A journey of a thousand miles
Monica Gwala (Niilenge), the owner of Mo-nize Farmstead Fresh Produce, is the only entrepreneur amongst six siblings, specifically in the field of agriculture – a field she describes as very rewarding, “but not immediately, and you need to produce in volume to be able to make good money”.
When an agent started bugging her about a plot of farming land in 2017, Gwala had no idea that this was the start of a new chapter. Being a “town girl” who grew up in Walvis Bay, she was annoyed at the agent, as she felt she had no business buying a farm.
But this was before a friend made her realise how great investment in land is. And since Gwala was already running an Otjiwarongo guesthouse after hours at the time, she could extend it to that area. “Sometimes we were so fully booked that we had to turn clients away,” she says, so she reconsidered and in July 2018, she purchased the 5ha plot.
Three months later, Gwala was retrenched from her office job where she worked as a branch executive. She then invested her time in clearing and de-bushing the plot along with fencing it off, with the lodge extension still in mind.
In December that year, she accepted an invitation from a friend to travel to Zimbabwe. While there, she enrolled to follow a horticultural programme and observed what other people do on their farms. “Only then did my vision come.”
2019 brought with it a time of trial and experimentation. “I had no fixed income and due to the recession, my guesthouse was not doing as well.” On top of that, due to water problems, her farm was not producing. The fence was low and animals who could easily spot the little maize that was growing, would eat most of her crop.
Gwala thought she had finally had it when her almost-ripe watermelons were destroyed by baboons, and porcupines and wild pigs ambushed the garden, eating most of the fruit through an opening dug under the fence.
“Every day we would remove three wheelbarrows of watermelons eaten by wild animals. Luckily, I have chickens,” which she says would eat what was left of the watermelons. However, due to the drought, she could not plant many veggies and soon the borehole she had drilled, began drying up.
In February last year, she invested her savings in higher fencing for the farming land. “I decide that until I see blood on my hands, I won't stop.” With this determination and after clearing the fields again, she finally reaped her first watermelon, tomatoes, spinach and cabbage in May. “My clients were mostly my friends and family, and later thanks to word of mouth, their friends and family also became my clients.”
She shares that “when I plant something and it grows, that is my most exciting and happy moment”.
In terms of advice, she says: “Start where you are. Start small and embrace your failures. Success comes with time.”
Gwala appreciates the support from her friends, family and the community, and emphasises the importance of people who are always there “even when you are in the burning phase”.
At the moment she is working on new ventures, such as selling seedlings and availing her farm for educational visits on weekends. She is also looking at offering training for people who show an interest in farming.
Ironically, Gwala hated visiting her parents at the village when she was younger because her mother forced her and her siblings to assist with ploughing. “I hated it so much, that every day I would go into the fields crying and come home crying. “If only she could see me now,” she concludes with a laugh.