one we could lease land from, one willing to provide US$5 000 capital staggered over 18 months as well as an accounting and Administration officer.
Such well laid plans, were never executed.
The Pen Fattening project was my first experience on the disparity between project conception and project execution. Action is much harder than thought.
Between academics, my own mental health, economic turmoil, family politics, land politics of the country and other factors… Pen Fattening for me only exists as a business plan.
Michael DID end up working on poultry in 2018: starting with a batch of 50 chicks to form Big Mike’s Big Chickens. I was happy to provide a poster for that.
I did end up working on a range of creative pursuits including a podcast, social media management, event hosting and poetry.
Every now and then, I would circle back to the Pen Fattening idea. It’s merits, it’s risks, it’s opportunity. More generally, I thought of how it could become operational and what I would need to do.
In 2019, I agreed to a joint venture with Mud. We agreed to raise capital and pursue agriculture. We drew up a partnership agreement and even registered a company. The registration took us a few weeks and US$150 outlay to execute. We never did open the bank account nor get a tax clearance certificate as this required more documentation and capital than we possessed.
We did find land. After a couple months searching and numerous site visits we were offered a hectare of land just outside Harare province. We could use it indefinitely, for free. How exciting!!
But, the land was virgin. It was neither cleared nor fenced. There was no borehole or well, nor a structure for the occupation of workers. In short, it clearly required massive amounts of resources to turn it productive. Again, a decent plan was not executed.
In 2020, Zimbabwean agriculture was in vogue on Twitter. There were multiple prominent personalities whose claim to fame was free range chicken production, cattle rearing, maize farming, horticulture, the massive potential of flower exports. There was a hashtag #ZimAgricRising . Politicians joined in, with some people even being offered 99 year leases by the Permanent Secretary in the
Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Water and Rural Resettlement. The Minister of Finance and Economic Development allocated ZWL$46 Billion to agriculture, 11% of the 2021 National Budget.
There was no question, I wanted to participate in this “agricultural revolution”. But, my primary question was…. How? There seemed no prospects for commercial production as loan financing seemed reserved for political affiliates or established farmers. The entry point was elusive.
I did decide to promote Agriculture through my digital platforms though. Specifically, as the Administrator of CurateZim, I approached Tanaka Farm and Ranch. I loved their digital presence. Not only do they provide seedlings to farmers, but they share market updates, advise those starting out and motivate those farming. Mud had recommended their Twitter page as early as May 2020 and it was definitely worth my attention.
In March 2021, I approached Tanaka Farm and Ranch and asked for them to be one of our Curators. The farm manager was gracious in turning down the invite: they were busy relocating to a bigger location.
We ended up talking about farming, weather, social media, diseases and shortcuts to success. She told me she was working on some onion and garlic seedlings for the winter season. I remarked that my mom is a fan of garlic, and has been consuming a lot more now that we were in a Covid-19 pandemic.
She then offered me 200 garlic seedlings. For free!!
I was ecstatic. Partly because I got some free seedlings, but I felt this was nature’s conspiracy to move me from thinking about farming… To starting farming.
In the next two weeks, I cleared a small piece of land in our metropolitan garden. I did some informal research, including conversations with friends and family. I collected the seedlings, planted them and now I was a farmer!!
It’s been 3 months since. And, I have made many mistakes. For example, not having a budget for manure. 3 bags of cattle manure were needed in addition to the compost. I did not anticipate how difficult water availability would be. Normally, city council water is available twice a week. 3 weeks after planting my seedlings, my neighbourhood had a burst pipe and was cut off. It was 10 days until we got water again. I became overzealous: I bought an additional 200 seedlings. Then a further 200 seedlings. Then a further 400 seedlings. Some I gave away to people who never came to collect them until they withered and died.
I have had to learn the dynamics of managing people on the garlic garden. Asking for permission to use the family home. Prompting my partner, Mud to share costs on an equal basis. The daily rate for labour to assist with clearing, planting and cultivation. How to compensate for technical input and monitoring by our gardner who knew way more about garlic than I did.
Look, this story ends before I have made a single dollar from farming. I have spent a lot of money though!! But, this story is about an idea as the seed, action as the fertile ground and the process leading to fruit and reward. It is about watering and cultivating from fragile germination toward abundant harvest including the weeds and thorns along the way.
I have often felt entrepreneurship stories focus too much on the destination, and the glitz of success. But this is a story of the journey of a thousand miles and taking a couple steps. The Road to the garlic garden.