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When wetlands run dry

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MAFETENG – TEBOHO Lethibela, 62, points to a flat ground where cattle are grazing, remembering how he used to fish on this very spot with his father when he was a boy.
The land is dry and there is no indication that this land was once covered by deep waters and a haven for fishermen.
“Whitemen used to visit… fishing and riding their boats,” Lethibela says, seemingly overcome by nostalgic memories of his childhood.
“We would fish and sell the fish in barrels. We used to have fun around this lake,” Lithibela says, forcing a smile.
Lethibela is part of the Tša-Kholo community living around Lesotho’s rapidly drying lake. For centuries, the lake was the pride of Mafeteng people.

Tša-Kholo means the great lake.
Tša-Kholo is located about 70km south of Maseru and is one of the agro-ecological zones (AEZs) of Lesotho.
It has suffered the worst of water woes due to the drought gripping the country.
Lethibela’s family home used to be a lakeside residence. Not anymore. A large part of the lake is now bare, dry land.
“This was my parents’ home and as much as we were this close to the lake we never experienced any flooding,” he said.
Lethibela takes us back to when the lake was still one big water body not divided by the road that stretches out to Rothe connecting to the main South 1 Road.

The lake became famous internationally for fishing and boat riding.
Sadly, it is becoming a Tša-Nyane (small lake).
Tša-Kholo lake is now a shallow body of water artificially maintained by a low dam and sluices on the Tšana-Talana River at an altitude of just over 1 500 metres.

The lake lies in a basin of sandstone, which outcrops at some points along its eastern edge, although surrounded by low basalt hills.
Now largely dry land, some vegetation is cropping up from recent rains, giving livestock something to feed on.
“This road constructed here also has affected the lake,” Lethibela says.
Lethibela can recall four people who drowned in the lake at its peak.

“It was deep, very deep but now all seems a lie because even bikers come around with their motor bikes performing stunts in the mud surrounding the lake,” he says.
“Even if they fall, the waters are just too shallow to drown anyone.”
He takes a deep breath and continues: “In its time, it looked like a sea, the ripples of the water were like the roaring sea.”
Lethibela does not have any idea why the lake is drying.

The village chief of Boiketlo, Lethibela’s settlement situated by the lake side, blames drought, which he says people do not have control over.
“We used to have the best vegetable schemes here, our irrigated crops were part of the best crops produced in the country,” Chief Mahlakajoe says.
“The pipes sucked up mud and were no longer of use to us,” Mahlakajoe says.
Chief Lehlohonolo Mahlakajoe saiys the effects of the drought in Tša-Kholo are devastating.
“Look, all of the crops we have are poor. It is a shame compared to what we used to harvest here,” he said, pointing to a maize field that was once part of the lake.

“In a few months to come, the maize will wither because of the winter cold. The rains are too late.”
He says the drought had not only affected water bodies but the general livelihoods of locals.
Mahlakajoe recalls that in 2016 and 2017 when there was a serious water crisis the Tša-Kholo Health Centre, a near-by clinic had no water for the maternity ward.

New mothers were told to take hospital linen they would have used to wash at home before returning it to the medical institution.
Drinking water has become scarce after four springs dried up, leaving only two for five villages.
“I don’t know how we will survive,” he says. “Even the recently constructed water tank is not enough for the whole village.”
“We need rain, we need this lake to overflow and the river to flow because we are hungry. The boys have the mountain and other range lands to graze on. Water is a priority.”

’Mampho Mafereka, the Mafeteng District Health Manager, confirms that the clinic was severely affected by drought.
However, for the medical institution, water has been a problem even before the drought due to lack of storage infrastructure, although the situation had improved after assistance from Disaster Management Authority (DMA), says Mafereka.
“We have been experiencing a water crisis at that centre and we had to put in rapid response to any health hazards that may break out like diarrhoea,” Mafereka says.

Mafereka says the clinic no longer sends patients home with linen to wash because the situation had improved.
“We have sent our strategic plans to DMA where we request assistance in the provision of chlorine tablets, and sanitizations because the community draws water from unhealthy sources and more of these water sources are drying,” she says.
But, what could be the source of lakes and springs drying in Lesotho?
Wetlands are increasingly gaining global attention, bringing together scientists from different disciplines to study these unique ecosystems.
In Lesotho, wetlands are important for livestock grazing.

The problems related to wetlands management, in particular soil erosion, are linked to over-grazing, according to various studies.
Land degradation in upland areas is a major contributing factor to and result of increased conversion of wetlands to croplands, according to a study by the National University of Lesotho (NUL).
The study says as the uplands in most countries become increasingly degraded and lose productivity, wetlands are being used to compensate for the losses in productivity (i.e., in places where uplands become so degraded that they are no longer usable).
However, if the wetlands also become irreversibly degraded, there will be no other alternatives for food production and livelihoods sustenance, according to the study.

“It is therefore important that the wetlands are managed in a sustainable way, such that a balance can be achieved,” reads the NUL study. “Optimal or sustainable use will ensure positive benefits for both smallholders and conservation of wetland environment.”
In a research conducted in 2018 by Nkheloane et. al titled ‘Rainfall Variability at Decadal Time Scale and Temperature Trend in Two Distinct Agro-ecological Zones of Lesotho’, minimum temperatures are decreasing and maximum temperatures are increasing in Tša-Kholo. This is attributed to the changes in climate that have been noted in recent decades in many parts of the world.
The research found that the most significant change has been a decrease in rainfall resulting in a step down decrease in surface runoff and groundwater recharge rates.

The paper explored rainfall variability and temperature trends in two locations of Lesotho, Tša-Kholo and Thaba-Putsoa.
“Lesotho is notoriously a water-rich country however the results of this study highlight a threat of uneven rainfall distribution and a projected to decline in the near future,” the paper says.

“It is anticipated that these outcomes may likely have a severe impact on future water projects in Lesotho.”
The research says to avoid drawbacks (low crop production and drying up of wetlands) the government should be involved in civic education on dynamic seasonal forecasting.

Last week the Ministry of Water Affairs met with a Netherlands Senator, Professor Sybe Schaap, who is also a specialist in wetland preservation and integrated catchment management projects in his country.
Professor Schaap pledged to assist Lesotho to preserve and maintain wetlands.

Professor Schaap came to share his experiences of successful policy and decision-making in coordination of land and water resources management with the National Inter-Ministerial Catchment Management Committee (NICMC), the parliament Portfolio Committee on Natural Resources, Tourism and Land Cluster and the Senate.

Markus Theobald, Head of Cooperation at the European Union, said the visit was part of the bloc’s assistance to Lesotho. Theobald said the EU was involved in the construction of Metolong Dam and the building of a waste treatment plant.
“At present we are very involved in programmes that I would classify as addressing the supply side of water as well as the demand side of water for Lesotho and its citizens,” Theobald says.

He said when he first came to Lesotho he was perplexed by the paradox of the Highland Water Supply Scheme, which exports huge volumes of water to South Africa and at the same time there are the lowlands that struggle to get access to portable water.
“This is one of the reasons why we as the EU decided to step in and help Lesotho overcome that situation (and) to have the people in the lowlands to have access to water,” Theobald said.

“You have wonderful resources here, the water which is caught in the catchment areas and stored in the soil and sometimes flows in the dams,” he said.
“It would be a disaster to have the water tower dry up” Theobald says.

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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.”

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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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