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Brewing trouble



MASERU – WHEN Charles Noka*, 41, tested HIV positive four years ago, his wife left him to seek a job in Gauteng.

Every day Noka would resort to the bottle to “drown his sorrows” and kick away his depression.

“I started drinking after finding out that I am HIV positive and my wife left me with a son and went to Gauteng,” Noka says.

“I was so depressed to the point that I thought I deserved to die.”  “It took me a while before I accepted my (HIV positive) status. My life now revolves around beer. I cannot go a day without drinking because I believe it releases stress.”  Noka, a self-employed gardener, says the little he earns is shared between his beer and the needs of his son.

He does not have a house of his own and therefore lives at his parents’ house with his siblings. Thankfully, he does not have to worry about paying rent.
And thanks to the government’s free primary school education policy, Noka’s son does not have to pay any fees.

When thepost visited him at his Moshoeshoe II house in Maseru, he was, predictably, having some beer at a bar just about 400 metres away.

“Although I drink too much, I never lose control of myself because of alcohol and most importantly I do not allow alcohol to ruin my relationships with people around me,” he says.
Noka is just one of the many individuals in Lesotho who are victims of alcohol abuse.
He could yet benefit from an ambitious government project that wants to curtail the abuse of alcohol.

The alcohol policy was drafted after the government realised some Basotho were having serious challenges in regulating their drinking habits.

The policy seeks to reduce alcohol consumption, especially among the youths. It wants to slash the drinking levels to zero among adolescents.

Lesotho last conducted a comprehensive survey on alcohol drinking patterns in 1989.
Although a bit outdated, the results are telling though.

The survey reveals that 65 percent of drinkers reported drinking traditional home-brewed beer exclusively while 15 percent reported drinking Western-type beer exclusively and 20 percent drink both Western-type and traditional beer.

According to data collected for the Lesotho Epidemiology Network on Drug Abuse (LENDU) in 2003 from two rehabilitation centres, one psychiatric clinic, four Mental Observation and Treatment Units, and the police, alcohol was the dominant substance of abuse for patients seen at treatment facilities.

Overall, 70 percent of the 67 patients treated for substance abuse had alcohol as their primary substance of abuse during the period from January to June 2003.
78 percent of the patients who were treated for alcohol abuse were male, and about one third of the patients were 30 years of age or younger.

Drinking for entertainment is the most common reason for taking the bottle, compared to drinking to release stress and drinking because of peer pressure.

The 2016 Lesotho Youth Employment Survey shows that 19.7 percent of the country’s youths aged below 30 years are consistent alcohol drinkers.

28.1 percent of the youths are in urban areas while 13.3 percent come from rural areas.
The Lesotho alcohol policy has been going through some revisions since 2007 with allegations industry had exerted undue influence on the drafting of the policy.
The policy was never implemented after it failed to comply with recommendations put forward by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The Ministry of Health is working with relevant civil society organisations on the final draft of the revised National Alcohol Policy.
This draft, however, is yet to be presented to Parliament. says it is critical that the process of enacting this policy draft into law is not delayed because alcohol is a severe health risk factor.

“Alcohol is having a very negative impact in Lesotho,” says the blog. “For disability adjusted life years alcohol use represents the single highest risk factor to men in Lesotho! When looking at both women and men together, alcohol remains the third highest risk factor,” it reads.

“This needs to be effectively addressed and changed.”
Civil society organisations, especially Blue Cross and the Anti-Drug and Alcohol Abuse in Lesotho (ADAAL), have over the past decade worked hard to prevent and mitigate the harmful effects of alcohol in the country.

Blue Cross Lesotho, for example, has been running the Thaba-Bosiu Prevention and Treatment Centre for Alcohol and Drugs for over 20 years.

A community educator with Blue Cross, ’Masebueng Majara, expressed concern over what she says is an “inappropriate handling” of alcohol issues in Lesotho. This is having serious consequences for the country, she says.

Majara says many young people are starting to drink when they are aged between 12 and 13 even though the age restriction stands at 18.

“Research has shown that full development of the brain is acquired at the age of 25 and research has shown that too much drinking of alcohol affects mental capacity.
“If someone starts drinking at such a tender age, by the time they turn 25, three quarters of their brain would already have been damaged,” Majara says.

Under the proposed policy, the government wants to bump up the age restriction to buy alcohol from the current 18 to 21 years. The policy also wants bars to be half a kilometre away from public places such as schools, churches, health centres, taxi ranks and sporting facilities.

It also seeks to limit alcohol advertisements in the mainstream media and have such adverts accompanied by those promoting soberness.

The policy also wants to tighten the trading hours for outlets selling alcohol.
The alcohol policy appears to run counter to the commercial aspirations of Lesotho’s largest brewer, the Maluti Mountain Brewery (MMB).

