The miracle tree: A miracle my bank account had been waiting for?
During one of the ‘women in agriculture’ workshops, someone mentioned to me this new ‘jackpot’ opportunity to make $20,000 per quarter for 2 years! All you have to do? Plant a hectare of moringa! “there is such a demand for it and the risk is definitely worth the reward!” she said. As a budding entrepreneur, I always took pride in embracing the notion that ‘you have to take risks to win’. I am smarter now and know that entrepreneurs, at least the good ones, are risk-averse. Investing only after fully doing their research and doing all they can to minimize risk. Anyway, back to my own ‘moringa’ adventures.
I immediately called my elder brother (yes, my whole family is entrepreneurial lol) to share this exciting new opportunity! We contacted the ‘foundation’ that had launched this exciting money-making agri-venture and were ‘biting at the bit’ to get started. They sold us the seed and assured us that they would be on the ground with us every step of the way offering technical support. Also, if there was a poor germination rate, seed would be given to fill in the gaps. Good right? (At least on paper…?)
Like most business ventures (at least the legal ones), we needed start-up capital. We assessed our requirements and in less than two minutes realized we could not finance the project on our own. So, we wrote a business proposal and approached our parents for the money (and farmland). Remember the first go-to’s for entrepreneurs are often ‘Family…Fools & Friends’. We worked out a repayment plan and were good to go!
We thought to ourselves, “why do one hectare when we can do more?” so we expanded to three hectares. We called the foundation to assess the land and the situation and were given the green light. True to their promise, the foundation sent an employee on the day of planting who showed us how to do it right ie how far apart, how deep, etc. We were ecstatic after we planted. Waiting for the crop to germinate and become millionaires!
One month went by… and no germination had happened. We got a little concerned and contacted the foundation who told us that moringa doesn’t like cold weather… (you would have thought they would have advised against planting right before the start of winter right…?) “But don’t worry,” they said, “it is good that it is in the ground otherwise the cold would burn the leaves.” Ah, we were good. All we had to do was wait for warm weather…
Three months went by and then four, five… little sprouts here and there but hardly anything to write home about (and our first loan payment was due). We called the foundation and they sent someone to determine if the seed was faulty or rotting underground and we were told that all was well and it should pick up with the start of summer.
Summer came in full force… We were optimistic…We were ‘true farmers’ now obsessed with weather conditions. Soon another problem arose, considering the size of the field, it took 2 days for the workers to water each hectare. Irrigation was not part of our original ‘agri-venture master plan’ That meant that it was a full 5 days before we could water the same spot again. Mad at ourselves for not anticipating this problem, we sprang into action. We went to the agriculture shops and bought irrigation pipes and sprinklers. Long story short, that didn’t work as well because of inadequate water pressure from the tank. We bought an extra generator and booster to help curb this problem. The foundation told us not to worry and wait for the rain. That they would replace what was lost. At this point, we started to wonder whether they knew what they were doing. It seemed so far that their response to everything was ‘not to worry’ and wing it. So, we waited…and waited…and waited. The rain started exceptionally late that year, in fact, it started early the following year (this is climate change on the frontline).
The dream of becoming millionaires grew dimmer each day before we were faced with reality. A combination of over-eagerness, lack of knowledge, unpreparedness, poor seed and lack of technical support had led to these two young entrepreneurs owing their parents money with nothing to show for it. The contact person from the foundation became elusive. Turns out he had been fired months before for incompetence and was falsely representing himself as an employee of the said foundation.
We tried to seek compensation from the foundation for bad seed and incompetent technical support. They were apologetic and readily agreed. An amount was set. A couple of unfruitful visits to collect the money and one bounced cheque later, we gave up.
Although we owe our parents quite an amount of money, not all was lost. We learned so many valuable lessons from this ordeal. Besides, money spent learning is never money wasted right? So here I am, telling you my experience so you can learn from it and hopefully, not make the same mistakes we did. A few helpful tips:
Do your research!! Even if you are working with supposed experts, learn about the processes involved in your venture. Your research should also include the legitimacy of the companies/foundations/ partners that you might work with.
Map out your journey. This helps you identify potential threats or deviations from the plan. That way you are better prepared.
Visit local farms & volunteer so you can ‘learn on the job’ without carrying the risk. In farming seeing is believing.
Start small. Do it well. After you have learned and perfected the art on a small scale, you can expand.
Plant in seedling trays first. To increase the germination rate, plant your seeds in trays first and plant already germinated moringa into the ground. Also for ease of irrigation.
Try a few different seed varieties to see which is most resilient.
Research on intercropping as a solution using the ‘push-pull’ effect to ensure pests stay away.
Only take calculated risks. Contrary to popular belief, entrepreneurs are risk-averse. Only take the risks after doing your research and accounting for potential threats to success. And only plant what you know you can sell on the market if you are growing, who is buying?
Don’t borrow from banks just yet! it might be tempting but unless you are certain about your business in terms of scalability and return on investment, avoid taking loans from banks or loan sharks. Remember, for a start-up, entrepreneurs should first look to the 3Fs ie Friends, Family and Fools. It is easier to manage these relationships in case things do not go as expected. Manage your risks but be wise about who you owe.
And finally, stay on good terms with your family! You never know who your first investors might be.