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Rekindling hope



MASERU – WHEN Nyakallo Mokuena, 26, did not get a pass that would allow him to enrol at the Lesotho College of Agriculture in 2011, he thought he had literally hit a dead end.
His dream was up in flames. Ever since he was young, Mokuena had a passion to work the land.

Yet he knew that to be successful he would not have to rely on the traditional and archaic ways of growing crops and rearing livestock.
He needed a qualification from a reputable college that would put him on a strong footing in the cut-throat business of farming.
That was why he desperately wanted that qualification from the Lesotho College of Agriculture.
With his path blocked, Mokuena did not give up.

Four years after he finished his high school education, he enrolled at the Mahlaseli Agricultural and Vocational Institute of Excellence in Thaba-bosiu.
Mokuena, who was part of the college’s first intake, is set to graduate from the college this coming spring.
Mokuena, who is now a small-scale farmer, says the three-year training programme opened his eyes to the world of business.
He is currently growing vegetables for sale in Mafeteng.

He is also supplying cabbages and other vegetables to schools under the government’s school feeding programme.
Mokuena has also ventured into seedling production. His biggest customer is the Ministry of Forestry.

He says he is looking forward to the ministry buying his seedlings so that it can distribute them countrywide for its reforestation programme in Lesotho as well as developing orchards.
Mokuena says he wants to diversify his vegetable crops to meet growing demand.

He believes the agriculture sector, with proper support from the government, can help minimise food insecurity in Lesotho.
He also says through agriculture youth unemployment can be held at bay.

“Research shows that young people remain nearly four times more likely to be unemployed than their adult counterparts,” he says.
Youth unemployment in Lesotho currently stands at a staggering 40 percent.

Mokuena says what he particularly liked at Mahlaseli was that the college taught him the art of producing more while using fewer resources.
That skill has often come in handy in his day-to-day activities.

He also appreciates the skills they were given to fight climate change.
Mokuena says it is quite tragic that some youths venture into agriculture when they are “oblivious of some scientific principles they have to employ to produce vegetables and other crops in general”.

“Lack of skills to make use of technology compounded by climate change has worsened the plight of emerging farmers in most rural parts of the country,” he says.
“Youths should be in the driver’s seat in terms of food security and be the key drivers for sustainable production.”
“Climate change is here to stay. We (have to devise ways of dealing with it.)”

He says since he lives in a water-stressed area, he is able to use little water optimally because he engages in Conservation Agriculture (CA).
“And the moisture lasts for a long time,” he says.

The Conservation Agriculture method seeks to maximise land use by growing crops with minimal disruption of the soil’s structure and natural biodiversity.
It has been a hit with Lesotho’s farmers over the years as it boosted crop production.

The programme was introduced in Lesotho by the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) to fight climate change.
Mokuena says the Conservation Agriculture programme allows him not to rely on rain-fed agriculture.
This allows him to grow crops through-out the year.

Mokuena says it is unacceptable for communities in rural areas to struggle to get adequate nutrition when they have the means to produce enough nutritious food.
He says he wants to help his community get out of this cycle.

Mokuena says he is looking forward to working with the government in providing food under the school feeding programme.
The National School Feeding Policy which became operational in 2014 outlines how key sectors should cooperate in providing healthy meals to primary school children.
The policy encourages that food stocks should be bought largely from local farmers, a policy Mokuena says will help farmers.

The new policy came into operation after the government realised that most of the foodstuffs for the 400 000 school-going children were being imported from South Africa, depriving local farmers of the much-needed revenue.

There are about 50 000 more children who benefit from the programme in pre-schools.
The school feeding policy aims to help smallholder farmers like Mokuena to increase their production levels and revenue, while also diversifying their operations into food processing.
There are at least 1445 primary schools throughout the country that are benefiting from the programme.

Mokuena says “there is a broad market at community level where local farmers including vegetable producers could sell their produce”.
“The government has introduced a feeding scheme programme in government and church-owned schools countrywide where local farmers sell their produce to those who have won tenders at those schools,” Mokuena says.

