Finding the dough in elephant dung me and my business
Many villages within the Okavango Delta view elephants as pests.
The largest of all the land mammals, elephants are responsible for numerous human casualties in this part of the country. They also cause widespread damage to people’s property, including crops, boreholes, and fences.
It is little wonder then, that some locals regard the tusked beast with suspicion and even hatred.
Nevertheless, this mighty, gentle-hearted creature is a huge asset to Botswana, taking its place at the very heart of the country’s billion Pula tourism industry.
They roam the region in large numbers, so much so that piles of their dung form part of the permanent features in the Okavango and the North West’s landscapes.
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Gunotsoga native, Botshelo Sesinyi believes there is profit to be made in the poo.
Since 2018, the 33-year-old director of Ruviya Family Gardens PTY LTD, has been kneading elephant excrement, expertly recycling it into useful items.
“We produce among others: mosquito repellents, paper, photo albums and journal covers. We supply lodges with our products and this has helped us keep food on our tables and our heads above the water,” Sesinyi explained.
The talented craftsman has found a useful ally in the area’s safari camps, with Kane Adventures and Bushman Plains especially keen on his products.
“Those are our most supporting customers. We often make customised products for them, which they use in their camps.”
Indeed tourists have been more receptive to his business than the local market.
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Ruviya, which means Happiness in the Sembukushu language, has managed to sell some of its products in the American state of Texas – hence Sesinyi’s motivation to start a curio shop franchise in safari camps.
“Batswana in general have not shown much interest in our products,” he admitted, before quickly adding, “I believe with time and as we market them, they will get to appreciate and support us!”
Born and raised in the Delta, in Gunotsoga village, Sesinyi grew up with a limited career choice.
“Policeman, nursing, teaching or tour guide, those were the careers we knew. Growing up in such a remote rural setting does not help you think outside the box.”
However, Sesinyi says this all changed during his time at Maun Senior Secondary School.
“I started dreaming of other careers and ended up choosing a Business Management course at tertiary level. This changed my prospective of life. It opened me up to new and diverse world of things. I have learnt many things that otherwise I would have not was I back home. I am self-taught in many things.”
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It was this course that Sesinyi says helped him start his elephant dung business.
It all began in 2017, when an Eco-exist competition challenged 13 villages in the delta to come up with innovative business ideas that would help the community live in peace with elephants.
Sesinyi’s proposal emerged as the overall winner and he received a P25, 000 grant to kick-start his enterprise, on the condition that he did so in his home village.
“Initially, I had a problem of working space so I ended up applying for a business plot which I was granted last year, around February. So I had to develop a curio shop and art gallery in Gunotsoga.”
Because of the relatively small market, the initiative is yet to generate the type of profit Sesinyi had envisioned.
Despite the slow start, he remains upbeat.
“The aim here is to help elephants and at the same time protect the environment and make a living out of that and for me that was a very good business opportunity,” stressed Sesinyi, who is making money through his other venture.
He runs a business consultancy company, Exobakhian Family PTY LTD, located at Maun’s bus rank. Exobakhian, derived from Sesinyi’s middle name, Exobakha, is focused on helping others start, build, and manage their businesses better, especially in the tourism sector.
“I enjoy working with people from different fields, so much that whenever I attend a workshop, my aim is to network so that at the end of the day I can reap something that can benefit my business; it could be a new business idea or even a business deal. I have helped many people set up their businesses and I do hold workshops and coach lessons for start ups, especially in the tourism industry,” concluded the versatile businessman.