Get Basotho back into agriculture

Get Basotho back into agriculture

In an ideal situation, commercial agriculture should be the biggest employer and one of the biggest contributors to Lesotho’s GDP.
However, the sector has been neglected to a state of complete collapse yet Lesotho has numerous advantages compared to its peers in the region.

In last week’s opinion piece published in thepost newspaper, I pointed out that Basotho Canners used to be a perfect model of success on how commercial agriculture can benefit the entire supply/value chain, especially the rural communities.

I am a child of the 80’s. I remember a time when I was growing up in a village named Mazenod, Ha Sekepe, and almost everyone was either producing asparagus, green beans, peas and peaches (with it’s by products).
The village was busy. There was no time to discuss cheap politics. The minds were focused on production.
One thing that I remember vividly was that almost everyone in the village had money in their pockets. I remember a day when our neighbour had received a cheque of about ten thousand Maloti. This was in the early nineties and ten thousand was a lot of money then.

The essence of my message is that Basotho canners had a direct benefit to the people on the ground and the benefits were visible. Basotho had cash in their pockets and could make a good living out it.
As I mentioned last week, it only took the clumsiness and greed of our politicians to destroy the Basotho Canners, a system and model that was working well like a Rolls-Royce engine.
Where do we go from here? What are the solutions?

Basotho are in a state of hopelessness. They are frustrated. Young people are addicted to alcohol and drugs and politicians don’t have a clue on what to do next. The next best thing is to fight one another and fight over power.
What is the solution to our problems? The best things to do, is to go back to basics. Go back to the fallen fruits. Go back to agriculture!

My Uncle always advises me with this phrase, “always start with the line of least resistance”.
What is the meaning of the line of least resistance? According to the Collins Dictionary, the line of least resistance is the easiest, but not necessarily the best or most honourable, course of action:
The second meaning is as follows: If you take the line of least resistance in a situation, you do what is easiest, even though you think that it may not be the right thing to do. In American English, you usually talk about the path of least resistance.

Agriculture is the path of least resistance. Lesotho has an over abundance of water and fertile land. Basotho have ownership of land and the climate is fairly good.
I was once informed that Lesotho has one of the highest number of rivers and streams per square kilometer, in the world. That’s a major advantage. A dream for Israel and Egypt.

Unfortunately, Lesotho has serious disadvantages on the other hand. The politics are very toxic and very destructive. The politics are like a toxic acid eating the core of its container (the poor nation).
As a result, the Basotho nation is directionless and has resorted to become beggars on a beach of gold. Look, Lesotho is a beach of gold. There’s everything that one needs for success.

The biggest challenge is alcohol abuse and malnutrition. Basotho do not have physical power to do manual work anymore. Young people would rather resort to drinking a quart (Kh’otho) of beer in the morning, before starting the day. That’s the reason why they’ve all run to driving 4+1 taxis because they don’t have physical power.
The result of that is a nation made of malnourished and tired young people. The workforce is unproductive and lazy. On the other hand, the brewery is making super profits. Its shareholders are smiling from ear to ear. More especially for the LNDC.

That’s the reason why the LNDC will never relinquish its stake in the Brewery. It’s just easy cash coming in for doing nothing. Anyway, it’s a discussion for another day.
My point is that, our workforce in Lesotho is very unproductive due to alcohol abuse. If it were to me, I would over-regulate the alcohol industry in its entirety.
There shouldn’t be a reason why bars and off-sale outlets are open during “working hours”. Working hours are for working not drinking. We can’t have a situation where young people are sitting outside of bars, in full view of people and children, at 9am. They should be in the fields producing food.

Our MP’s should look into this issue urgently. Hon. Mosena, there’s an assignment for you. Regulate this poison that is killing our people.
Our people more especially the youths should be out in the fields way before sunrise. It is a culture that we can borrow from the Chinese and cultivate it from an early age. That culture was there until agriculture was seen as way of living for poor and rural people. But it shouldn’t be. Agriculture should be a way of life.
I made a hypothetical example on how Lesotho consumes about 13 Billion Maloti worth of food and beverages on an annual basis. Well over 75% of that food is imported from South Africa but it should be produced locally by Basotho youth. There is simply no reason why Basotho youths are unemployed.

The second, issue that needs urgent attention is to privatize the Basotho Canners factory. There is simply no reason why the LNDC is holding onto that asset to the detriment of Basotho famers. The LNDC has to invite offers for companies such the Rhodes Food Company, Tiger Brands or even PepsiCo.
Those companies are well established and can re-establish value chains within Lesotho. We don’t have to re-invent the wheel. Let’s work with companies that have capacity and a proven track record instead of closing a facility for political reasons.

As a matter of fact, Pepsi-Co recently bought Pioneer Foods in SA for 26 Billion Rands. That’s about twice the amount of Lesotho’s budget.
The Basotho canners model has to be duplicated nationwide. I believe that each district can have a food processing facility of that size or even bigger. Quthing and Leribe districts have great potential to host such facilities because of an advantage of fertile soil and an abundance of water.

Lastly, Lesotho has a lot of water that unfortunately get’s wasted. The second point is that Basotho have lost the skill to produce food. Lesotho needs to make collaborations with nations such as Israel and Egypt in order to form JV’s for commercial agriculture. We must out source functions to mitigate our weak points.
It is very sad for us as a nation to have a river such as the Senqu River and not have commercial agricultural activities on the river-banks. It can only take collaborations with nations or companies that have a proven formula or experience to produce food for the export market.

I would say, give the entire Senqu River to the Israelis who would produce food for both domestic consumption and export markets. Lesotho would benefit in two ways, tax-revenue and mass-employment. The gist of the message is, privatize the agricultural sector.
As a very last point, Lesotho needs to invest in weirs (a low dam built across a river to raise the level of water upstream or regulate its flow). Lesotho can have direct benefits if it could pilot a project to build weirs in the Senqu and Makhaleng rivers.

The direct benefits would be irrigation, fishponds for communities (for the much needed omega-3 nutrients for communities and MPs), and electricity generation for the community and a catchment for diamonds that get washed away by rain-water and rivers. Communities can mine diamonds easily and make a bit of money.
Lesotho should have invested in weirs a long time ago in order to retain/harvest water more for the dry seasons. That should be our number one priority as a nation. South Africa has done that with the Gariep in the Free State Province and the Vanderkloof dams in the Northern Cape province of South Africa.

The Northern Cape Province produces high quality food on the riverbanks of the Senqu/Orange River. The tourism from the water activity is also abuzz. Communities are making money and mining Lesotho diamonds directly from the Orange River. But Basotho can’t replicate that model. Fallen fruit!

Well, I will discuss investments in Technical and Vocational Education and Training Colleges (TVET Colleges) in the next pieces. Our education should be oriented in giving our young people skills in producing food and harvesting water.
We can’t be oversupplying lawyers and accountants year-in-year-out. We need to get Basotho back in agriculture and make it a way of living (Agri-Culture!).

‘Mako Bohloa

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