The Maluti Mountain Brewery says it was not consulted on the draft policy and was therefore not aware of its revision.

MMB’s corporate affairs director, Nthati Moorosi, says advertisements of alcohol beverages already carry health warnings.

The adverts also discourage youths who are below the age of 18 from drinking.
She says MMB has conducted aggressive campaigns to discourage drinking and driving. The brewery company also warn expectant mothers that no amount of alcohol is safe during pregnancy.

“The alcohol ingredients and content are shown on each bottle and we always have taglines or bold messages written on our delivery trucks that say: Remember, it’s your responsibility to drink responsibly,’’ Moorosi says. The draft policy also seeks to increase tax on beer products.

But Moorosi says hiking tax is not the best solution under the circumstances.
“Increasing tax will not solve the problem but (would rather worsen it). Such a move by the government will force people to drink hazardous alcohol which is sold and brewed illegally. The government will lose the tax it needs,” Moorosi says.

“We produce alcohol for enjoyment and entertainment, not for people to do harmful things either to themselves or people around them and make wrong decisions and at the end of the day blame it on alcohol,” she says.

“Yes, we are selling alcohol but we are still advocating responsible drinking. Our mission is to preserve people’s lives and not destroy such lives.”

The manager of Antanio Public Bar, Pedro Goncalves, says he trades between 7am and 7.30 pm. He says operating between 12 noon and 11pm during weekdays as suggested in the draft policy “is not safe for my employees to travel home as there is too much crime going on”.
“I have ladies working here, so for their own safety, they have to knock off earlier,” Goncalves says.

“It’s very fortunate that I do not hire people under the age of 21 because I find them to be irresponsible, unreliable and not trustworthy,” he says.
“I do not sell alcohol to under-age people. I demand their IDs if I suspect they are under-age.”

*Charles Noka not his real name
By ’Mapule Motsopa

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Lesotho’s own brandy



ROMA-“Go, eat your food with rejoicing, and drink your wine with a cheerful heart, for already the true God has found pleasure in your works,” so says the Big Book.

Driven by that divine, Mohapi Pule has gone a step further – by coming up with a new type of brandy – to make you merry.
The brandy, Mountain Spels Brandy, will make the heart of the dying man rejoice.
“The healthy nutrients in fruits that make brandy, end up in you when you drink it,” he said.

Pule studied nutrition at the National University of Lesotho.
His brandy is made by fermenting fruits into wine. The wine is then distilled into a brandy. It carries the flavour and the aroma of the original fruits.

The story began when Pule was born in Quthing, Mphaki. He was born to a hardworking mother who brew traditional beer like no other.
“She brew beer well before I was born. She is still making it to this day,” he said.

His passion for brewing was probably “born” even before he was born. Mothers have a hidden way of passing not just their looks but their passions to their children.

As he grew up, he found that he was still intertwined with his mom’s brewing business in one way or another.
“Mostly, I am expected to fetch water for the brewing process. That, I still do to this day when I visit home,” he says.
Two decades later, Pule found himself in the Roma Valley, doing BSc in Nutrition.

“At some point, I found that I had lost purpose in life. There was not a thing that I could say, well, I was passionate about this thing or that thing.”
That situation, of course, threw him into some serious soul-searching.
It brought him back to his roots.

“During this period, I recalled that when I was younger, I used to imagine helping my mom do the packaging of the beer she was making and helping distribute it countrywide,” he said.

From a young age, the issue of subsistence business didn’t appeal to him. But that imagination came and passed. Now here he was, worried that he might not amount to anything in life.

Then, boom! An idea came!
What if he produced an alcoholic drink?

He could have thought about anything to do as a business but, lo and behold! He thought about his mother’s passion!

One of the things he loves about alcoholic beverages is that they are popular.

“I haven’t seen products as popular as alcoholic drinks,” he said.
He might be wrong or right but the reality is, the rest of the world has for generations found delight in alcoholic beverages – some to the extent of overdoing it to their injury!

“Mabele khunoana ralitlhaku thabisa lihoho. Mabele u tsoa kae e le khale re u batla re sa u thole? Ueeeena mabeeeele!” (Loosely translated beer brewed from sorghum make men happy. We’ve been looking for you from afar, you sorghum. In short, this is a praise poem for the Sesotho sorghum brew).
But then came the most difficult part. Which specific beverages should he focus on and how would he do it?

He decided that he would focus on ciders. He realised that not many people in Lesotho were making ciders.

He started experimenting at home and realized how difficult the process was. He just couldn’t get it right. To worsen matters, he also did not have the right equipment.

But like most successful innovators, he just knew that he had to start his business right away.

