…. How did a small mountain Kingdom once rich in water end up parched?
Juliette Letotokoto, a recently widowed farmer, stands on her small plot of land on the outskirts of Lesotho’s capital and takes stock of her crops. It’s late May, and by now she’d typically have a rainbow of plants to harvest: cabbage, peppers, chillies, beetroot. But today the predominant colour is pale brown, a hue found in the desiccated corn stalks she’s piled up like miniature tepees in her yard and the tired rows of others she’s yet to cut back.
Usually, Letotokoto would have three full bags of corn to sell at a market this time of year. But the rains didn’t come in the summer, and now she can’t even fill one.
“The drought really ruined everything,” she says.
Lesotho, a small mountain kingdom surrounded by South Africa, was one of the nations hardest hit by the 2015 drought that caused Southern Africa’s driest growing season in 35 years.
The El Niño driven-phenomenon sparked a 47 percent drop in maize production, the country’s staple food, during the spring harvest. At least 709 394 people – close to 50 percent of the population – are estimated to need food assistance through April 2017, according to the United Nations.
“It’s a serious food crisis,” says Paul Sitnam, director of Southern Africa El Niño emergency response for World Vision, an international Christian aid agency.
“In some time it may lead to the start of starvation. I don’t think we’ve reached that level yet, but it’s a high possibility that it will happen in the next few months.”
For the people of Lesotho, a lack of rain doesn’t just mean crop failure and less food. It means the taps run dry and the rivers shrink, endangering livestock and forcing people to drink from riskier sources, leading to illness. It also means more attention to what some consider a cruel irony: Lesotho actually has plenty of water – it’s just sending much of it to South Africa.
About 130km from Letotokoto’s small stone house sits the Katse Dam, the second-largest water barrier in Africa. It’s part of a controversial development project called the Lesotho Highlands Water Project, the biggest water transfer scheme on the continent and one of the largest of its kind in the world.
Lesotho, home to the headwaters of the Senqu River, had always been rich in water. But parts of South Africa are perpetually parched. In the 1980s, the two countries struck a deal to send much of Lesotho’s water to South Africa’s dusty, dry Gauteng province, where it would fuel the mines and other industry around Johannesburg, the country’s economic hub.
The deal, financed in part by the World Bank, was hardly an agreement between two democracies: South Africa was an apartheid state at the time and Lesotho had recently undergone a military coup, which was likely orchestrated by its larger neighbour.
As a result of the bargain, the thinking went, Lesotho would collect millions of dollars in fixed payments each year, a boost for a nation where more than half of the population lives in poverty. In addition, the country would receive a hydroelectric station allowing for affordable electricity and development perks like paved roads.
“It has put Lesotho on a path toward greater development,” says Lesley Wentworth, programme manager at the South African Business Forum, who wrote a case study about the project during her time at the South African Institute of International Affairs.
But the path has been anything but smooth. A development fund set up to accompany the project failed because of political meddling.
Today, electricity is produced at lower levels than expected and is so expensive that much of the country still relies on candles, paraffin and firewood. High-quality roads climb up and over mountain passes, but they are barren in the countryside, where donkeys and goats make up most traffic.
At the time of the agreement, it was considered a given that Lesotho’s rivers would stay full with rain and melted snow. It was an era before tense climate summits and 24-hour news coverage of cataclysmic weather events – a time when fewer people believed the climate was changing.
And then, of course, it did.
In the last few decades, Southern Africa has experienced higher temperatures and lower, inconsistent rainfall – a trend predicted to continue, says Dieter Gerten, chief hydrologist at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.
Aside from normal global warming, the region must contend with the disastrous effects of El Niño. The most recent climate pattern was among the three strongest ever recorded, causing everything from floods in California to drought in Papua New Guinea. Some scientists, like Gerten, suspect El Niño will only become more severe as global warming continues.
Letotokoto, who has lived through 76 summers and 76 winters in Lesotho, says erratic, severe weather patterns are the new normal – a trend she blames on climate change.
“This is not how I grew up,” she says. “Sometimes in the summer we are extremely cold like it’s winter, and the winters are very cold. It’s not good.”
Like other Basotho frustrated by water shortages and yellowing highlands, Letotokoto talks of the Highlands Water Project with disdain.
“Lesotho made a mistake to give South Africa water because we don’t have it,” she says. “The government should stop, though that will never happen.”
It’s impossible to go back in time to see what Lesotho’s fortunes would be without the Highlands Water Project. Global warming and drought would still be occurring. But Wentworth likes to imagine a scenario with a different kind of water deal.
“If there had been better planning and provision for adjustment through the agreement, there could have been adequate water for both communities,” she says.
Instead, thanks to the changing climate, she believes South Africa is importing Lesotho into water scarcity.
Lesotho’s government has taken some steps to address the crisis. The treaty allows for a “predetermined volume of water that accumulates annually” to be released in drought conditions, and the Lesotho government has indeed released some water from its dams, according to the Lesotho Highlands Development Authority.
In late 2015, the government unveiled the Metolong Dam, which is intended to provide potable water to two thirds of the population in and around the capital. The project is still ongoing, however, and in the meantime those not benefiting from the infrastructure have had to walk long distances for clean water, tamper with existing pipes or turn to sources like contaminated springs.
Lesotho’s experience with water may hold lessons for other developing countries, the areas experts say are destined to suffer the most from climate change.
“If current water management policies persist, and climate models prove correct, water scarcity will proliferate to regions where it currently does not exist, and will greatly worsen in regions where water is already scarce,” according to High and Dry, a 2015 World Bank Report.
Aside from implementing forward-thinking, efficient domestic water policies, developing countries may want to approach international water deals with circumspection.
For countries like Lesotho, flexible-term deals may be better than long-term deals, Wentworth says. Nations need the ongoing ability to assess demand, diversify risk and renegotiate. Citizen feedback is crucial.
“I think it comes back to the issue around open dialogue at early stages in the project,” she says. “When you are negotiating a deal you have to bring everyone to the table. You have to tell communities what the anticipated impact will be, positive and negative – it’s their water.” –usnews.com
Devon Haynie reported from South Africa on a fellowship through the International Reporting Project.
Lesotho’s own brandy
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.”
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.
A new, co-operative chain store
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?
“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:
- 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.
- 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.”
- 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.”
- 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!
- 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.”
- 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.”
- 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.”
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