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Innovation

A maize threshing machine

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ROMA – YOU put unthreshed maize, sorghum, wheat, beans, you name it, into Rorisang Makara’s machine and you get grain on one side, and cobs (liqo) and chaff on the other side.
Then you are ready to go.

“After years of painful learning and trying, I’m ready to say, this is it,” said Makara, a graduate from the National University of Lesotho (NUL).

“Since I was young,” he said, “I’ve always been a machine enthusiast!”

He still remembers building lots of toy cars when he was young.
As a high school student he attempted to create his own microscope by cleverly assembling a couple of lenses for science competitions.

But the real challenge came at a time when his family had a particularly good harvest of grains in one season.
He was living with his grandmother only and, “as you can imagine, she was not in any mood, nor was she physically able, to help me do the threshing part on the huge harvest,” he said.

Manual threshing, especially of maize, which is a staple crop in Lesotho, is one of the most feared jobs or tasks across the country.
Basically, you pick up a good stone and start tearing the grains from the cobs, one beat at a time.

“It’s probably one of the most boring jobs in the world,” said one annoyed person who lived in a farming family and who had to endure the threshing chores for years.

“Try buying a machine in the markets to do the threshing for you and the merchants will request a fortune, the money you just don’t have,” Makara said.

The maize harvest was good but the job of having to thresh it rested squarely on his shoulders.

“I remember even injuring my fingers with a stone as I was doing the dreaded job.”

With such a harrowing experience, he vowed to develop a tool that would make it easy, not only for him but for other Basotho to benefit.
He set out to create a threshing machine.

It was not going to be easy.
First he created a machine based on cylindrical drums that stood vertically.

He then took a circular disc connected at the lower end to a rotating motor and at the upper hand to angle bars arranged in a triangular shape.
The motor is meant to drive the disc while the bars are meant to thresh the grains.

“In my experiments, I realised that if the angle bars are arranged in a rectangular shape, they hit the maize cobs too hard, breaking them or even reducing the size of the grains,” he revealed his observation.

However, the triangular arrangement made it possible for the bars to thresh the grains without breaking the cobs.
It also reduced the possibility of the grains jumping up and hitting users.

But there was a problem — or two!
First, the vertical arrangement of the drums meant that the cobs applied (gravity generated) pressure on the rotating circular disc which, in turn, applied unnecessary pressure on the motor itself.

Second, the drums he employed would come with some defects because he basically recycled them.
They were not perfectly circular.
That meant they left unwanted spaces between themselves and the rotating circular discs.

“That was a problem,” he said.

“It was easy for small cobs to squeeze themselves within the gaps between the drum walls and the rotating discs, making it difficult for the motor to rotate.”

He went back to the drawing board.
This time around, he placed the machines on a horizontal plane as shown in the pictures that come along with this post.

Now the new design was much better.
The cobs were no longer exerting unnecessary pressure on the motor.

The problems due to spaces between the drums and the rotating discs were no longer an issue.
Now, when you throw in your maize, wheat, beans, sorghum, and so on, the rotating disc with angle bars start acting on them, gentling removing the grains.

The discs have holes that allow the grains to pass through but do not let in the cobs and the chaff.
This process makes it possible to for the machine to keep acting on the cobs and chaff until all the grains have been threshed out.

The secret here is to maintain the right speed so you don’t break anything.
When the threshing is complete, the machine starts changing the sound.
An outlet that is big enough to allow the cobs and chaff out is opened and the machine throws them out automatically.
You can now do as you wish with both your grains and your fuel — cobs and chaff.

Own Correspondent

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Innovation

A new online loan scheme!

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ROMA – If you are a member of Phuthalichaba, you can now sit comfortably on your couch at home and apply for a loan. In a short time, you will get an SMS telling you that some money has been deposited into your account.

“This is one of the brilliant systems already in use by Phuthalichaba,” Tebello Tjapela, the CEO of the cooperative under the National University of Lesotho (NUL) Innovation Hub, told thepost.

When you log into Phuthalichaba’s online loaning system, you just apply for the amount you want as along as it meets the requirements. You even choose how long it will take you to repay the loan.

The system then, automatically, generates the repayment (installment) schedule for you! It tells you how much you will pay each month until you finish and how much interest you will give back to Phuthalichaba.
You can play around with amounts and repayment periods until you find what suits you!

When Phuthalichaba entered the scene, it promised to be the most innovative financial institution in Lesotho.

With membership now at more than 700 and savings approaching a gigantic M2 000 000, Phuthalichaba is on its way towards the dream! Phuthalichaba’s achievements are surprising because it’s just a few dozen months old.

More interesting is the recently installed online system that helps members obtain loans from the comfort of their homes. To appreciate how it works, let’s start the journey from the beginning.

Your friend tells you about Phuthalichaba, this brilliant financial cooperative created by the NUL Innovation Hub. You learn that the reasons for its existence are to create a culture of savings among Basotho and to invest in innovative Lesotho businesses.

You decide you cannot allow such a revolution bypass you! So you join the bandwagon. You visit their website at www.phuthalichaba.com.

