Gillian in Australia points out that I leave gaps in the narrative; I do – apologies – a psychological distancing I suppose?
She asks: what kind of farm is it? Why did it not succeed? What are your immediate options? What did you do before this farm?
It is – was – a horticultural farm: growing produce for the big supermarket chains in Europe, primarily England – Tesco and Sainsbury.
Why did it fail? Myriad reasons: the supermarkets are well supplied and can pick and choose who grows for them: one blemished bean and you risk losing orders; our esteemed customers, they say, won’t eat peas with spots or beans that are bent. Why ever not I want to know? It all ends up in the same place after all. But they’re not interested in what I think: if the beans and peas are spotty or crooked they are rejected, hundreds and thousands of tons of produce a year goes to waste. Not entirely to waste, of course, some can be sold locally, some is taken away by farm labourers (though their taste for silly insubstantial mangetout is not what it is in Surrey), some is fed to the cattle and pigs and some goes into the compost. But the costs to grow, grade and export are crippling and are not met by tossing rejects onto the compost pile. Breaking even in this business, it turned out, was a luxury. Ha Ha – make poverty history Mr Brown? How can we when your supermarkets are too fussy to buy beans with tiny blemishes. Africa’s trying to help herself but the supermarket specifications (beans of x mm diameter, no more than x mm in length and precisely the right shade of green) keep tripping her up.
Secondly, the shareholders brought in a team of suited consultants from shiny offices in Johannesburg. They knew their way around spreadsheets but not around farming in Africa; where the business was precarious, they – in a few short months – had pushed it right over the edge.
Before this we grew roses for the European auctions. We did that for seven years. Roses are easier, nobody eats them. (Or at least not often, only when they’re pissed at parties).
Options? We’ll see.
Promise to keep you posted, was just anxious not to bore anybody.