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Let there be light in Mashai!

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THABA-TSEKA – vFrom battling to put food at the table, ’Malimakatso Molatelle has become the leading light in a poor village where electricity is still a pipe dream.
Molatelle has taken to renewable energy to power her vision of being a successful businesswoman in the community.
For years, the 36-year-old from the heart of Lesotho’s mountainous rural area in Mashai was grappling to make ends meet.

All that has changed. Thanks to Kesi Business Solutions (KBS) and the European Union who empowered her with a solar kit, Molatelle is making at least M1 000 a day, a small fortune in a community where the majority are living below the poverty line of one United States dollar a day (about M13).

From her small solar powered tuckshop, Molatelle sells fruits, snacks, airtime and solar equipment to fellow villagers, most of whom survive on subsistence farming.
The solar equipment she sells include electric batteries, charge controllers, power inverters, light bulbs and other small items – which come in handy in a rural area with no electricity.
Before venturing into renewable energy, Molatelle used to make a gross income of about M100 a day selling traditional sorghum beer, crispy potato chips, fruits and vegetables, and sweets by the road-side close to a taxi rank where traffic volumes were low.

She used to spend hours in a shabby corrugated iron shack, a stick erected on the side with a green vegetable sack tied at its tip as a sign that she sold traditional sorghum beer.
The shack could hardly accommodate four people standing.
She believes that the untidiness of the shack made it more difficult for her small spaza shop to attract customers and compete with a small grocery shop and a pub up the road.
“My fruits and snacks would get dusty and look unpleasant,” Molatelle says.

“I am sure and I know that people reluctantly bought from me because of this,” she says.
Life was not easy, says Molatelle, who describes her husband as a “self-employed” man. With five children – one who is in high school – she could hardly afford the bare basics.
“You can imagine. What can you do with just M100 per day with a child in boarding school? She would ask for something and it would take long for me to meet that need.”
The sponsorship of a solar kiosk came as a “God-sent,” she says.

She had attended a workshop that required businessmen and women owning small and medium enterprises to compete for a sponsorship deal.
Each of the attendees was called in for an interview and questioned about their business, their ambitions and what winning the sponsorship would mean to them.
Molatelle seems to have impressed the panel because she had the qualities they were looking for.
KBS decided to give her the solar kiosk last month. She has not looked back ever since.

The solar kiosk was built by Solar Turtles, a South African Social Economic Development (SED) management company that offers funds for sustainable community electrification businesses.
Solar Turtles is a partner with KBS, through the support of the EU under the Renewable Energy Women Empowerment Project.
Rural electrification in the country is still in its infancy, with at least 5.5 percent of rural households being grid-connected, according to the Ministry of Energy.
According to the ministry’s research paper titled Rural Household Electrification in Lesotho, Lesotho like many other African countries, has established rural electrification programmes that aim at bringing electrical power to rural and remote areas.

The Rural Electrification Unit (REU) was established in 2004 to implement rural electrification projects.
“Despite the serious efforts of the government of Lesotho, Lesotho Electricity Company (LEC) and other stakeholders, the level of households connected to the grid is still low,” the report says.
In 2015, about 72 percent of the households in urban regions were connected to the grid while the share of households in the rural areas with access to electricity was just 5.5 percent.
Even in regions covered by the grid, not all households are connected.

The report further says the major challenge to rural electrification is significantly attributed to the capital costs and limited returns in the short and medium term.
“The investment for grid extension and off-grid schemes to reach remote and scattered households are often substantially high yet the low electricity consumption level of rural households, along with tariff policies meant to equalise the price of a kilowatt-hour between rural and urban areas, imply limited returns,” the report says.
Kanono Thabane, Programme Coordinator at KBS, believes that renewable energy electrification is the answer to rural electrification.

“We are living in the times where climate change is taking over, there is a lot of soil erosion because the land is bare and there is no rain,” Thabane said.
“Using natural energy providers will ease the burden on the expenses that come with rural electrification.”
The solar kiosk solar panels, according to Thabane, are the best because they work on light and not only by sunrays.
“Even on cloudy days, this kiosk will still be able to charge phones and it can generate enough electricity to last a week and equal to 10 units of prepaid electricity.”
Thabane said the Solar Kiosk project cost at least M120 000.

The EU has supported the project by paying 80 percent of the costs of the kiosk on behalf of Molatelle and the rest of the 20 percent will be paid for by Molatelle over a period of two years.
Thabane said their mission is to reach out to rural areas that have no electricity to offer renewable energy electricity.
This solar kiosk, Thabane said, is the first of its kind in the country and it is proving to be the best electrification method because it uses renewable energy.

This is a pilot project with three other kiosks in Bobete, Manamaneng and Sehong-Hong in the Thaba-Tseka district.
“Once we have seen how well the kiosks work then we can open the project up for sale for other willing businessmen who will find interest in owning one of these best business utilities,” Thabane said.

This is the first phase of the Renewable Energy Women Empowerment Project.
Thabane said the second phase will see the biggest science-fare in post-primary schools in Thaba-Tseka.
“We will first train science teachers on renewable energy and how renewable energy works and they will train their students who will then develop science projects on renewable energy,” he said.
“The student with the best project will win the competition and be given technical and financial assistance to make their project bigger.”

The EU’s Water, Energy and Climate Change Programme Manager, Koena Marabe, said the EU has an agreement with the government of Lesotho to assist in the improvement of the lives of Basotho. “This project is set to change the lives of people who don’t have electricity. Electricity provided by the government might not come as quickly as you all anticipate, this is why we are committed to support the country in rural electrification by use of renewable energy,” Marabe said.

Mokoto Molise, the chairperson of Linakeng Local Government Council, is however worried that the government might delay electrifying villages while banking on the renewable energy project.
“Let this solar project not stop the government from connecting us to the country’s electricity system. That, we still want,” Molise said.
Tšoeu Mokeretla, the MP for Mashai constituency, described the project as “a good initiative to use the environment for electrification”.
Mokeretla applauded KBS and the EU for being transparent. “It was not politicised in any form and if it was politicised we would not have seen this project launched or see its success,” Mokeretla says.

Rose Moremoholo

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Lesotho’s own brandy

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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

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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

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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?
Nope!

“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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