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Innovation

Good, sweet wine!

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ROMA – LEOMA Monaheng’s wine is not your average wine. It is a white wine based on the French inspired Chenin Blanc grape variety.
“My wine is called Kasi Farm Housewine,” said Monaheng, a National University of Lesotho (NUL) trained young man.

Other than sending you to bliss as you take a sip, white wine is healthy too. It can lower cholesterol, help protect your heart, balance your blood sugar, boost your brain, fight off colds, and more. Listen to the story of how it all started.

“In my family there are only two boys, I and my brother,” he said.

“The absence of a female figure among the siblings meant our mom left us to fend for ourselves as we grew up.”

That meant they both had to take up chores that would otherwise be taken by girls in the family, in addition to boys’ chores.

“In that way,” he said, “sustainability was wired into our fabric from a very young age—we were taught that if we wanted something we had to go get it ourselves.”

That experience would become handy later in life. He went to the NUL and studied Urban and Regional Planning (URP). Well, he was not that much into it but “I always believed part of university training was to broaden our thinking abilities and to help us solve everyday problems”.

By saying so, he was revealing a secret young graduates. The real life is not divided into courses you specialised in at school. Graduates can use thinking abilities to explore all kinds of things when out there. They just have to let thinking abilities help them solve problems.

“We can never be limited by the subjects we took at school”, he added.

While still at the NUL, he was very much aware of the scourge of unemployment in Lesotho. For someone who was raised to create paths for himself, he was already thinking about available alternatives when he finished studying. He started growing food at home in Ha Pita, Maseru and selling some of it. His business, a home business, would be called a home farm, or to be precise, “Kasi Farm.”

“First of all, this was more than just making a living,” he said.

“It was also about making young people aware that farming is not only for certain people. It is for anyone route.”

Here is a cool fellow, from the ghettos of Maseru, taking the farming. If he can, why can’t anyone do it anywhere else in Lesotho? But he had to be a bit different. For instance, he grew stuff with bizarre names like Okra.
Well, he grew it because no one was doing it, at least not many people.

He also included eggplant and yellow pepper in his repertoire. With time, he realised he had to find more land. He and his brother explored and acquired pieces of land in Thaba-Bosiu and Teya-Teyaneng. Now he is growing all kinds of foods including spinach, beans, cabbage, and even lettuce.

He and his family pulled resources together to build their farms. His products have reached the shelves in stores as varied as Maluti Fresh Produce Market, Enrich Store, Pick ’n Pay Masianokeng and Pioneer Mall, Mpeoa Supermarket, ShopRite Checkers, Fruit and Veg City and others.

However, the major component of today’s story is about Monaheng and his brother’s adventures into wine. He got introduced to HighLands Bliss Wine folks and they agreed to work together to develop wine for Kasi Farm.

The wine would end up acquiring a name of the farm in which it is made, Kasi Farm House Wine. He said although they started with red wine, they ended up with white wine, what he calls Chenin Blanc wine.

The red wine, in his view, “wasn’t that consistent,” he said. “It didn’t stain the glass.” The white one is of high quality and, oh boy! Is it tasty! It should be.Chenin Blanc is the kind of grape variety renowned for creating some of the best wines in the world. They plan to grow more grapes and build a lasting wine brand.

“Wines,” he said, “are tricky” in the sense that they need to mature to be appreciated in the markets and that takes a lot of effort but they will dig in.

“A good wine is a mature wine,” he said.

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Innovation

Soil loss and road construction

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ROMA – ONE of the most overlooked causes of soil erosion is road construction, according to Dr ’Mamohau Thamae.

“Even here in Lesotho, we see a lot of attention given mainly to hillside erosion controlled with prevention methods called lifato-fato,” Dr Thamae said.

Dr Thamae is an Applied Environmental Scientist with focus on Geomorphology and is a lecturer at the National University of Lesotho (NUL). Dr Thamae and her peers took it upon themselves to study the actual causes of road construction-related soil erosion and the best ways to deal with it.

She took her studies in Lesotho and some parts of South Africa. Let’s imagine this. Suppose a road is built on a sloppy land surface.

“Engineers will use what is called Cut and Fill methods,” she said.

As the name itself suggests, the engineers will cut the soil from the upper side of the slope and use it to fill the lower side where the road is being levelled. Both the cut sites and fill sites have a problem.

On the cut side, the soil is left bare and the slope gets sharper. When the rain comes, it may just wash away the soil, sometimes creating severe erosion.

In fact, as she and her peers have observed, “this kind of erosion is responsible for between 70 to 90 percent of the total soil loss from the affected roadway area”. On the other hand, the soil on the fill side is shaky.

It has been removed from its natural area to a new area. It experiences disturbances in the process and it may not be as compacted where it is now.

So if the rains come, it’s easier to pick away the soil, causing erosion. There is yet another problem, she said.

