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The business of mushrooms

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MASERU-Studying for a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture Business in a country which was still undergoing economic crisis, it was hard to make ends meet for Tshepo Heqoa.

Far away from home and without enough finances to sustain him through the month, he had to make a plan.
In 2014 winter, a friend born and raised in Zimbabwe whose family owned a farm and had experience with mushroom farming suggested that they produce oyster mushrooms to sustain themselves.

“He said they were easy to produce, generated a lot of money and did not need big land for production nor intense financial capital. We both contributed US$50 to start and never looked back,” Heqoa said.
Within a short period of time, the two young men were no longer worrying about buying their necessities, the mushroom business was doing well.
Heqoa fell in love with mushroom production that when he came home for the September holidays, he started the mushroom project at his home in Koalabata.

“My family looked after the project when I went back to school and it was a success. They were able to harvest and sell from that five by three lehlaka (reed) structure I had erected,” Heqoa said.
In 2015 when Heqoa was preparing for his graduation due the following year there was uncertainty in relation to one of his modules.

It was not clear whether he had enough credits or had to take more to be able to have credits necessary for graduation.
“While the issue was being resolved, I heard about a mushroom training programme in Pietermaritzburg, I took the tuition and graduation money and went for the training. I learned so much that I did not regret not graduating in 2016,” Heqoa said.

After the training, Heqoa came back with a new set of skills and more determined than before. He made a bigger structure that was seven by seven metres and used the hydroponic way of producing (advanced way of production without using soil just water and minerals).
The training also assisted him to spot earlier why his mushrooms were getting spoiled.

In 2019 Heqoa finally graduated whereas in 2018 he started working for The Silo magazine.
This income helped him save to build a bigger structure that would allow him to produce more without a lot of maintenance.
While working there, the Ministry of Agriculture after visiting his home several times, offered him a chance to go to China for a training programme in mushroom production.

“I am grateful for that opportunity, I was there for two months and learned so much about different types of mushrooms,” Heqoa said.
Coming back home Heqoa started working on building his structure and did not produce mushrooms for the rest of 2018 until late 2019.
Last year he then met the Juncao technology Chinese project supervisors who mentored him further in this business.

“They were overwhelmed by the quantity of spawns I was producing as locally no one had managed to produce them. People mostly focused on mushroom production as spawn production is more challenging,” Heqoa said.

By this time his business was already flourishing, he was supplying the Maluti Seventh Day Adventist Hospital and selling to health-conscious individuals.
Heqoa was selling 600g of mushroom for M35 and 1.3 kg of spawns for M10.00.

Production was going well but he had a challenge in terms of storage.
He had limited suitable space to store spawns after production.
“My facilities can produce 4000 spawns per week but my greatest challenge till now is storage,” Heqoa said.

Using his social media platforms to raise awareness and educate the public about oyster mushroom benefits saw more people buying both spawns and mushroom from Heqoa.
Earlier this year Heqoa nearly quit and used the mushroom structure to rear chickens.

He was hit terribly by a contamination that he could not figure where it came from.
“I really hit rock bottom, nothing was working out. I could not figure where I went wrong, nothing that I tried seemed to work instead more and more mushrooms were getting spoiled. In the end I figured it all out and everything has been going well since then,” Heqoa said.
To solve his storage challenge, Likomo Sekaleli his friend, suggested that he enter The Hook-Up Dinner M100 000 competition.

His brother Mphohlela assisted him to create the video to enter the competition, family and friends shared it on their social platforms until he made it to the top five.
However, Heqoa nearly dropped out of the competition.
“I did not understand the equity issue they were raising but my fellow competitors encouraged me to seek clarity and not drop out,” Heqoa said.
Last Friday Heqoa was crowned the winner of the M100 000.00 competition hosted by The Hook-up Dinner.

The Hook- up Dinner is a networking community of entrepreneurs with ideas to change the world by engaging and contributing to each other’s success.
“I didn’t believe it when I heard my name announced as the winner. Competition was really tight. I am really grateful that I will now be able to solve my storage challenge,” Heqoa said.

The plan is to build a big firm where he can store his spawns and mushroom after production while waiting for buyers to collect.
The future looks bright and exciting for Heqoa. He plans to introduce other varieties of mushroom like button, king oyster, shiitake and Lion’s mane.
“I want to focus more on spawn production and sell it to farmers who will then produce mushroom and after production we can package and penetrate the retail market,” Heqoa said.

Mushroom production he said is a luxurious industry that can create the highly needed jobs and decrease the alarming unemployment rates amongst the youths.
He warned that even though mushroom production is easy it needs a lot of dedication and focus.