Pule says he then learnt about other forms of beverages: the spirits. Spirits are very high in alcohol content. Here we are talking the likes of whiskey, vodka and brandy.

He was particularly interested in vodka. He went into one NUL laboratory and, with necessary permission, began testing a number of spirits and doing a lot of research about them.

He began saving some of the money he earned from the National Manpower Development Secretariat in the form of student allowance so he could buy equipment. Saving was not easy. The subsistence money was already not that much. Having to share it with a business was asking a little too much.

But Pule was so determined that he did it, bought equipment that allowed him to develop what he thought was “vodka”.

However, after buying the equipment he immediately realised that the equipment was to make brandy not vodka.

“Now I was forced to get into brandy by chance,” he said.
It was a mistake that he has never regretted having realised that there are very few individuals who were making brandy in Lesotho.

Pule had to throw himself fully into experiments. He read books about brandy production. He even enrolled for an online course on distillation.
In the end, he began to see some light.

“I began to feel some difference in the taste of my produce,” he said. “When I shared my produce with my lecturers, they were over the moon!”
With that encouragement, Pule began packaging his brandy and is now selling it to family and friends.

“My small equipment means that I can’t produce much. However, If I were to get bigger equipment, things would be much better.”

Own Correspondent

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Ready-to-cook vegetables



ROMA – ’MATUMANE Matela, a National University of Lesotho (NUL)-trained nutritionist, is an example of how a nutritionist should think and act.
Matela makes and sells ready-to-cook vegetables out of produce from her own farm or produce she preferably buys from local farms.
“When I make a dish, as a nutritionist, I make choices that ensure a typical package is packed with nutrition,” Matela said.

Today, we examine an interesting story of the lady who is determined to ensure that you eat healthy despite your busy schedule.
It started with her experiences in life.
She describes herself as an extremely busy woman.
She likes getting things done.
As the busy amongst us will say, the busier you become, the less you watch your diet.
She couldn’t escape the trap!

“My busy schedule meant that I ended up eating junk and I was gaining weight,” she said.
With time, she came to her senses.
As a nutritionist, she recalled that the best way to preach was to preach by example.
So, was she preaching what she practised?
Clearly, she wasn’t.
She had to find an option to maintain the busy schedule and eat healthy at the same time.

The beautiful thing about nutrition is that the healthiest foods are the closest to us: fruits and vegetables.
Some scientists even claim that our bodies seem to be designed to thrive on fruits and vegetables.
“Have you ever wondered why looking at a ripe raw peach on a tree is mouth-watering but looking at a fat cow isn’t?” asked one scientist.
Well, whether we were designed for fruits and vegetables or not, the truth is that they are good for our bodies.
That’s what good science tells us.

And we somehow “know it” too if you have heard about anything called intuition.
So one day she found herself increasingly eating fruits and vegetables.
It’s easier to change a religion than a diet, they say.
So it is commendable that she changed her diet at all.
“The idea was to chop as much vegetables as possible and put them in a fridge so that in future, I will just pull them out and cook.”
She wasn’t proposing something new.
Who amongst us doesn’t enjoy the convenience of just pulling up chopped frozen vegetables and cooking?

Little did she know that what she was doing was putting her on a path to a brilliant business.
It took a post on a social media to achieve just that.
“I took a pic of the chopped and packaged vegetables and posted them on my social media account. The reaction was swift. I began getting questions like, “how much?””
It immediately dawned on her that she could be sitting on a great business idea, after all.

So she gave it a try and started selling.
To her surprise, people started buying.
In fact, “I get orders for my products almost on a daily basis.”
That is how interested people really are.
This to an extent that her business now gets up to four irregular employees, she included, when the demand is high.
She said her training in Agriculture, Home Economics and Nutrition has helped her to give a thought into what she was doing.

For instance, where possible, she grows her own crops and sells them as first preference.
She has grown spinach, butternut, green pepper, onion, herbs and beans.
She is also in the process of renting more fields to grow more vegetables.
Then she empowers Basotho producers by requesting them to supply.
Going for foreign produce is the last resort.
Look at her packages and you realise something.
The “7 colours” proverb comes alive.

Those seven colours (several colours actually) may have been designed to appeal to your eyes but that is just the tip of the iceberg.
The colours of vegetables mean a lot in terms of nutrition.
Each colour gives you something different.
So, the more colours in one meal, the merrier.
To drive this home, let’s go a scientific route for a second.
Red, Blue and Purple: These vegetables contain substances that are good at reducing the risk of stroke, cancer and memory problems.
White: The likes of onion or garlic may help lower your risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, cancer and heart disease.