More often, the place over which a road is constructed was once a land with its own soil and vegetation. However, once we have a road constructed, now you have a hard surface over which rain water can barely go through. It’s a closed land.

So water finds its way towards the fill side of the road, worsening the problem. As a way to reduce these challenges, engineers have constructed various forms of waterways that collect water from the road surface and the fill side down to a specific place where the water will be discharged.

This solution is creating other problems. For instance, the water, which once scattered, with reduced impact, has now been concentrated into one place. Now it is more forceful.

“That is why gullies erupt where these waterways are discharged,” she said.

In order to fully understand the nature of the problem, Dr Thamae made trips to several roadway areas in Lesotho and South Africa. More importantly, she could trace the roads and associated infrastructure along it for many kilometres using Google Maps and its Street Views.

For instance, she once traced the Main North 1 road that runs from the heart of Maseru down to Mokhotlong on Google Maps. She examined and documented its nature, evidence of soil erosion and its possible causes along the way.

She did the same thing in several places in South Africa, including some parts of the Eastern Cape. In the end, she noticed patterns of soil erosion caused by road construction in a many cases.

Also interesting was the efforts made by the road engineers to try to prevent erosion, even if they fell short in many cases.

“In South Africa, engineers there go out of their way to try to prevent soil erosion. In Lesotho, not that much.”

That could be related to the depth of the pockets of the two neighbours. A number of efforts were observed which included the following: Gabions: These are rectangular baskets fabricated from a mesh steel wire.

The baskets are filled with rocks and stacked over each other to prevent soil sliding. Retaining walls: These are relatively rigid walls used for supporting soil along the slope side so that it can be stable.

“I found these to be some of the most effective methods to prevent soil erosion,” she said.

Farrows above the slope: Some interesting efforts were observed where engineers created some farrows on top of roadside slopes to redirect the water away from the slope surface.

This, in her view, proved to be the worst approach since the water just found a way to dig into the soil, creating soil pipes that made the slopes even more fragile. The thing with all these efforts is that they have to be maintained.

“You don’t build a retaining wall and go, you have to keep monitoring it and taking appropriate measures if there are signs it might crack,” she said.

“However, maintenance rarely happens and sometimes accidents occur.”

She observed that engineers often didn’t appreciate the nature of soil and geomorphology. They ended up with one-size-fits-all approaches. She recommends they should rather work with soil scientists and geomorphologists to approach these solutions better.

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Innovation

Uncle Donze’s brilliant portraits

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ROMA – When South African music artistes plan on coming to Lesotho, Mphohlela Ralethoko, otherwise known as Uncle Donze, plans on making and handing them their portraits. Among the artistes he impacted are the likes of Mr Jazzi Q, DJ Lamiez, Kabza De Small, DJ Maphorisa, Blxkie, Lady Du and Makhadzi.

He has also drawn portraits of business gurus such as Tichere Pule.

“Almost all of them have rewarded me handsomely for their portraits,” Ralethoko said.

Recently, he created a brilliant portrait of an American television host, actor, writer, producer, and comedian, Steve Harvey.

“I put this African American celebrity in African attire, with the hope that he will, one day, recognise my work.”

Who knows? This is how it all started.

“I picked up drawing when I was really young,” Uncle Donze said.

“I was in Class Three then, so maybe I was around nine years of age.”

He said he drew almost on a daily basis.

“I drew everything I could imagine.”

He thinks he might have been inspired by his brother.

“My brother did a lot of children’s cartoons drawings. I believe I took after him.”

Fast-forward to when he was in high school. He did his primary school at the Seventh Day Adventist Primary. He then went to Methodist for his high school. He credits his years in these two places as the most formative years of his life in art.

“However, when I enrolled in my high school studies, I stopped drawing for some time,” he said.

“As a high school student, it dawned on me that maybe drawing cartoons belonged to the very young. I was no longer a child. I was becoming an adult.”

That feeling did not last. He met a high school friend who inspired him to get back to the drawing board.

“Here was someone who was not only as crazy as I was about drawing, he also didn’t think he had outgrown the drawing department just by being in high school. If he didn’t, why did I?”

Naturally, Uncle Donze’s drawing passion was lit, once again. He never looked back. In the midst of everything came an unexpected (and unwanted) visitor in the name of Covid-19.

It forced even the bravest souls to hide indoors and that’s where most people discovered their passions, or enhanced them. He said he found himself absorbed, not only in doing art, but in learning the secrets of doing art, at that time.

“At this point, I was getting to professionalise my art,” he said.

Isaac Newton once said “If I have seen any further, it was by standing on the shoulders of giants.” He went online, watched and listened to all kinds of advice on how to make the best drawings.
He stood on the shoulders of giants.

Artists may start with theories but they certainly don’t end with them. So he put everything he was learning into practice and he and those around him watched in awe as his drawing skills deepened and he started making sales.