“Wow!” you say as you discover a whole new world you didn’t know existed! Then you click “register.” They tell you that you should at least have two things saved in a digital format: (a) a proof of payment of M150, M100 for a share and M50 for registration, (b) a copy of your ID or passport.

You prepare these and come back. Then you are asked to say if you are an individual, a company, a sole trader, or an association. That is because the documents you will be required to submit depends on who you are. Let’s say you are an individual.

Then you have to say if you are at least 18 years old or not. If not, you can still be a member but you will be required to provide the details of your guardian. You will then enter your contact information, banking information, savings information, and then upload the pictures of your ID and proof of payment.

It’s a one-stop shop. If you are successfully registered, you receive a membership number generated automatically by the online system in your email.

Oops! You are now a member of the most innovative financial institution Lesotho has ever seen!

Congratulations!

This is what will happen next. During registration, you have to select how much money should be drawn automatically from your bank account, every month. Remember, the primary aim is to encourage a culture of savings among Basotho.

We can no longer afford to live from month to month anymore. By saving a minimum of just M50 a month, you will be surprised how much you will accumulate in the next months and years.
Now it’s time to borrow.

If you were to borrow elsewhere, you are either presented with mind-boggling interest rates, elitist requirements, or plain daylight robbery. Anything that comes close to Phuthalichaba in low interest rates comes with an enormously boring paperwork after paperwork and poor, 20th century, service delivery.

So you stick with Phuthalichaba.

Plus you are taking a loan in a business that is, wait for it… “owned by you”! In any other business, you would just be enriching some folks you neither know, nor are you known by them! You are now given some login details.

Once you are in, goodness, another world opens up! Only you, the member, can see this world.

Among the interesting things you find is an online loan application form. You enter the amount you want to borrow and the period of installment and a repayment schedule is generated for you, telling you how much you will pay each month till you are done.

You then submit!

Your submission will be approved in a two-stage process by the management where your details are confirmed. It will then be approved by the Credit Committee of the cooperative. All these approvals happen online.

No paperwork.

Once approved by the committee, you will then read and sign a loan agreement, again online, by clicking to show that you agree. Once that is done, you will hear a bip on your phone in a short time! The money has been deposited directly into your account. Don’t worry about carrying the repayment money to Phuthalichaba’s offices.

Nope!
Phuthalichaba will start pulling monthly installments directly from your bank account. Remember, no one handles paper or cash at Phuthalichaba!

Own Correspondent

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Innovation

A chemical with anti-cancer agents

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ROMA – A Master’s student in chemistry at the National University of Lesotho (NUL), Mvove Mpopo, has uncovered a chemical that has the potential to fight cancer in a local plant. Do not run away (yet) on hearing the fancy name of this chemical.

The name is, wait for it…3-((2)-heptadec-14enyl) benzene-1-ol. That’s the name! He found it in a local plant called Karroo Kunibush or “mokhoamphiri”.

More important, he found that this complex chemical in this plant has been found to have cancer-fighting properties. Here is the story of the young man supervised by Dr Mohale Mabaleha and Dr Manoharan Pillai. Plants are amazing living things.

In fact, when one famous inventor, Thomas Edison, was praised for his good inventions, he fought back with a short lesson, “until a man duplicates a blade of grass, nature will always laugh at his so-called ‘scientific inventions’”.

He was right. A mere blade of grass is more complex than anything any human being has ever done.

“Other than chemicals that form the structure of plants, such as cellulose, plants have chemicals whose job is partly to protect themselves from diseases,” Mpopo said.

“We call some of those chemicals phytochemicals. We are after those because they can help us against diseases…too.”

In fact, in this plant alone, Mpopo said he has identified a whopping 43 classes of such chemicals.

“Among the classes are the flavonoids, alkaloids, terpenoids, quinolines and their derivatives, phenols, the list goes on and on.”

Never mind the fancy names. But one of the most interesting chemicals he uncovered was 3-((2)-heptadec-14enyl) benzene-1-ol. Getting to find such a chemical is like searching for a needle in a forest.

It is not for the faint-hearted. This is how he pulled it off. First he took a plant, Karroo Kunibush, which in science, is known as Searsia Burchellii. Then he pulled out a group of unknown chemicals from this plant.

“We put the plant in chloroform to dissolve this army of chemicals out of it,” he said.

The chemical mixture is then passed through a process he called Thin Layer Chromatography (TLC). This process is meant to find the best solvent system that can separate the unknown chemicals from the plant. Remember we want to isolate and identify them.

“In the end, we found that a combination of Chloroform and Hexane in a ratio of 9 to 1 by volume was the best combination of solvents to make the best separation.”

Then he ran another process, now to make the separation. This one is called Column Chromatography (CC). It was run using the 9 to 1 solvent system identified above.

Then, these unknown chemicals were separated. That’s good, but they were not pure. He wanted to get them to be as pure as possible. To ensure purity, he said he kept running between TLC and CC until he could confirm that the chemicals were as pure as possible.

He then went for yet another process, a much more complex one. It is called Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR). He calls this a 1 and 2 D NMR. Well the NMR would help identify what some of these strange chemicals were.