“I’m forever grateful for the support I got from my family, they really assisted in every way they could. We walked this journey together and for that I am thankful,” Heqoa said.

Lemohang Rakotsoane

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Jobs galore for Lesotho

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94 000 jobs.

That is what the Millennium Challenge Account (MCA-Lesotho) will create in the next 10 years, according to Prime Minister Sam Matekane.

The MCA-Lesotho was created by the Lesotho parliament last year after the United States’ Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) found Lesotho eligible to receive development funds.

The MCC gives development grants to poor countries that respects democratic principles and human rights.

The MCC has unlocked a staggering US$322 million (over M5 billion) to the government of Lesotho after the country enacted three laws the protect people’s basic rights this week.

Matekane advised youths to visit MCA-Lesotho offices to understand how best they can benefit from the fund and the projects that will be financed.

The MCC’s investments are aimed at increasing the availability of water for household and industrial use, enhance watershed management and conservation methods, rehabilitate health infrastructure and strengthen health systems, and remove barriers to private investment.

The MCA-Lesotho’s Health and Horticulture Compact seeks to assist the country in unlocking equitable and sustainable economic growth in partnership with the private sector by addressing key constraints to growth.

Matekane said the job creation potential of the horticulture project alone is estimated at 4 000 jobs.

This excludes indirect jobs that will be created through packaging supplies, logistics, cold chain activities as well as the processing of the output.

“Let us all be ready and ensure we spend all the funding that is available,” Matekane said.

He said the money is going to be invested in agriculture, trade and industry, value chains, infrastructure development, tourism and creative sectors.

“The Compact has come at a critical time when the country is in dire need of financial injections to revive the economy,” he said.

“This second Compact forms the core of Lesotho’s private sector-led economic growth, recovery and job creation agenda.”

He said the MCA staff should work diligently, to implement this Compact.

“There are several Basotho businesses out there that are eager to seize the opportunities that the Compact brings,” Matekane said.

“Serve them with integrity, accountability and dedication.”

Matekane said the government has established the Cabinet Sub-Committee on the Compact which is under the leadership of Deputy Prime Minister Nthomeng Majara.

The sub-committee is mandated to ensure that the government provides overall oversight, strategic direction and support for successful implementation of the Compact.

He said he expects the MCA-Lesotho to ensure the full implementation of the project within the next five years.

“Our economy needs this capital injection to boost productivity and job creation,” Matekane said.

Matekane said the government had to enact three pieces of legislation which were necessary to support the investments that the MCC is making.

The enacted laws are the Labour Code Amendment Bill, the Administration of Estates and Inheritance Bill and the Occupational Safety and Health Bill.

Majara Molupe

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Bank spearheads career expo

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Standard Lesotho Bank will tomorrow host a career expo at the ’Manthabiseng Convention Centre for high school students who will sit for their final exams this year.
The 14th Annual Standard Lesotho Bank Career Expo was launched in Mokhotlong on Monday where the Lesotho Highlands Development Authority (LHDA) welcomed students in areas around the Polihali Dam construction site.

On Tuesday the expo was at the Butha-Buthe Community High School, yesterday it was at Assumption High School in Teya-Teyaneng while today it is in Quthing at Holy Trinity High School.

The five-day nationwide event is dedicated to connecting ambitious Basotho youths with exciting career opportunities.

Standard Lesotho Bank says it’s career expo “is a cornerstone of the bank’s commitment to empowering Basotho youth and shaping the future of Lesotho’s workforce”.

The 2024 edition of the event is the 14th where the bank is now the headline sponsor of this important expo that reaches about over 10 000 students countrywide.

The expo promises to be an even better offering where over 35 institutions of higher learning from Lesotho and South Africa as well as professional bodies will explain different career options to Basotho students.

Standard Lesotho Bank communications manager, Manyathela Kheleli, said students in Mokhotlong did not only learn about different engineering disciplines but got to appreciate engineering in action at Polihali.

He said it was a lifetime experience for students from Mokhotlong, “thanks to the collaboration with LHDA, who are fully responsible for the Polihali leg of the event”.

There were also motivational speakers from different professions in the bank and other selected institutions.

Key influencers in the football fraternity, former Likuena captain and now Corporate Responsibility Manager at Letšeng Diamonds, Tšepo Hlojeng, and former Orlando Pirates dribbling wizard, Steve Lekoelea, are among the influencers that have been invited to address the students.