Orange and Yellow: Carrots immediately come to mind.
These vegetables contain substances called carotenoids which may help improve your immune system and help to improve the health of your eyes.
Basotho, it would appear, have long known a thing or two about the relationship between carrots and eyes.
Hence the famous saying, “o jele lihoete” (they ate carrots), often applied to good sportsmen or women with symbolically “good eyesight”.

Green: Green is life. Green vegetables come packed with chlorophyll, a chemical that scientists believe can boost your immune system, eliminate fungus in your body, clean your blood, lead to healthy intestines and give you boundless energy.
As a bonus, her Home Economics background is such that she is armed with a host of recipes for each of the packages she sells.
She has great dreams for the future.
“I want to see my products decorating the shelves of big supermarkets,” she said.
It’s time!

Own Correspondent

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A new, co-operative chain store



ROMA – ’MAKUENA Lesiea is spearheading the creation of a cooperative chain store that will sell Lesotho products only.
The store is being developed under the National University of Lesotho (NUL) Innovation Hub and it will be incubated by the Hub.
“Have you seen it? Basotho are producing like never before,” Lesiea said.
“However, their products are hard to see in the markets. We want to change all that.”

The store, she said, will open branches in all districts of Lesotho, starting from Maseru.
Visit any supermarket in Lesotho and check the products on the shelves.
You will be shocked to realise that, in general, just one percent of them are made in Lesotho.
The other 99 percent comes from elsewhere.
Is it because Basotho are not producing or can’t produce at all?

“Having worked directly with the NUL Innovation Hub and the Tsa Mahlale TV programme under the Hub, I have travelled the depth and breadth of Lesotho and I was amazed at the amount of work Basotho are doing,” she said.
What is the problem?
Basotho products are not given sufficient platforms to prove themselves.
“Credit where it is due, some shops are beginning to accept and sell Basotho products,” she said.

“However, they are barely making a dent because Basotho products, being at their infancy, cannot receive full attention unless by a store that is designed to give them full attention.”
Such a store doesn’t exist.

She said the idea is not to compete with any of the existing stores because “we are getting into a new territory altogether, we are addressing a different market”.
So listen to Lesiea as she presents some features of the store that will surely persuade you to join the bandwagon:

  1. Customer and producer confidence: The store, she said, will achieve two things.
    First, when they see masses of Lesotho-made products in one place, Basotho customers will slowly grow confidence in them.
    The confidence will shoot to the roof when the customers experience that many of the products made in Lesotho are already way ahead of foreign competitors in terms of quality.
    Secondly, the store will give Basotho producers an assurance that their products have, at least, one store that is willing to take them, dark or blue.
    More production will come from such assurance.
  2. Selling “everything”: The store will sell everything from fruits and vegetables to processed foodstuffs to clothing and building materials (if Thabure car will be in production by then, it will be on the shelves too).
    “Suppose what we want to sell is not locally made, we will never cross the border, any border, to find its equivalence. We will encourage Basotho to produce it until they do.”
  3. We mean business: whereas Basotho are beginning to produce, their products are still all over the place.
    You bump across them in some few willing stores, in expos and trade shows, or as being sold by individual resellers. Those are good efforts, but they are not enough. In fact, many in Lesotho have come to see producing and selling as being more of an art, a hobby, a therapy or a hustling than a business, “so we are seriously moving away from such a casual approach, we mean business this time around.”
  4. Ownership: So when you enter this store, you could be purchasing a product made by you in a store owned by you. What a difference!
  5. Reasonable standards: the store will only demand reasonable standards. As a struggling Mosotho, try taking your products to some of the local shops and you are, at worst, turned away without reason or, at best, given a long list of standards you must meet before they can take your product.
    “In our case, as long as your products are reasonably of good quality, you are in. NUL Innovation Hub is already testing many Basotho products. We won’t ignore quality, but we won’t use it as a way to prevent Basotho products from growing either.”
  6. A cooperative chainstore: From contributing as little as M50 per month, members will use a continuous financing model to ensure that the store doesn’t just end in Maseru but reaches the ten districts of Lesotho.
    Each branch will start at a medium scale in order to grow along with Basotho products. We won’t ask for investors to come from anywhere, “we will be investors ourselves.”
  7. An export launch pad. “We are often told to export our produce. The obvious question is, if you haven’t convinced your own people to consume your own products, how can you convince people in other lands to do so? Why should they take you seriously?”
    However, the store is not meant to be a local store forever.
    It will be a means by which we export our products to other countries in the future.
    When we export the store to Soweto, we export it along with products from Lesotho.
    Don’t say no because we have seen Chinese shops and Indian shops and, of course, South African shops, filled to the brim with Chinese products and Indian products and South African products in many countries.
    “If they can do it,” Lesiea ended, “so can we.”
    “Because if it is there in some of us, it is there in all of us.”

Own Correspondent

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