For the love of the land

Archie Mokoka

Usually the thought of farming conjures up images of dirty boots, greasy hands and a lot of sweat.

But it doesn’t have to be that way, according to former Voice staffer, Amanda Masire, 41.

In fact, the one time Advertising exec is living proof of that.

As the Francistowner rightly notes, the value chain is huge and there is much more to the industry than just turning soil upside down and throwing seeds under it!

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After teaching English for a decade she grew tired of the day-to-day monotony and could no longer handle the new breed of students.

Fate also played its hand in the direction of Masire’s life when she lost her mother.

An only child, the sole support she had crumbled when her marriage failed leading to divorce.

It was a tough time but when she looks back it guided her to a life of service, religion, tranquility and farming.

In this interview with Archie Mokoka, Masire, now Chief Executive Officer of her own company, Greenhouse Technologies, talks about succeeding in a traditionally man’s vocation and helping new age farmers thrive.

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Q. What is Amanda Masire all about?

A. I’m a simple girl from Francistown, a business lady and a mother of two children, 16 and 20. I’m also a Muslim.

Q. Getting straight to it, what exactly does Greenhouse Technologies do?

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A. We are a production training demonstration farm and a consultancy firm that helps Batswana get grants and subsidies that need specialised skills.

I have actually just mimicked the structure of Ministry of Agriculture, Crop Production as a private sector.

We do business plans, go out to install as per our plan and hold your hand until the end of your first cycle.

We also help you to list with shops such as Choppies, Ms Veg and teach you how to sell to BAMB as well as the horticultural market in general.

We further help with dry land farming by promoting correct farming practices.

Our soils have become too acidic due to overuse of fertilizer, acid rains and climate change so we are now working to help our partners to correct their soil to reduce the acidity.

We are also the leading lime suppliers in the country and as our motto states, ‘we make sure the farmer succeeds’.

Just like law firms and clinics we have files and all that for farmers.

We will need your field certificate, your soil test results, water test results; we talk to you and diagnose your needs and come up with solutions.

For the love of the land

Q. But first you were a teacher right?

A. The first place I worked was at The Voice and I got lucky to work closely with the owners, Donald Moore and the late Beata Kasale.

That prepared my mind for the future somehow because I was just an 18-year-old out of school invited by my former teacher Mrs. Moore – Mr. Moore’s wife – because I loved English.

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How could you not love English if you were taught by Mrs. Moore? I actually ended up teaching English.

Mrs. Moore took a liking to me because I was a teacher’s pet always at her service and reading during literature classes!

She felt my energy shouldn’t go to waste while I was waiting for my results.

I was meant to be a freelance reporter because I was very good with English.

Actually that’s the only subject I passed well because being an only child I was very playful!

Mr. Moore, however, saw something else in me and introduced me to advertising.

When I arrived at The Voice I received a warm welcome from Kasale who knew me from Orapa and had worked with my mom.

That made me comfortable and I felt at home.

I began to see that anything was possible and that I was called for something great.

Q. Interesting. So how then did you end up in farming?

A. My mom and dad bought a farm on the way to Woodlands Lodge next to the Crocodile farm and my mom quit her job to go and start poultry and a garden.

That’s when I took an interest in farming but after national service I went to study to be an English teacher and got a diploma in secondary education.

I started this company about nine years ago after I lost my mom and my marriage.

I knew I wasn’t going to do anything that didn’t fulfill me anymore. After 10 years I was tired of the monotony of teaching and I needed to get into business.

When I read the National Development Plans and the Budget Speech of that year it suggested to me it was people in Agriculture that were expected to receive money from the bank.

I remember scratching my head and thinking, ‘hey, but I love my skin and I’m so young and my kids go to school in Gaborone.

Does it mean I can only get help if I am a farmer?’

Then something hit me and said, ‘hold on.

Who helps these farmers? Why are people not using this money which comes back every year?’

For the love of the land

Q. So you decided to help farmers?

A. I used to think Batswana are lazy and all that but I have changed my mind.

Knowledge is power.

