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The year of fat cows



MASERU – AFTER struggling for food last year because of El Nino-induced drought, Lesotho is set for a bumper harvest.

That’s according to the Ministry of Agriculture which says the heavy rains across the country will not affect food production this year.
Senior Crop Production Officer, Sekhonyana Mahase, says the heavy rains will lead to a bumper harvest “unless something bad happens later on”.
“May be if we could experience early frost but so far things are still ok,” he says.

Mahase says their survey around the country has revealed that only fields in swampy areas would be affected. But generally, he says, the harvests would be good.
Mahase is of the view that even potatoes and beans that the farmers were worried about are also in good condition.

He says comparatively with some years, they are optimistic that their yields would be high because for this summer cropping season, more than 9 000 hectares were planted.
“We are still compiling the report but we have cultivated more land this season,” he says.

However, Mahase also indicates that wheat production has been most affected by these pouring rains because in some areas, wheat was not harvested at all.
He says farmers in most parts of the country planted wheat which was of high quality but got damaged because of heavy rains.

Mahase points out that lack of Combine Harvesters in the country have also contributed significantly to the delayed harvesting of wheat.
Some farmers have been waiting for weeks for Combine Harvesters.

There are also a number of the harvesters that have broken down in the fields and are yet to be repaired. Good rains, he adds, that poured early last year after El Nino-induced drought enabled most farmers to plant every crop that they thought would lift them out of poverty.

“In Lesotho most farmers planted wheat in large numbers. This was history in the making because more than 13 000 hectares of land was planted,” he says.
Mahase says his ministry could not foresee that the wheat could go to waste.

Corroborating Mahase’s view on wheat, Crop Services’ Seed Multiplication Officer, Lesetla Makoae, said farmers had to wait until rains subsided and while they were waiting the wheat heads were falling from the stalks. Makoae estimated that the yield of wheat this season would be three tonnes per hectare.
Makoae said Leribe “is expected to have the highest wheat yield in the country for this season”.

Miguelez Borja, the Emergency and Rehabilitation Coordinator from Food and Agricultural Organisation Lesotho (FAOLS), says their records show that although in some cases there maybe some negative impacts of floods or other meteorological events, generally the season is going well. Potato Lesotho Association (PLA) Public Relations Officer (PRO), Chaka Ntsane, says

they are looking forward to have a bumper harvest as compared to last year where their yields were relatively low because of severe drought that struck the country.
The PLA is an association of local farmers who concentrate mostly on potato plantation in a bid to grab the lucrative potato market in the country.
Ntsane says only a few farmers within their association experienced some minor shocks due to intermittent heavy rains in the country.

“We already have samples of our produce and based on that, we are optimistic that we will have high yields,” he says. Research shows that the country spends more than M3.3 million on importing potatoes from South Africa.

Makoae said due to heavy rains, the potato yield is expected to be low especially in lowlands as potatoes are the most fragile crops, which do not tolerate a lot of water in the soil.
He also said potatoes absorb water easily resulting in bacteria blight which is caused by excessive moisture.

“Though potatoes are not yet harvested, but looking at crop stand there is a likelihood that we will lose in potato production this year, though the yield is going to be high for other crops,” he said.

Lephoto Taoana, Lesotho National Farmers Union (LENAFU) spokesperson, is also upbeat about the harvest this year despite some isolated Blight that has affected potatoes, spinach and beans in some parts of the country.

Blight refers to a specific symptom affecting plants in response to infection by a pathogenic organism. It leads to rapid browning and death of plant tissues such as leaves, branches, twigs, or floral organs.  In some parts of the country, Taoana adds, heavy rains made it impossible for some farmers to weed their fields.
‘Mamoleseng Shale, a seasoned subsistence farmer in Mafeteng district who has been battling climate change shocks over the years, says this has been her best year as a farmer.
Shale says she is already selling green maize, water melons and green beans.

This farmer maintains that being a widow, in some years her small farm would remain fallow because of severe drought.
Mafeteng, Mohale’s Hoek and Quthing are the most drought-prone districts in the country.
“I have achieved what was deemed impossible by those around me,” she boasts.

She says she never thought that one day she could earn some revenue from her produce.
“I now see that it’s possible to be a commercial farmer.”

What scares her though is that commercial farming is capital intensive and money is something she does not have.
“Having spent most of my life on the farm, I have seen first-hand the effects of climate change. It needs more resources”.
She adds: “We do not have to be afraid of climate change but to get acclimatized to it.”

Shale believes that since women play a big role in food production in most rural parts of the country, they should be empowered and assisted in all ways possible to help them produce food.

She says that this could in turn enable them to produce more and make savings which could be translated into investment and boost economic growth. She insists that women empowerment in agriculture could reduce unemployment in rural areas where most women are unemployed, adding that climate change has over the years contributed to a spike in food insecurity.

Meanwhile, Makoae says farmers should leverage on the current moisture in the soil and plant vegetables. Makoae told thepost that the cold will strike early this winter because of the current excessive rains hence the need for farmers to start planting vegetables now.

He says if farmers start planting now, the vegetables will be resistant enough and will withstand the cold when winter comes.
He however cautioned against planting for commercial purposes, which will require planting large quantities, because the cold can be very destructive to most vegetables.

Makoae said Basotho farmers have a bad tendency to buy seed and start planting only during spring and summer when it is rainy and spend the whole winter without vegetables.
“They don’t use the cropping calendar which provides information on planting, sowing and harvesting periods of selected foods,” Makoae said, adding that they must use data provided by the Food Security Information System.

“Out of (this) insufficient arable land, Basotho can produce their own food through agriculture especially in this rainy season and use 50 percent subsidy that the government is offering to each and every individual farmers in the country,” he said.

Makoae said one of the biggest challenges faced is that Basotho lack upgraded information on farming.  “Basotho can produce large quantity of crops but lack agricultural information, they are still rooted to their old ways of farming while everything has changed including the climate,” he said.

Meanwhile, for the next two weeks Lesotho will experience a dry period due to a tropical cyclone called Enawo. Senior Meteorologist Charles Tšeole said the cyclone is expected to ravage north east of Madagascar.

Tšeole said during this rainy season, “Semonkong has been the only district in the country to break a new record with excessive rain by 172 percent of rain”.
“Though there is no prediction of the expected rain, from February up to March 184 percent rain above normal has fallen in the country,” he said.

Majara Molupe and Senate Sekotlo

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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.”

Own Correspondent

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Ready-to-cook vegetables



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



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:

  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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