Rekindling hope

Rekindling hope

MASERU – WHEN Nyakallo Mokuena, 26, did not get a pass that would allow him to enrol at the Lesotho College of Agriculture in 2011, he thought he had literally hit a dead end.
His dream was up in flames. Ever since he was young, Mokuena had a passion to work the land.

Yet he knew that to be successful he would not have to rely on the traditional and archaic ways of growing crops and rearing livestock.
He needed a qualification from a reputable college that would put him on a strong footing in the cut-throat business of farming.
That was why he desperately wanted that qualification from the Lesotho College of Agriculture.
With his path blocked, Mokuena did not give up.

Four years after he finished his high school education, he enrolled at the Mahlaseli Agricultural and Vocational Institute of Excellence in Thaba-bosiu.
Mokuena, who was part of the college’s first intake, is set to graduate from the college this coming spring.
Mokuena, who is now a small-scale farmer, says the three-year training programme opened his eyes to the world of business.
He is currently growing vegetables for sale in Mafeteng.

He is also supplying cabbages and other vegetables to schools under the government’s school feeding programme.
Mokuena has also ventured into seedling production. His biggest customer is the Ministry of Forestry.

He says he is looking forward to the ministry buying his seedlings so that it can distribute them countrywide for its reforestation programme in Lesotho as well as developing orchards.
Mokuena says he wants to diversify his vegetable crops to meet growing demand.

He believes the agriculture sector, with proper support from the government, can help minimise food insecurity in Lesotho.
He also says through agriculture youth unemployment can be held at bay.

“Research shows that young people remain nearly four times more likely to be unemployed than their adult counterparts,” he says.
Youth unemployment in Lesotho currently stands at a staggering 40 percent.

Mokuena says what he particularly liked at Mahlaseli was that the college taught him the art of producing more while using fewer resources.
That skill has often come in handy in his day-to-day activities.

He also appreciates the skills they were given to fight climate change.
Mokuena says it is quite tragic that some youths venture into agriculture when they are “oblivious of some scientific principles they have to employ to produce vegetables and other crops in general”.

“Lack of skills to make use of technology compounded by climate change has worsened the plight of emerging farmers in most rural parts of the country,” he says.
“Youths should be in the driver’s seat in terms of food security and be the key drivers for sustainable production.”
“Climate change is here to stay. We (have to devise ways of dealing with it.)”

He says since he lives in a water-stressed area, he is able to use little water optimally because he engages in Conservation Agriculture (CA).
“And the moisture lasts for a long time,” he says.

The Conservation Agriculture method seeks to maximise land use by growing crops with minimal disruption of the soil’s structure and natural biodiversity.
It has been a hit with Lesotho’s farmers over the years as it boosted crop production.

The programme was introduced in Lesotho by the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) to fight climate change.
Mokuena says the Conservation Agriculture programme allows him not to rely on rain-fed agriculture.
This allows him to grow crops through-out the year.

Mokuena says it is unacceptable for communities in rural areas to struggle to get adequate nutrition when they have the means to produce enough nutritious food.
He says he wants to help his community get out of this cycle.

Mokuena says he is looking forward to working with the government in providing food under the school feeding programme.
The National School Feeding Policy which became operational in 2014 outlines how key sectors should cooperate in providing healthy meals to primary school children.
The policy encourages that food stocks should be bought largely from local farmers, a policy Mokuena says will help farmers.

The new policy came into operation after the government realised that most of the foodstuffs for the 400 000 school-going children were being imported from South Africa, depriving local farmers of the much-needed revenue.

There are about 50 000 more children who benefit from the programme in pre-schools.
The school feeding policy aims to help smallholder farmers like Mokuena to increase their production levels and revenue, while also diversifying their operations into food processing.
There are at least 1445 primary schools throughout the country that are benefiting from the programme.

Mokuena says “there is a broad market at community level where local farmers including vegetable producers could sell their produce”.
“The government has introduced a feeding scheme programme in government and church-owned schools countrywide where local farmers sell their produce to those who have won tenders at those schools,” Mokuena says.

“And the market is there for everyone to grab.”  Mokuena says the skills he attained at the vocational school have allowed him to “wage war against poverty that is rife in rural communities”. “I am engaged in commercial vegetable production and I am looking forward to stretching my farming tentacles in the nearby future,” he says.
A board member of the Mahlaseli Agricultural and Vocational Institute of Excellence, ’Mantoetse Jobo, says although their institute is only three years old, “it has already made its mark towards poverty reduction and creating job opportunities”.

Jobo says they set up the institute to cater for students who would have failed to make it into tertiary institutions.
“They lose hope that they could ever improve their lives when they fail to pass their (exams),” Jobo says.
She says their school was established to cater for students “who are in despair and to rekindle hope for those who will be roaming the streets without jobs or any admission at any tertiary institution”.

Jobo says while the institute is still trying to find its feet but is already changing lives for Basotho youths.

Majara Molupe

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