Ending fowl play

Ending fowl play

MASERU-A chicken is a time-honoured symbol of Basotho’s hospitality. Those birds, first domesticated by humans some thousands of years ago, are an almost permanent feature of the meal with which Basotho welcome special visitors.

You know a special guest has arrived when children start scurrying around the yard, chasing chicken.
If the visitor cannot wait for the meal the host will give them a live chicken as a gift to take back home.

Yet despite their appetite for chickens, Basotho are not rearing enough of them. Although they are the easiest to rear livestock in the rural areas, chickens are in short supply in Lesotho.
The few that venture into poultry cannot meet the insatiable demand for the drumsticks. So the bulk of the birds Basotho consume come from South Africa.

The numbers of chicken Lesotho buys from South Africa are staggering.
Yet they chime well with the trend of Lesotho getting most of its food from across the border.
Knoema, a trade data research portal, says Lesotho imported 17 365 000 kgs of chicken meat in 2018. In the same year local production was just over 1 800 000 kgs.

The surge in demand has continued over the past four decades as the population increase meant there were more tummies to feed.
For instance, in 1969 Lesotho there were virtually no chicken imports into Lesotho.
Yet in 2007 some 5 400 000kgs were brought into the country. That figure grew by almost half a decade later. At the peak, in 2014, Basotho ate 20 000 000 kgs of imported chicken.

These figures are mouth-watering to any entrepreneurs. They explain the small backyard poultry projects that keep popping up in the villages.
Most of those projects don’t survive beyond two years but others have been resilient. But now some Basotho want to take poultry to lofty levels. They are not doing this with their little savings and in their backyard.

No longer content with small fowl runs, they want chicken farms.
They are harnessing the power of collaboration to go commercial.
Leading the way into these unchartered waters is a group of eight men and women who formed Mon Foods Farm and Abattoir in September.
Launched last Friday, Mon Foods has a farm at the Lesotho Agricultural College and an abattoir at the Thetsane Industrial Area.

The farm produces 12 000 birds a week and the abattoir can slaughter 27 000 birds per hour, making a midsized company employing over 60.
Stephen Monyamane, Managing Director at Mon Foods, said Mon Foods is a result of “ordinary Basotho with ordinary money but (who are) willing to do extraordinary things”.

“Mon Foods is about going back to the old templates but bringing about the newness of life to grow the economy and create wealth for Basotho,” Monyamane said at the launch last Friday.
“There are no longer good stories to tell about Lesotho’s economy, so we have the opportunity to rewrite them.”
Mon Foods, he said, will remain fully owned by Basotho to return the economy to the hands of indigenous Basotho.
Monyamane said Lesotho’s economic fortunes can only be transformed if Basotho can produce their own food.

“We cannot be fully independent until we are able to feed ourselves. If anything Covid-19 has made it very clear that we need to produce our own food. We all saw how food prices were hiked significantly during the lockdown.”

Food, especially from South Africa, is the biggest chunk of Lesotho’s export bill. Monyamane wants to keep that money home. It is an ambitious vision, given that Mon Foods will be competing with food giants in South Africa.
But Monyamane believes they will hold their own.
The plan, he said, is to enhance the value chain while also creating wealth for communities in which they operate.

“We have acquired land in Thaba-Bosiu and the agreement is that the first half will be paid in cash when the remaining half will be turned into equity. Our projections say that from 2022 dividends will be paid to fifty families of at least M8 500 a month”.
“We have also ensured that these families cannot wake up one day and decide to sell their land, this equity will be passed down from generation to generation creating wealth for these families”.

Mon Foods also plans to increase farm capacity from 12 000 birds a week to 77 000 birds by the end of the year in order to meet abattoir capacity.
He said there is need for political will to remove hurdles that impede private sector growth.
It’s an observation shared by Dr Maluke Letete, the Prime Minister’s Adviser, who said “Lesotho has been suffering disgrace because it did not build its private sector”.

“Our former leaders did badly. They did not grow the private sector. They thought they could do it all and eventually all assets that we had were sold and unfortunately not to Basotho,” Letete said.
“Let us give our assets for production to Basotho to use them to produce food and jobs,” Letete said.

The Minister of Finance Thabo Sofonia said the creation of Mon Foods is a clear indication that Basotho are capable of collaborations for the development of the country.
“We have been told so many times that we are incapable of collaborations as we tend to put personal agendas ahead of the greater picture. Today, through you, we know that it is possible,” Sofonia said.

Lemohang Rakotsoane

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