They just lack somebody like me to hold their hands and turn them into a professional set-up and that’s what we do.

I was part of the public sector development with BNPC where I developed a horticulture kit or ‘horticulture in a box’ which is all the essentials needed to make the farmers succeed.

I protected my intellectual rights.

Those were some of the advantages I had in moving faster.

The kit was intended for the youth having noticed they were coming in every day asking the same questions over and over.

I figured out what their needs were and came up with a solution for them.

Q. How did you turn that into business?

A. Poverty Eradication saw me launch the kit on Btv and went on to adopt it for their cluster gardens and one thing led to another.

That was my first break.

I then got into a partnership with the Ministry of Agriculture on this very plot to do a production training and demonstration farm.

This is a conditional plot whereby I have to do a production training and demonstration farm.

After they realised they were giving out all these grants and subsidies but they were failing and it boiled down to lack of know how.

Q. Would you say things are better with you in the picture?

A. People pay P300 to come here and we train the.

But what I pride myself with is the number of people we’ve helped get ISPAAD [Integrated Support Programme for Arable Agricultural Development].

We’ve helped so many of them I’ve lost count. We’ve built shade net structures, green houses, net houses, open field drip irrigation and sprinklers just to name a few.

I was named Launch Lioness 2019 by Stanbic Bank Botswana, they also sponsored me to go out to do my projects and have them documented on Btv.

We have a series of six videos on Btv of various things we’ve done under the ISPAAD programme that was sponsored by Stanbic because farming is the future.

Everybody wants to be a part of this. That’s another advantage I have.

There’s a lot of urban rural migration. We’re tired of the city.

Everybody wants to go to their farm and live in peace, be aware of what they are eating.

That’s why we promote integrated farming.

We all know that with water comes fish so we sell fish farming packages.

Likewise, with pollen comes bees.

When you do crop production you have pollen and you can then do bees to have honey.

Right now on my farm I have grown a lot of chillies because I’m going to make organic pesticide just to reduce trace elements on the food because we need to lead by example.

Sustainable Development Goals is the language everybody is talking.

Q. How does an English teacher succeed in farming?

A. I pride myself in the fact that I have three people who are more educated than me working for me.

Through my hard work I have gotten recognition and opportunities such as conversations with people like [Richard] Branson.

He says take care of your employees and they will take care of your stuff.

They are actually the people that run this organisation and I hope one day I will be able to sell to them because they are formidable.

Because of this team I’ve been able to sell things like three hectares, centre pivot sprinklers, drip irrigation.

I repair green houses and tunnels for LEA – big things that my teaching diploma wouldn’t quite have pulled off!

Q. Would you say farming helped you cope with the loss of your mom and marriage?

A. Yes, farming was definitely therapeutic.

I have changed. It might have been maturity or change of religion but half of the credit goes to being a farmer.

It’s such a noble, satisfying and very calming thing to do and I wish people could do it and find the peace that came with it for me.

Q. How did the children handle these losses?

A. They were too young when mom passed on.

As for the divorce we made sure they understand that they were not divorcing and besides we are the best co-parents in the world!

I feel lucky that my ex-husband, who got the house, lives with the children.

Q. Let’s talk about your conversion to Islam. How did that happen?

A. I feel like Allah chose me to become a Muslim.

I fell in love with the religion in many ways.

We went on holiday in Dubai and I was so wowed by the religion.

I remember saying to my family – we were still a family then – look how Arabs love their God and we put ours to shame.

My son also used to play cricket for Botswana and I used to spend a lot of time around Muslim women and loved their composure and demeanor; how organised they were and the things they spoke about.

But what really won me over was realising that Mary the mother of Jesus was a Muslim.

Q. How do you unwind?

A. The farm is my escape.

It’s like a holiday.

Imagine nature, Tati River and clean air.

I’ve done my bit of partying and as they say, life begins at 40.

Since I turned 40 I have started rediscovering myself and I’m not as excited about hotel rooms as I used to be!

Q. Do you do any charity?

A. Charity is part of Islam but it’s just between me and God so I will not share with you!

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