The event is a sponsorship initiative under Personal and Private Banking that is open to all youths, communities, and individuals, where the bank intends to use this event to drive the new Youth or student Customer Value Proposition and attract high school students to open accounts ahead of their enrolment into tertiary institutions.

The objective of this sponsorship is to first create an environment where future leaders of Lesotho will be nurtured and informed of top career choices that demonstrate various skills requirements for the growth of Lesotho’s economy.

Secondly, the career expo is a clear demonstration of the bank’s intention to put youths at the centre of its initiatives.

This position is shown by the bank’s initiative to not only develop special products for youths, such as the Youth Account but also through several initiatives that promote youth empowerment. These include the bursary scheme and the Bacha Entrepreneurship Project.

“We are more than a bank for our youths, but a good corporate citizen and a partner for the education for Basotho,” Kheleli said.

“We believe that as we grow our youths, they will become assets to this country and by extension, develop into a feeder market for our banking products when they enter the job market,” he said.

The bank has invested M150 000 towards sponsorship of the annual Career Expo.

Staff Reporter

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Ministry launches fresh industrialisation drive

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A new policy to drive industrialisation in Lesotho was launched in Maseru this week.
The Lesotho National Industrialisation Policy 2024–2028 is being spearheaded by the Ministry of Trade.

The ministry says the policy seeks to accelerate economic diversification in the industrial base, enhance productivity and productive capacity for industrialisation and advance domestic and regional value chains for industrialisation.

It also seeks to promote and develop industrial clustering, promote inclusive industrialisation, support entrepreneurship development and strengthen business linkages.
The new policy will also seek to enhance energy efficiency and sustainability, promoting technology adoption and innovation, services-based industrialisation, and stimulating agro-based industrialisation.

This is not the first time Lesotho has launched an industrialisation policy. Previous policies have all failed.

The first attempt was the 2015–2017 industrial policy, whose aim was to accelerate the industrialisation agenda and address key challenges facing the country.

The second one was the 2018–2023 policy, which after its unsuccessful execution during the three years of implementation, the government extended it to the National Strategic Development Plan Strategic Focus (2023/24-2027/28).

The new industrial policy’s target is set to activate implementation on innovation to enhance the efficiency and competitiveness of domestic industries, create decent jobs and improve the welfare of Basotho.

Thabo Moleko, the Ministry of Trade Principal Secretary, said the implementation of the new policy is set to deepen economic growth, promote industrialisation and enhance competitiveness.

“The plan includes greater investment in industrial development with the intention to create employment and incomes while building on maintaining the existing industrial trade,” Moleko said.

Mamello Nchake, a consultant for the United Nations Economic Commission of Africa (UNECA), said the development goals of the industrial policy are set to ensure an achievable inclusiveness and equitable growth as they aim to create sector-led quality jobs for Basotho.

Nchake said the goals are meant to “develop and maintain enabled infrastructure that is critical to the private sectors and also to promote gender equality, environmental and climate risk management”.

“Moreover, the policy (will seek to) harness the collaboration with private sector firms to address common challenges and promote industrialisation,” she said.

The workshop discussed constraints that hindered the implementation of the 2018 – 2023 policy that undermined investment and trade opportunities.

The constraints include access to land for investment, inadequate provision of infrastructure, an outdated and a lack of appropriate regulatory environment, low productive capacity, market size and topological constraints, unstable macroeconomic environment, external factors, and over-dependency of trade preferences.

To address the strategic objectives, the previous industrial policies had proposed tax incentives for industrial development, trade policy and regional integration as the main vehicle for industrialisation and structural transformation.

They had also proposed mechanisms for policy coordination and implementation, institutional alignment and linkages.

However, several key challenges were identified in the implementation of the 2015-2017 industrial policy.

They included limited financial and investment capacity to effectively implement the industrial policy actions.

“Financing instruments are not aligned with the level of development needs of the private sector,” stakeholders heard at the workshop.

They also heard that there is “persistent dependency on few industries that poses risks in the face of global economic uncertainties and ever-changing consumer preferences”.
Another identified problem is limited investment climate that makes it costly for foreign firms to invest in Lesotho.

It was also observed that a shortage of specialised education and skills crucial for growth of industries impact the ability of firms to adopt advanced technologies and improve productivity and the productive capacity.

Stakeholders also heard that there is limited global competitiveness and access to global markets.

Lesotho’s industries, they heard, particularly textiles and garments, face competition from other low-cost manufacturing countries.

The country is also spooked by poor coordination between the implementing agencies due to a lack of a clear implementation framework.

Khahliso ’Molaoa

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