One entrepreneur in the name of Tichere Pule became aware of his work online and gave him his picture to reproduce. He was paid handsomely. Through all these adventures, he was struck by a brilliant idea.

What if he drew portraits of music celebrities that often visit Lesotho from South Africa to entertain the masses?

“You see, to the organisers, it would be a good idea for Lesotho-visiting artistes to be honoured with their finely made portraits, things they can take home as memories about Lesotho forever.”

That proved to be a great idea and all of the South African celebrities liked it. Just a few examples, DJ Lamiez and Pasi Koetle came to Lesotho. He made Lamiez’s portrait and shared it on social media.

She got to notice the artwork and arrangements were made for him to meet her. To his surprise, the DJ bought the artwork! In separate occasions, Kabza De Small and DJ Maphorisa also landed in the Mountain Kingdom.

Their portraits were already in store and the festival organisers arranged in advance for the artistes to get some. When they did come in, he met them, showed them their portraits and they bought them —much to his surprise and satisfaction.

Then there were the likes of Mr JazziQ, Blxkie, Lady Du and Makhadzi. They were all greeted with breathtaking presents in the Mountain Kingdom.

“Have you seen a man skilled in his work?” asks the Bible Book of Proverbs, “he will be stationed in the presence of kings; he will not stand before men of lower rank.”

This proverb became true as he met these stars and handed over their portraits.

“Many times I felt nervous around them,” he revealed.

It’s understandable why he felt that way. He stood before music giants. However he himself is a star…in his own right.

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Innovation

A smart online till for vendors

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ROMA – STREET vendors (baitšokoli) will soon have their own tills, just like in big supermarkets, but on their phones. Their tills will be an online app.

“With it, street vendors will keep accurate records of their sales,” Khotso Mohanoe, a former student of the National University of Lesotho (NUL) involved in the project said.

“If someone is selling to you as a street vendor, you can still log into the app at anytime of the day to see how their sales are going,” he said.

Imagine you are a street vendor and you have this app on your phone. This is how your typical day might look like. First you decide what goods you are going to sell. Maybe you decide to resell bananas, apples, oranges and sweets.

You go restock them. You have already created a barcode (or a QR Code) for each of the four items. After stocking, you now log into your app and tell the app how many of the bananas, apples, oranges and sweets you have bought on that day.

Then the selling begins. The first buyer is already here. She wants five bananas, one orange and two sweets. You open your app and scan the banana barcode or QR code. Then you put in the quantity of bananas being bought, which is five in this case, into the app.

You do the same for the orange and the sweets. The app immediately calculates the total amount the buyer pays and how much change they should get back. But before some change is given, the app asks you, the vendor, if that was all the buyer wanted.

It could be that the buyer still wants to buy more. If she does, more scans are made and more quantities are put in. More totals are counted and the change is given, if any. If the buyer no longer has anything to add, then that specific purchase is closed.

But it has been recorded. This is very important because in the end, the records might say something about the deeply hidden behaviour of buyers. The record could show the vendors that many buyers are more likely to buy oranges only if sweets are also there.

More on what the records can tell later. Then another buyer is already here. A new purchase starts. This guy just needs an orange and an apple, that’s all. The same process is repeated. Now it could be that both of these first buyers are not necessarily interested in having receipts.

But what if they are? Well, this machine, can also generate a receipt. Buyer one gave M30, and got back M5.30 in change. Unlike a normal receipt, this receipt is not printed on paper. Rather it is just sent though WhatsApp to the buyer and there she goes.

Sounds good so far. The day goes by and several sales are made and it’s now time to go home. Once at home, you log in to your app and a whole new world opens up. Before this app, you tried but it was hard to keep these kinds of records.

Now everything is here. You know which items were sold, in what quantities, what cash was given and how much change was returned in each case. In fact you can even see the kind of cash people are more likely to bring in the morning versus in the evening and you plan the next day accordingly.

Again, in the past, you were just kind of selling and selling—and selling. You did not give much attention to which of the items you were selling were actually the most popular in the market.
At least you could not say for sure. With this app, the trends are clear.

Oranges are wildly popular and bananas are sluggish. In fact, it seems, you could make profit by focusing on selling exclusively oranges and dumping bananas. Several weeks later, you wake up one day and you do not feel like going to work. You are sick or something.

You see a loitering man in the street, teach him a thing or two about the app and, there he goes. However, in this case, you want to be careful. You do not want this guy going deeper into the app and, for instance, seeing how much money you are making in a month.

“So you restrict him only to the selling functions of the app,” Mohanoe said.

Off he goes. At lunch, you are still on your bed but you want to know how he is doing. No, you do not call him. You just log into your app and you find that he has just sold a dozen oranges. If it were you, you could have already sold two to three bags by now.

You ring him, “pull up your socks dude!” Mahanoe says he credits his supervisor, Seforo Mohlalisi, both for raising this idea in his final year project at the NUL and for supervising him through it all.

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