Back to Eden

Back to Eden

ROMA-A National University of Lesotho (NUL) Physics and Mathematics graduate has found his niche in farming.
Ntoahae Makhoa has set up big structures and secured large fields where he produces tomatoes, cabbages and cucumbers.
He also raises pigs.

Many have been told that Lesotho has no market for agricultural products.
He disagrees: “We haven’t even started to meet the market needs.”
As we talk, he and his business partner, Likhoa Likhoa, have just produced cabbages, tomatoes, cucumbers and pigs in their hundreds and thousands.
But that was just the beginning.

“This year, we are planning to grow 50 000 heads of cabbages and we plan to deliver 3 600 boxes of tomatoes and 21 000 fruits of cucumbers,” Makhoa said.
“We are also planning to slaughter 15 pigs a month.”
All this is by a man who studied Physics and Mathematics at the NUL and works as a teacher.

He knows a secret or two (which many people evidently don’t know) about Physics, Mathematics and Agriculture.
You can’t separate the three.

“The study of the physical properties of soil has a fundamental place in the application of science to agriculture,” said Bernard A Keen, a researcher who suggests that Physics (and therefore Mathematics) be part and parcel of Agriculture. 

“I was born into a farming family,” Makhoa says as he relates the story of his attraction to farming.
“My parents were engaged in some form of farming but in a traditional sense of it, if you know what I mean.”
You probably know what he means.

Lesotho’s traditional farming is “from the land to the mouth” (re lemela ho ja).
“If we sold something, it was just so that we could keep life going,” he says.
Farming as a business was never part of the family’s — and indeed the country’s — DNA.

“You only have to take a single step outside the country to realise that farming can indeed be big business elsewhere,” he says.
Thankfully, “that’s where we are headed.”
Time came and he left his home for the NUL to study Physics and Mathematics as a future teacher and that is where he got inspired to rethink farming.

He said he met in there a lecturer who had a PhD in Physics, but who was growing plants like no other.
A turning point was when the lecturer got involved in a car accident and “we had to go and see him in his home.”
“I was in complete amazement when I saw all kinds of plants the lecturer was producing in his yard — I can’t name them all.”

Before then, he said he had a complete misunderstanding of what made a university graduate.
He, like the rest of his age-mates, were brought up to picture university graduates as those folks with bow-ties, the kind that you normally find in revolving chairs in government offices, speaking English.

The Physics Dr in overalls working on plants threw that dangerous thinking out of the window, “at least for me,” he says.
From that time onwards, “I was already telling my friends that I was planning to be more than just a teacher when I graduated,” he says. “I was going straight into farming.”

He did graduate and went into teaching.
Since he had a paid job, he also had a choice – many choices.
He could spend it on good cars, he could spoil himself to death in shebeens, he could use it to impress “chicks” — or he could invest it.
He chose the last option.

He went into a five-year investment with Metropolitan Lesotho. 
The investment matured to give him enough money to build the following: housing structures for conceiving piglets and rearing pigs and net structures for protecting his crops from hail, frost and moisture loss.
He and his business partner also received funding from Small-Holder Agricultural Development Project (SADP) for development of greenhouse structures.

They also invested in renting huge agricultural fields for growing their crops.
So what has he learnt?
Contrary to the common belief that there is no market for agricultural products in Lesotho, there is a huge market, he says with confidence after selling most of his produce.

In fact, in his own words, “when it comes to satisfying just the local markets, we haven’t even started”.

This is an open secret because, need we say, we all eat every day.
“The only problem is that we focus too much on supplying the so-called big retailers that we forget the many small ones.”

The second problem is that we produce small (re hlahisa ka sono) while buyers normally want continued supply.
“That is why we plan to start farming on a large scale and in earnest,” he says.

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