He picked one purified but unknown chemical and ran with it. However, getting to that point, where a compound was identified with certainty, was the closest thing to a true definition of Rocket Science.
Pay attention to how they do it.

“We identified quaternary carbons on this chemical,” he said.

Well, these are those carbon atoms not attached to hydrogens but to four distinct carbon groups.

“We then used Heteronuclear Single Quantum Coherence (HSQC) to identify carbons attached to hydrogens.”

He said they then followed up with a Heteronuclear Multiple Bond Correlation (HMBC) technique to identify which carbons were two to three bonds away from hydrogens. He then followed up with CO-related SpectroscopY (COSY) to find which hydrogens were neighbours to which hydrogens.

He then appealed to Carbon-13 method to find which carbons were “sitting” in which spaces. Then he used Proton NMR to find which hydrogens were sitting where. This was followed by Distortionless Enhancement by Polarisation Transfer (DEPT 135) to find CHs, CH3s and CH2s.

As if that was not enough already, he followed up with DEPT 90 to identify only the CHs. With this information, he was able to identify the chemical and draw its structure as shown in the picture. Yes, he figured out that the chemical was 3-((2)-heptadec-14enyl) benzene-1-ol! Once the chemical was identified, investigations were made to find what was already known about it.

“It was found to have anti-cancer properties,” he concluded.

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Innovation

A new wine brand for Lesotho

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ROMA – BEV Wines is one of the most elegant wine brands to have come out of the Mountain Kingdom. Once in time, the aspiring wine producer, Mpho Seakhoa Maphathe, settled in her grandfather’s farm for some time.

This was during the Covid-19 lockdown and she had enough time to do what she had always wanted to do. Taking an advantage of grapes growing in the farm, she produced 17 bottles of wine and named them Bev Wines.
That was the beginning of the brand, Bev Wines.

“I produced Bev Wines as a way to follow in the footsteps of my grandparents,” she said.

She said one of her granddads produced wine as a hobby, which he shared with family and friends year after year. Another of her granddads had a farm in which she grew grapes. Here is her story.

“I was born in a family of people who were crazy about entrepreneurship,” she said.

“With such influence in the background, I fell in love with Culinary Arts (the art of preparing, cooking, presenting and serving food) and Events Management. Now I am in both wine and events management for a living.”

One of her granddads is the famous Black Jesus (BJ, real name was Harebatho Musa) from Teya-Teyaneng. Although he was known for many other things such as music, he was apparently fascinated by wine-making too, even though it was on a small-scale.

“He liked making wine and sharing it with friends and family at least once a year,” she said.

Yet another of her granddads, Mathibeli Seipobi, owned a family farm in Clocolan, South Africa, where he grew grapes. It is no wonder then that the words “grapes” and “wine” kept ringing back and forth in her mind over the years.

When it was time for college, she took up a course in Hospitality Management at the Central University of Technology in Bloemfontein, South Africa. She then proceeded to take another course in Events Management at the Tshwane University of Technology (TUT) in South Africa.

Interestingly, as part of the Hospitality Management course, she took up a module in “Cape Wine Academy” where she learned the secrets of making wine. After schooling, she picked a kind of job that would make her appreciate wine even further.

“I became a flight attendant with two different regional airlines,” she said.

Well, that kind of a job will take you places.

“I found myself criss-crossing Southern Africa and experiencing and appreciating all kinds of wines along the way.”

At some point, she had an opportunity to travel to Cape Town. She had always wanted to visit wine-making factories there and to seek a mentor and, fortunately, she located one. Later, Covid-19 hit and that presented her with an opportunity of a lifetime.

Liquor was banned in South Africa during the lockdown.Many people were desperately resorting to makeshift alternatives. She wanted to go deeper. Her thoughts flashed back to the days when her granddad used to make liquor as a hobby.

To follow in his footsteps, she had always wanted to sit down and experiment with wines and here was the opportunity. She retired into her granddad’s farm in Clocolan and experimented with grapes there.

Her upbringing demanded it, her learning experiences in wine-making demanded it, her travelling demanded it — now it was time to do it. She did it. In the end, she produced 17 bottles of wine, good wine.
It was a feat. It was also the birth of Bev Wines.

“I decided to name my wine Bev Wines where Bev stood for Beverages.”

It’s a name easy to brand. The younger generation, who she is targeting, also find it easy to pronounce the name. With time, and through her mentor, she partnered with a wine producer in Stellenbosch and they are now producing wines that could be scaled up. Listen as she talks about the wine she loves.

“Bev is an African woman wine,” she said.

“We pride ourselves with unique blends and quality wines in bottles of African Print and Origin. We aspire to introduce virgin pallets to the wine culture that work wonders with food chocolates, cheeses and the culinary world at large. Bev is a beautiful beverage that combines flavours of Southern Africa and Lesotho.”

Her goals are to set up a giant cellar to do fermentation in Lesotho and to work with women farmers to grow the vines using a cooperative model that advocates for 95 percent local production of grapes.

Own Correspondent

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