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The business of dried fruits



MASERU – FOR four years ’Matanki Mohajane, 49, would pick fruits, dry them in the sun and package them for the market in Maseru.
Although she thought the dried fruit business was a brilliant idea, she knew there was something unprofessional about her set-up.
In addition, the market also did not really warm up to her idea.

That was because the quality of her dried fruits were nowhere near what her competitors in South Africa were producing for the Lesotho market.
What she wanted was to produce quality dried fruits that would hold their own against imports from South Africa.
At the back of her mind, she knew that unless she stepped up her game, her dried fruits business was doomed.
That fear of failure kept her wide awake at night.

And so for four long years, Mohajane struggled to improve the quality of her products.
To add on to her woes, she also did not have the capital to inject into the business nor the technological knowhow to take it to the next level.
At one time she used a make-shift drier to dry her fruits.
That too proved inadequate.

She later tried a drier made by the government-owned Appropriate Technology Section (ATS), a project promoting technological innovations using available materials. That too did not produce the quality she wanted.
Mohajane, together with two of her business colleagues, began a frantic search for a drier that would produce better quality fruits.
They later found the machine.

But the price was way beyond what they could afford. The drier was going for a cool M170 000, money they did not have.
The three friends came together and pooled their financial resources together to buy the machine. They too realised they could not even come close to raising that kind of money. But as fate would have it, they learnt about the Smallholder Agricultural Development Project (SADP), a government project that supports small farming-related businesses. They applied individually.

“We learnt that the SADP helps all Basotho in the villages to start their own businesses,” Mohajane says.
“We were advised to choose some agriculture-related businesses to qualify for assistance and our dried fruits businesses qualified.”
“I and my two friends pitched the dried fruits business idea,” Mohajane says.
She says because there were hundreds of other businesses that had applied for funding, they were not too sure their project would get the financial backing they needed.
But in 2014, the heavens smiled on them and their applications were approved. Each of them was given M107 000 each to buy the machines.
It was only two years later in 2016 that the business finally took pace. That was because they needed time to learn how to operate the machines and prepare the fruits more correctly.
“We were given these machines back in 2014 but it was not easy to start this business because we did not know how to operate the machine itself,” Mohajane says.

“This machine also consumes lots of electricity, which we could not afford at that time.”
Mohajane says she also realised she needed to pump in more money into the business, money she also did not have.
“I liked the business of dried fruits because I thought it was unique. I mean not everyone had thought of this idea,” she says.
“Dried fruits have many unique properties. Chief among them is their ability to hold a long shelf life while maintaining some nutritional value depending on the way they were dried,” she adds.

“Apart from that dried fruits just taste nice, no wonder why our great grandparents made and consumed dried fruits for centuries.
“However, my concern has always been that only a few of these people mastered the art of making them right,” she says.
Mohajane says she is still to make it in business.

But she hopes that this “will prove to be a very good business” in the long run.
“I think I will make a lot of money and create jobs for lots of Basotho and promote Basotho, which is the aim of the SADP, the project that gave us the machines.” Poulo Martin, 42, was also given funding to buy a drier machine.
He says business is looking good for him.

“I started the business in 2016 and it took me a very long time to learn how to properly use the machine,” he says.
Martin says he had not realised he was sitting on a massive income generating idea until he began running the project.
He says he at first had just thought he would be able to dry the fruits for personal use and enjoy the health benefits in the process.
“At first I just thought of the idea of doing it because dried fruits are very important for our health.”

“Running a dried fruit business is the best because most fruits are seasonal and have very short shelf lives due to their high water content.
“This business allows us to enjoy peaches in summer as well as in winter and that is also true with oranges,” he says.
Martin says he too went through lots of challenges to set up the business.
“The biggest challenge was money,” he says.

“I had a number of employees to pay at the end of the day and that on its own was a big challenge.”
“The other problem is that the machine itself uses a lot of electricity, which means I had to buy lots of electricity.”
Martin says he also struggled to package the fruits appropriately to meet the demands of clients.
“I think we still need help from the banks or the government, so we can take the business to the next level.”

Thooe Ramolibeli

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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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