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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

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!

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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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