“And the market is there for everyone to grab.”  Mokuena says the skills he attained at the vocational school have allowed him to “wage war against poverty that is rife in rural communities”. “I am engaged in commercial vegetable production and I am looking forward to stretching my farming tentacles in the nearby future,” he says.
A board member of the Mahlaseli Agricultural and Vocational Institute of Excellence, ’Mantoetse Jobo, says although their institute is only three years old, “it has already made its mark towards poverty reduction and creating job opportunities”.

Jobo says they set up the institute to cater for students who would have failed to make it into tertiary institutions.
“They lose hope that they could ever improve their lives when they fail to pass their (exams),” Jobo says.
She says their school was established to cater for students “who are in despair and to rekindle hope for those who will be roaming the streets without jobs or any admission at any tertiary institution”.

Jobo says while the institute is still trying to find its feet but is already changing lives for Basotho youths.

Majara Molupe

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LEC to switch off households over debts



MASERU – The Lesotho Electricity Company (LEC) will from Tuesday next week begin switching off clients who owe it money.

The LEC issued a seven-day ultimatum to all customers who owe it on Tuesday last week. The deadline ends on Monday.

It is expected that the LEC will begin switching off households that have defaulted.

The state-owned power company, however, is not going to touch any government department or business entities that owe it on grounds that they are in payment negotiations.

The LEC move comes barely two weeks after it cut electricity supplies to the Water and Sewerage Company (WASCO) thus causing it to fail to pump water to communities countrywide for more than two days.

The LEC says it is owed close to M200 million by government departments, businesses and individuals.

The LEC spokesman, Tšepang Ledia, told thepost that the government and the businesses will not have their electricity cut because they are in negotiations.

“We are in negotiations with the government and businesses and hopefully they will pay,” Ledia said.

“We advise the ordinary people to pay their debts before the 20th of March 2023 or else we cut the services,” he said.

The LEC says it is running short of funds for its daily operations.

In December last year the company increased power tariffs by 7.9 percent on both energy and maximum demand charges across all customer categories for the Financial Year 2022/23.

Last week the LEC boss, Mohato Seleke, said postpaid consumers and sundry debtors owe the company M169.4 million.

He said unless the debtors pay he will be unable to buy electricity from ’Muela Hydropower Project, Eskom in South Africa and Mozambique’s EDM.

This, he said, could cause serious load shedding in the country and could be devastating for businesses.

Seleke said the LEC spends M630 million monthly to buy electricity.

“If postpaid consumers do not settle their debts this could prevent the LEC from being able to buy electricity which can lead the country to encounter load-shedding,” Seleke said.

Seleke said collecting debt from government department ministries was a challenge as there is an understanding that since LEC is a state-owned company, it will continue supplying government agencies with electricity and they will settle their bills when they have funds to do so.

Seleke said the LEC has lost M21 million to vandalism during this financial year.

Relebohile Tšepe

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Bumper payout for former mineworkers



MASERU – AT least 11 316 current as well as former mine workers are set for a bumper payout after Tshiamiso Trust began disbursing the first billion Maloti to workers who are suffering from silicosis and tuberculosis.

The payment comes two years after Tshiamiso Trust began processing claims for the historical M5 billion settlement agreement between mineworkers and six gold mines in South Africa.

Speaking at the payment announcement in Maseru last week, the Trust’s CEO, Lusanda Jiya, said it has been two years since they officially began accepting claims.

“Our people come to work every day with the mission of impacting lives for the better, and the first billion rand paid out to over 11 000 families is just the beginning,” Jiya said.

“We know that there is no compensation that will ever be enough to undo the suffering endured by mine workers and their families,” he said.

“However, we are committed to deliver our mandate and ensure that every family that is eligible for compensation receives it.”

