Lebogang Eugene Pule, an aspiring Agripreneur recently got the much needed boost that will turn his dream into a reality.
He won the Citizen Entrepreneurial Development Agency (CEDA) and Development Bank of Southern Africa University challenge where Botswana youth enrolled in tertiary institutions were to come up with implementable solutions to issues affecting the country.
Pule, who is currently studying BSc Soil and Water Conservation Engineering at Botswana University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (BUAN) received P210 000 which he will use to kick start his business.
The 30-year-old Francistown born wants to produce fertilizer from organic waste to reduce farmers’ expenditure on chemical fertilizer.
He believes his project is cost effective as it uses readily available raw materials which include household and agricultural waste.
Our reporter Portia Ngwako-Mlilo had a chat with this young aspiring entrepreneur about winning the challenge and how best he will implement his idea.
Q. What does winning this challenge mean to you?
A. Being the first winner of this challenge is a great achievement.
But I also need to lead by example as it was mentioned that the challenge is going to be done annually while the prize money is set to increase to P1 million.
For that to happen, the sponsors need to see my idea implemented. Winning the award gives me hope that my idea is doable.
It was not an easy journey as other top 10 finalists had great ideas.
Botswana has brilliant minds when it comes to business ideas.
Q. What influenced you to come up with this idea?
A. I realised that about 50-60% organic waste that goes into landfill and cause environmental problems like underground water pollution can be put to good use.
Dairy and feedlot farmers have challenges disposing their waste which can be turned into organic fertilizer that can be used as plant growth medium or soil conditioner.
Q. Did you have that idea in mind before or you came up with it for the competition?
A. I have always had this idea but did not have startup capital.
When I heard about the challenge I decided to try my luck.
When CEDA/DBSA team visited BUAN to sensitise the students about the challenge, I told myself that I should put up a good proposal so that my dream of becoming an Agripreneur can become a reality.
Q. One of the objectives of this challenge was that the idea should seek to address problems faced by Botswana…
A. My idea is addressing two problems: High unemployment and disposing of waste.
I think the number of employed youth will increase with the success of the business.
I will employ people to sort out the waste, process and package the fertiliser before distribution.
We will have plants around the country where there is constant supply of waste.
Q. What solution will this business bring?
A. We want to move from chemical fertilizers to organic.
The product is much affordable for local farmers.
This project is cost effective as it uses readily available raw materials.
In this project, we will also produce worm juice which is a very nutritious liquid fertilizer that can be used to irrigate crops.
Q. Now that you won the challenge, what next?
A. There’s still a lot of work to be done. I need to be very strategic and careful when implementing this idea.
The prize money was deposited into my account and I decided to transfer it into a fixed account so that I don’t get tempted and use it for a different purpose.
Q. Do you think the money will be enough to set up a business?
A. I have a number of ideas but I have to start small, as the business grows I will be able to implement other ideas.
We still have a problem of fresh vegetables so I also want to do horticulture.
Q. Where does the love for Agri business come from, is it because you are a student at university of agriculture?
A. After completing my higher diploma in agric engineering I did my internship at the department of agricultural research and I was exposed to agriculture in a much large scale.
That is when I thought of making a living in this area and my passion for Agri business developed.
Jobs are very scarce and I did not want to be part of unemployed statistics.
I had to think of something to help me to earn a living and change the lives of other unemployed youth.
Q. Is this idea doable though? Do we see it successful in other countries?
A. Yes. According to my research, part of America uses worms to turn waste into organic fertilizer.
Q. Where will your business be based?
A. I am still working on the logistics to see where I can set up the business because I need to have reliable and constant supply of organic waste.
I have to be strategic so that I don’t spend a lot of money transporting raw material to the warehouse.
I am working on my final year project which takes much of my time but in January I will be focusing on my business.
I need to liaise with the City Council, department of waste pollution and other stakeholders for possible partnerships.
Q. Apart from the prize money how is CEDA/DBSA going to help in the implementation of your idea?
A. I am yet to go back to them to see how I can probably link up with other people who can help implement this idea.
They are going to support me through mentorship and monitoring the progress of the business.
Q. Where are you going to sell your products?
A. The market is available. Local farmers need the organic fertliser for their crops.
I will also make sure I find market in the neighbouring countries like South Africa and Namibia.
Q. What challenges are you likely to face with this business?
A. We need red wigglers (earth worms) to do the fertilizer and they are not available locally.
The other challenge can be environmental conditions which can affect production.
There is also competition for waste because there are companies which recycle newspapers.
Some farmers might also decide to sell their waste which will in turn push up the production costs.
Q. Most businesses owned by young entrepreneurs collapsed, how are you going to ensure yours survives?
A. I think I need mentors to survive. Lack of mentorship at times contributes to poor performance and closure of youth businesses.
Mentors have been there before and they can share ideas of how to overcome certain temptations and grow the business.
I want to see this business leading the market in supplying organic fertilizers in Botswana and regionally.
Q. Who is your inspiration?
A. I am inspired by Mosisidi farms arable young farmer Duncan Omphemetse Ramooki who is putting a lot of energy in his business and feeding the nation.
Another inspiration comes from former political leader David Magang, who started his business empire started his empire from humble beginnings.
Q. Thank God is Friday, what are your plans for the weekend?
A. Bofinet Softball league is on so every weekend I officiate at games as an umpire.