The Voice (Botswana)



A PROFESSION­AL Researcher and expert Strategy Developmen­t Consultant, Sheila Damodaran came to Botswana at the invitation of the government in 2018.

At the end of her consultanc­y period, instead of returning to her country of origin, Singapore, Damodaran establishe­d her own business, My Farmhouse Kitchens, in Ledumaduma­ne to teach organisati­ons in a practical manner how to create employment through agricultur­e and manufactur­ing.

She is currently developing a series of research and training programmes globally and intends to develop a post-graduate programme in the field.

The Voice Newspaper Reporter, PORTIA MLILO, had a chat with her about her efforts in building a strong value-chain in the agricultur­e industry.

Briefly tell our readers about your businesses?

We are registered as a food manufactur­ing company called Pinnacle Foods, trademark My Farmhouse Kitchens, in Botswana. We are an organisati­on in developmen­t. This means putting the organisati­on and its people in place, including work and business processes, accounting, personnel, administra­tion, operations, and business developmen­t. We work exclusivel­y in the private sector space. We also do seedling production for farmers who adopt regenerati­ve farming practices, we intend to buy back their products for our food production.

I have also set up a second organisati­on that is based on the profession­al work that I do. It is a National Strategy Leadership Developmen­t Institute that trains corporate and sectorial leaders to understand ways to turn persistent issues that hold back the developmen­t of their sector or the nation, around. Works begin at the central government and gradually expand to include all sectors of an economy.

What inspired you to start My Farmhouse Kitchens?

My Farmhouse Kitchens, or MFK for short, began with the love of good tastes for the curry puffs and to bring them to the people who have travelled abroad or others who moved to work in the country. With time, the line between them and the locals who enjoyed the product disappeare­d as more tasted it. However, as a strategy developmen­t consultant, I was also curious to learn what helps or does not help organisati­ons grow as agricultur­e and manufactur­ing companies here. My Farmhouse Kitchens has become a test bed to learn and to test ideas that organisati­ons can try for themselves.

How is the business doing?

We have been investing in infrastruc­ture and work processes as well as marketing ourselves to farmers and corporates. The market is still new to us but we are seeing interest and growth with time.

How many people have you employed?

We currently have ten people on our payroll.

You don’t use pesticides in your nursery, how do you control pests?

Soil is a living organism. On the other hand, the widespread use of chemicals in our soils leads to soils that no longer have the biology required to support healthy plant growth. The soil has fewer nutritiona­l material remaining in the soil resulting in plants that quickly become weak and diseased. They are no longer protected by bacteria and fungi and instead are attacked by them. Fertiliser is the direct cause of the use of most pesticides. The question to ask ourselves is how can we improve the soil? A healthy plant is a partnershi­p between the plant, specialist bacteria, fungi, and healthy soil matter called humus, which creates a great deal of food for soil life needed for natural soil recovery. At MFK Gardens Nursery, we have learned to create a healthy eco-system using the above understand­ing for the nursery. This has meant we do not use chemicals to grow our seedlings. These learnings are shared with our farmers in our workshop programmes.

I understand you came here as a strategy consultant for the government of Botswana and did research on unemployme­nt in Botswana, what are your findings?

Yes, the research was completed in 2018 and presented in early 2019. The agricultur­e and manufactur­ing bases are typically the biggest creators of employment and form the base of the pyramid supporting other sectors in the economy. Retail and government are often the apexes of the pyramid. For us here, these two sectors overtake the above in size. With weak sectors in its base, the economy becomes threatened by persistent unemployme­nt and inflation.

What do you think needs to be done to address it?

The first is to reflect the data as it is to the people and the consequenc­es of the reality and consider the choices it wants to make. The agricultur­e and manufactur­ing bases will require persons with deep knowledge and skills in subjects such as mathematic­s and sciences and integrate them to build strong industrial chains of organisati­ons that build a strong economy.

Have you ever approached BUAN about the agricultur­e and food processing business?

We are currently liaising with UB on building our food manufactur­ing work processes. This has meant working with its industrial product designers in designing mechanisti­c work processes that can help us to produce products consistent­ly in an efficient manner. As these processes fall into place, it will open up opportunit­ies for BUAN to participat­e as well.

What challenges are you facing in these two businesses?

Processes are at developmen­t stage and so personnel recognise they have to learn to be creative and respond quickly to understand the long-term impact of decisions and their actions today. This requires extensive training from scratch to grow and fit in with the developmen­t of the organisati­on, else we lose efficiency. It is a learning curve for all. These present additional costs for the organisati­on.

What can customers expect from you today?

For now, we do high-end quality seedling production for farmers and improve their average production capacity from the current one-hectare levels to four and beyond. We do this by improving the quality of their crops, reducing their reliance on chemicals and, with improved soils, improving their production margins. We also conduct developmen­t workshops on soil regenerati­ve farming for clients.

In the past months, we have been working on listings of the curry puffs on the Yamee food delivery app (Google Playstore) so that customers get our food products delivered right to their doorstep. We are proud to announce the listing was launched in May this year and ordering us is now just a click away. We also offer a unique finger food menu for boardroom meetings that carry our signature products. To try us, just order us on the Yamee.

What are your business’s future plans?

As our manufactur­ing systems gear up into place, the next step is to build franchises both for seedling production as well as the MFK franchise.

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 ?? FIGHTING UNEMPLOYME­NT: Sheila Damodaran ??
 ?? ?? AGRICULTUR­E EXPERT: Sheila Damodaran

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