A life-changing gift for farmers

A life-changing gift for farmers

MOKHOTLONG – IT is not the passage of time that healed widow ’Maphaello Mphongoa after her husband’s death in 2015. It is what the 47-year-old did within that time.
For 25 years as a married woman, Mphongoa, who hails from Maluba-Lube in the mountainous district of Mokhotlong, depended on her husband for almost everything – from putting bread on the table to clothing her body.
When her husband died in 2015 she was devastated, wondering if she would be able to make it in life and raise their children.

Some of her children were already grown-ups but she still felt that she had a responsibility to look after them because they were not working.
Mphongoa has no fields to grow food, which is a must in rural areas where almost all families depend on subsistence farming.
All she was left with were a few small plots near her house for growing vegetables and a few livestock.
Faced with abject poverty and hunger, Mphongoa had to be innovative and she settled for the wool industry.

Eyeing the sales of wool that could give her at least M7 000 a year depending on the quality of the product, she had to increase her flock from 20 sheep.
During the mating seasons she would rent a ram for M300, resulting in her flock increasing to 50.
The sheep are her only source of income.
Last week, the Transformation Resource Centre (TRC) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) donated merino rams to Mphongoa and nine others in the area.
Mphongoa could not hide her happiness.

“I will be able to increase my flock of sheep, and this time with the improved ram,” she said.
However, she constantly worries about her livestock getting stolen.
“I am scared of losing the rams to theft,” she said.
“I pray to God that thieves do not visit my home because it would be a great setback not only for me but fellow villagers,” she said.
The donors said the recipients should not be selfish but allow other villagers access to the rams during mating season.

Another beneficiary ’Malitšoane Ntšasa, 45, said she grew up herding sheep.
When Ntšasa’s husband lost his job at a gold mine in South Africa some time ago, she did not feel any pressure of having to go back to her old ways of herding sheep.
She too has 50 sheep.

In Lesotho, especially in rural areas, livestock herding is customarily considered a man’s job while the women’s role is limited to the kitchen.
“I grew up in a family that has more girls than boys. There were five girls before my parents could have a boy and it meant until such a time that our male siblings could herd the family livestock we had to take up the task,” Ntšasa said.
Ntšasa said her father was a strict man who did not abide by gender specific roles of that time.

There was no role designed for a male or a female in her father’s house and she does not regret growing up under him.
“At the time I thought he was too strict and didn’t even love us, but now I know that if it hadn’t been of the lesson I would have not become the woman I am today.”

Ntšasa is among five women and five men who received an improved Merino Ram breed from the TRC and UNDP last Friday in Mokhotlong, Malu-balube and Popa-Kanana.
She has five children with the oldest being a 24-year-boy who is a first year student at the National University of Lesotho.
As a member of the agricultural committee in her village, Ntšasa has demonstrated great leadership in agricultural production and conservation in the community.

“I am self-sustaining. My expectations are not with the man to provide for me. I can herd my livestock. If there is need to plough my field, I will do so,” she said.
“I am convinced that we can only defeat poverty through agriculture.”
She said she used to rent a ram but these were “simple breeds” that did not improve her own flock.

“This ram could not have come at a better time,” she said, referring to the donation. “Times have been tough for wool and mohair farmers to get enough money from selling their wool recently.”
She was referring to the squabbles within the wool and mohair industry, with the government and farmers on each other’s throats after a monopoly was created to benefit a Chinese national, Stone Shi’s Maseru Dawning company.
“We had it tough this year and this gesture by TRC and UNDP is a healing ointment to our wounds,” she said.

“We are still not sure if things will work out for the better but having an improved breed will set us a good return once the government sees it fit to restore our lives,” she said.
According to Chief Abia Leuta, the area chief of Maluba-Lube, livestock theft is not rampant in villages under his jurisdiction because of cooperation by his men.

Chief Leuta said he works hard with the village men to curb crime.
“I am blessed with a community that listens when I speak and when we agree on issues that will benefit us,” the chief said.
Maluba-Lube is one of the villages that will be seriously affected by the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP)’s Polihali Dam where villagers are going to lose their fields.

This means livestock rearing will be their number one source of income, hence the importance of having improved rams.
There is a saying that “the ram is half the flock”.
One of the primary tools for which sheep breeders consider for an improved breed is the selection of the best ram.
This is a blessing for the community of Maluba-Lube and Popa-Kanana because 10 of the people that received rams are just the guardians as they will be used by all farmers in the area.

“This project is aimed at improving the lives of the people of Maluba-Lube and not for one individual to keep it to themselves in selfishness,” Tsikoane Peshoane, the Director of TRC, said.
Peshoane said the project is set to change people’s lives, while also emphasising the need to adapt to climate change.
“The only way to ascertain sustainable agriculture is by conforming to climate friendly measures that will assist in restoration of land and improved breeding,” he said.

“This is the only way that agriculture shall continue to sustain many lives.”
Peshoane said it is sad that big development projects such as the Polihali Dam project, were sinking local people deeper into poverty.
Chief Leuta said he had to break the law to have his community see the importance of conserving pasture lands.
He increased the fines from M4.00 to M100 per animal for those caught grazing their animals on the preserved pasture.

The sheep will need good pastures to produce quality wool that will in turn create more income for farmers.
Speaking on behalf of the principal chief of Mokhotlong, Chief Tšepo Seeiso, said law makers are quiet about the land and pasture land laws and policies that need to be revisited in order to conserve agricultural land.
“We do not need this in this lifetime,” Chief Seeiso said.
“When did the M4 ever become a justifiable fine for something so serious? We need to change the way we hold people accountable if we want positive results,” he said.

Khotsang Moshoeshoe, Chairperson of the Mokhotlong Wool and Mohair Growers Association, described the rams as a “life-changing gift”.
He advised the recipients of the rams to take good care of them and to feed them well.
“Good production and breeding comes from good care,” Moshoeshoe said.
“Do not use them for heavy duty chores because their work is already a hefty one,” he said.

Moshoeshoe said the donations came “at the right time” when farmers are in tears due to the difficulties of the past year.
“We are where we are as farmers because people take decisions in our absence,” he said.
“The TRC and UNDP consulted with us to know what would be best for us as farmers of Maluba-Lube and we told them and they did exactly that.”

“There are no records of how much wool we have produced this past year because our wool was sold on the black market,” he said.
“Our children did not go to school this year because there was no money. We are in poverty.”
He warned the recipients against selling the rams.
“The rams will be profitable to you now and in the long run.”

Rose Moremoholo


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