The herb that will change lives

The herb that will change lives

MARAKABEI – A herb outlawed for decades is set to change lives in some rural communities as weed growing firms engage villagers.
For Pontšeng Pontšeng, a villager, the only regret is that the legalisation of marijuana did not happen soon enough.
Had Medigrow Lesotho, a marijuana farming company, come into his village 40 years ago, Pontšeng would not have been as uneducated as he is today.
The company has rented Pontšeng’s two fields in Marakabei’s soil-rich area tucked deep in a mountain valley called ’Matsaile.

Pontšeng and other villagers are paid M6 000 twice a year, a hefty amount for rural people in Lesotho where over 40 percent of adults is unemployed.
Now Pontšeng wishes he could turn back the clock so that he could attend school.
Despite that the nearest school is barely 300 metres away from his home, Pontšeng never set foot in class because he had to work to put food on the table after the death of his father.
His widowed mother was depending on two fields that had become too barren to produce enough food for the family.

“My mother was struggling to raise my brother and I and I had to find a job as a shepherd at a young age,” Pontšeng said.
“The man whose livestock I looked after allowed me to use his oxen to plough my mother’s fields. I was so satisfied with the arrangement that I decided against going to school,” he said.
Now 47 years old, Pontšeng is a helper of the Marakabei Area Chief, Lerotholi Marakabei, who has jurisdiction over several villages.
He has been instrumental in coordinating meetings between Medigrow Lesotho and field owners and is happy that over 100 families are directly benefiting from the project.
Standing in front of Chief Lerotholi’s old office, a round thatched-roofed hut built with black basalt, Pontšeng’s smile displays inner satisfaction with his progress since he entered into an agreement with Medigrow Lesotho.

“There are two fields,” he says, holding a cigarette. “One is mine and the other belongs to my late brother whose children are working in Maseru. I am the one responsible for the fields.”
Pontšeng has bought bricks to build a new modern house next to his late mother’s small thatched round hut built with black basalt.
This stone is the dominant housing raw material in Marakabei, which is known for its black stone houses.

“My mother is not there but I am sure that she would be proud of these developments. We have always wanted the fields to work for us and they are now working for us,” he says.
“These fields were helping us a lot back in the 1970s when I was still a young boy, but nowadays due to climate change, our fields do not produce enough.”
“I’m happy that the company has hired our fields so that we can get something from it,” says Pontšeng who is single and has no children.
“My brother’s children are mine. Whatever I’m doing, I’m doing for them.”

Apart from benefiting individual villagers, the project is changing the face of the community.
“A road has been built and they are also building toilets for the community,” says Pontšeng.
“Our lives are better off than three years ago,” he says. “Money is very important to everyone.”
Another beneficiary, ’Malefa Katisa had been growing maize, sorghum and beans in her two fields for 60 years before Medigrow Lesotho came on board.
“I am happier than ever after the marijuana company came,” she says.

“I was only planting maize and sorghum and I thought that is the only way we should live,” Katisa says.
“I am old now and I no longer have the physical strength to go to the fields. These marijuana people are giving me money while I sit at home,” she says.
“It is better now that we get money from our fields, because we would sometimes get nothing during the time of harvesting,” adds Katisa.

Her son, Peter, says although he is working in South Africa he is relieved that the company is taking care of the immediate needs of his mother as this reduces financial pressure on him.
“It is our responsibility as children to look after our parents when they are old. It is gratifying to know that sometimes when you cannot afford, the old lady will still get some money. In South Africa we do not have full time jobs,” he says.

’Makebitsamang Seitlheko, an elderly lady in the village, would like to see more regular payments.
“As you know money is not easily manageable. By the time they pay me I would have no food in the house,” she says.
“I am of the feeling that my field was giving me more than the money they are giving me now,” she says.

“I was harvesting at least five to six bales of grain every year and I would sustain the family with it for the whole year.”
“The money I get from the project is finished within five months, mostly because this money is used for many purposes. I am not happy, it is true that we get some developments from the project but as for me I cannot say I’m satisfied,” Seitlheko says.

The spokesperson for Medigrow Lesotho, Mpho Sefali, says the company is targeting to put 66 hectares under marijuana and 68 families have signed agreements with the firm.
Over 500 Basotho have been employed with the company aiming to engage between 2 000 and 3 000 workers a year.

Thooe Ramolibeli and Caswell Tlali

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