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Uncertainty grips Lesotho’s farmers



……As new wool and mohair regulations bring despair……

BEREA – IT is a cold and cloudy morning; smoke fills the air and women chat loudly while stirring pots of meat and samp that will later feed the multitudes of farmers attending the show.
The carefree laughter from the children playing and running around pierces through the happy commotion.
The men can be seen busy with the sheep and goats, doing the final inspection, as it were, before the animals are put out on show here at the Nokong Shearing Shed in Berea.
Ask any one of them, and they will tell you they are confident they are going to come out tops and win the much coveted right to represent the district at the national show scheduled for Maseru on 29 May.

The district show that has brought the wool and mohair farmers and their families here is a tough competition that will at the end of it all must produce winners and losers, yet the atmosphere is here one marked by hearty conviviality and good cheer.
But let that not deceive you for scratch the surface a little harder and you will come face-to-face with a group of men and women in despair.
That is because the sweeping changes to the marketing of wool and mohair ordered by the government and meant to benefit the farmers could be doing more harm than good, hitting them where it hurts most – the pocket.
Talk to Lejone Thelingoane, a 59-year veteran producer, and you will get a good measure of the uncertainty gripping the wool and mohair industry in Lesotho today.

The farmers fear their industry could be headed for a rocky period ahead.
A serial winner at this show, who was the undefeated champion from 2013 to 2017, Thelingoane was more than eager to talk about how the wool and mohair industry has prospered in the past years and him along with it.
He boasted about how he has the best goats in the country. He told of how he was introduced to the industry as a young boy and since then has never looked back.
“For all my life the only job I know is to be a farmer, I never went to the mines or did any other job,” he says.
But ask Thelingoane about the Lesotho Wool Centre (LWC) and how farmers have struggled to get payment for wool and mohair supplied to it and all the enthusiasm and excitement you might have noticed in his voice and demeanor immediately dries up.
“I had to dip my hand in my emergency fund,” says Thelingoane.
“These are funds I am not supposed to touch but I had to. It costs money to come here and for the past years I would cover the cost of the trip with money from the previous year’s sale.”

He was explaining how failure by the Lesotho Wool Centre to pay him for deliveries has left him so cash-strapped he had to raid his savings to fund the trip to the show and the necessary preparations.
But even more troubling for Thelingoane and his fellow farmers, they say whereas they would know how much they would get for their produce before, with the Lesotho Wool Centre it is not the case.
All they can do is wait upon the centre anxiously.
Or to put it in Thelingoane’s words: “We will see how much we will be paid. This is because even those who have received payment are not satisfied with what they received. We don’t know what we will get.”
Another farmer, Mankatiseng Mojaki, who is also waiting for payment from the Lesotho Wool Centre, says in her case she has had to bring fewer animals to the show because she didn’t have enough money to do so.
Like Thelingoane, she hasn’t been paid for the wool and mohair that she supplied last year.
In a move the government says was intended to ensure Basotho farmers were not shortchanged by international buyers, mostly from South Africa, it banned wool and mohair exports.

Through the Agriculture Marketing (Wool and Mohair Licensing) (Amendment) Regulations, 2018 farmers were ordered to sell to the Thaba-Bosiu-based Lesotho Wool Centre which now handles exports.
But farmers across the country say the Lesotho Wool Centre has to date not lived up to expectation, with many saying they either have not been paid for wool and mohair supplied or when payment has been received it is far less than what they have been getting before the centre appeared in the picture.
For its part, the Lesotho Wool Centre has said the reason some farmers have not yet been paid was because they had not provided account numbers for the centre to use to deposit the money.
It said the other reason a producer may not have been paid for wool supplied to the centre was because their wool was still sitting at the centre awaiting buyers. Not all wool delivered to the Lesotho Wool Centre is immediately sold, it said.

Lesotho Wool Centre spokesperson, Manama Letsie, says this was also part of the reason why farmers were getting part-payments which he said were for actual wool sold to buyers and not for everything a producer may have delivered to the centre.
Whatever the reasons behind the Lesotho Wool Centre’s failure to pay farmers on time, one can only hope the centre gets its act together for the sake of an industry that is a bulwark against poverty and unemployment in a country of about two million people; 24 to 28 percent of whom are without a job, according to World Bank figures.
With about 40 000 farmers producing an average 45 000 bales annually worth M1 billion, the wool and mohair industry is a vital source of employment and economic empowerment as the champion farmer Thelingoane might testify.
Having been only a shepherd, Thelingoane literally had nothing as he prepared to start out on his own. In that position, many young Basotho find it hard to resist the urge to cross the border to South Africa in search of employment.

For Thelingoane things worked out differently. His father gave him four goats and 10 sheep as the ‘start-up capital’ to start his own operation.
It worked. Today he has more than 140 goats and 180 sheep and has never had reason to want to work for someone else whether here in Lesotho or across the border in South Africa.
His sheep and goat rearing project and vegetable farming are what have provided money to send his children to school and put food on the table.

Having learnt from his father, Thelingoane has been careful to make sure he also teaches his son and four daughters the skills of the trade.
“They know everything about livestock; this is because this is a family business,” says Thelingoane, who picked up 23 prizes to emerge overall winner at the district show.
It’s all very well for Thelingoane and other farmers like him to transfer the skills to the next generation but the future of the wool and mohair industry is certain only when the Lesotho Wool Centre finally steps up to the plate to support farmers with better and stable prices.

Lemohang Rakotsoane


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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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