The hatching of an idea

The hatching of an idea

ROMA – When the National University of Lesotho (NUL)’s newest company, Phula Poultry Products, released its first 1 000 chickens last week, something unexpected happened.
“The chickens were swept away by adoring buyers in just two days,” says a smiling Dr George Adoko and his assistant, Mahlaha Mahlaha, the animal scientists literally consumed by a thirst for action.

Phula will be producing 2 000 chickens a month in the next three months, followed by 4 000 chickens a month until December, “at which point we will start opening a slaughter house to produce for local commercial outlets,” Dr Adoko says.
“By the next three to four years, we will be at 40 000 chickens a month, if all goes according to plan.”

As the company grows, it is going to be highly integrated, you will like it.
It will produce fertilized eggs, it will use sophisticated NUL made Pius XII egg incubators to produce chicks (some of which it will sell to the public) and it will rear the chicks to produce chicken at a commercial scale.”

All these, thanks to a funding by one visionary company called Metropolitan Lesotho, the company that truly understands and lives the essence of innovation.
Yes this is about filling a yawning hole in the poultry market in Lesotho and feeding the nation.
And yes this is about creating employment — by the way, NUL is very, very serious about creating employment.

“But it is also about something else,” says Dr Adoko even as his face reflected a bit more serious tone, “it is about proving the point.”
What point?
“Proving the point that, yes, we can do it.”

They want to show that in his words, “Metropolitan Lesotho has got it right,” by trusting that knowledge-driven businesses are the way to go.
That is his motivation, and that is the motivation of his team — to prove a point.
Now think this.

If Mexicans literally created an earth-quake as they celebrated a goal against Germany at the World Cup, Dr Adoko and his assistant, Mahlaha, created an earth-quake, metaphorically, when Phula’s first chickens saw throngs of people descending on the Roma Valley to claim their first share.

Shockwaves were sent across the country, not only because of what was happening then, but what Phula meant for the entire country in the future.
“The seismic activity (earth-quake) registered 4.5 on the Richter scale (sekaleng sa Richete),” says one excited seismologist.
“And the epicentre seemed to be the Roma Valley,” the seismologist says, “which is not surprising these days.”
But there is nothing new about growing chicken, critics say.

And they are right, after all, there is nothing new under the sun, said the wise King Solomon.
“But the way we are approaching poultry will be different, at least in Lesotho,” Dr Adoko says.
“Just wait and see.”

Coming to this point was not easy.
It was, as they say, a journey full of pitfalls.
In 2005 an idea crossed Dr Adoko’s mind.

They would create a poultry production platform, mainly as a means to expand teaching and research at the NUL and to provide training to the surrounding Roma communities.
It was a good thinking, but also a more social than entrepreneurial one.
However, by that time, the seeds of changing course and setting up NUL as an entrepreneurial university were already being planted.
The then NUL Management asked, why not set up a whole new abattoir, and, besides its entrepreneurial role, it will also serve all the other purposes?
The idea was even approved by the NUL Council.
That was it.

They set on a new course and designed a full-scale abattoir in which case, the farmers in the Roma Valley would be assisted on how best to rear chickens which they would sell to the abattoir.
It all sounded good. That is, “until we started applying for funding from local financial institutions,” he says.

They would go through quite a lengthy experience but emerged with a naught on the other side.
The rest is history. But something was silently happening.
By the beginning of the next decade, NUL was already and quietly laying down a plan of transformation.

In 2015, a new and visionary NUL management was intent on shifting the gears, and the NUL Innovation Hub would be at the centre of its efforts in the area of innovation.
Phula is one of the first NUL companies that were selected to be incubated under the innovation hub.
And once the innovation hub was set up, Metropolitan Lesotho was the first to step in and threw a gargantuan M1 million to support the hub activities.

By the way, you still remember NUL’s Sebabatso yoghurt funded by Metropolitan Lesotho, which is now a darling in the markets?
You will know more about additional NUL companies that will burst into the public scene from the Metropolitan Lesotho Funding — just hold on.
“At that point, we said to ourselves, this is an opportunity to start small,” Dr Adoko says, in a very humble tone.
And, they have never looked back ever since.

Own Correspondent

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