Jiya said the Trust is limited both in terms of the time in which they can operate, and the extent to which they can assist those seeking compensation.

Broadly speaking, the eligibility criteria include among others that the mineworker must have worked at one of the qualifying gold mines between March 12, 1965 and December 10, 2019.

Secondly, living mineworkers must have permanent lung damage from silicosis or TB and deceased mine workers representatives must have evidence that proves that they (the deceased) died from TB or Silicosis.

Tshiamiso Trust has a lifespan of 12 years, ending in February 2031.

Over 111 000 claims have been received to date, through offices in South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, eSwatini, and Mozambique.

The Trust is working with stakeholders in these countries and others to mobilise its efforts and expand operations.

The history of silicosis in South Africa goes back to the late 1880’s when the first gold mines began operations.

The gold was stored and locked in quartz, a special rock that contains large amounts of silica.

Crystallised silica particles can cause serious respiratory damage if inhaled.

In the earlier days of gold mining, dust control, health and safety standards and the use of PPE (personal protective equipment) were not as advanced as they are today.

Tshiamiso Trust was established in 2020 to give effect to the settlement agreement reached between six mining companies.

The companies are African Rainbow Minerals, Anglo American South Africa, AngloGold Ashanti, Harmony Gold, Sibanye Stillwater and Gold Fields.

The settlement agreement was reached and made after a ruling by the Johannesburg High Court as a result of a historic class action by former and current mineworkers against the six gold mines.

Justice for Miners is a coalition of interested parties in the mining sector launched at the Nelson Mandela Foundation in Johannesburg in 2020.

The Johannesburg High Court approved the setting up of the Tshiamiso Trust to facilitate payment by the companies to affected miners.

Keith Chapatarongo

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Farmers cry over cost of livestock feed



MASERU – Lehlohonolo Mokhethi is a farmer who has been running a successful poultry business, thanks to a small loan he got from a local bank.

He now has 300 chickens.

He says his vision is to rear 5 000 chickens by 2025 and employ 30 youths. But he is now grappling with a new challenge: the ever increasing cost of chicken feed.

That is threatening the viability of his business.

“The biggest challenge is that food prices increase every day, feeding is expensive,” Mokhethi said.

“It is quite difficult to make profit in business if each and every day food prices increase. Today I am buying a bag of food with a certain amount then the next day the price has increased,” he says.

“Our customers fail dismally to understand that food has increased and the Chinese are taking our market because they sell at a low price thus I run at a loss.”

Last week, a top attorney in Maseru who is also a prominent farmer, Tiisetso Sello-Mafatle, called a meeting for farmers to discuss these challenges.

She says the government must regulate the prices of livestock feed.

That is critical if the farming business is to succeed, she says.

Attorney Sello-Mafatle says farmers must come up with a structure for livestock feed prices which they would present to the government for gazetting.

“We should state our regulations and give them to the government to make everything easy for both parties because we cannot wait for the government to make regulations for us,” Sello-Mafatle says.

She adds that “farmers should be bullish about what they want and never have fear endorsing new things”.

“I will not be challenged or cry (because of) what life throws at me but I will cry when things are not happening the right way,” she says.

Mafatle says farmers need to know who they are and know the capabilities they have.

“This will help a farmer in becoming the best in any field they are in once they are confident about themselves,” she says.

Karabo Lijo, another participant, said they have to influence the cost of inputs in agriculture, especially livestock feed.

“We have to go back to cost-price analysis where as farmers we are able to derive the selling price and the break-even point in our production,” Lijo said.

“We can also derive the stable or constant mark-ups on our products,” he said.

“We need to do research to increase the ability to produce byproducts which are likely to have the longest shelve life,” he said.

The meeting urged farmers to diversify their products by introducing such things as mushroom farming. They said mushrooms can grow very well in Lesotho due to its favourable climate.

The farmers also demanded that there should be regulations on how land can be sold or borrowed in Lesotho.

Tholoana Lesenya and Alice Samuel

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