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The ‘new Eden’ in Mahobong



LERIBE – For years, Lesotho has relied on its textile industry for employment opportunities. Some now think it’s time to look elsewhere and a World Bank funded project is showing the way.
Likhothola Fruits Farm in Mahobong, a horticulture project in Peka and a bridge construction project in Hlotse in Leribe district are examples of how the country can diversify from the textile industry.

It started with the World Bank’s Board of Executive Directors approving an International Development Association (IDA) credit of US$8.1 million (M107.28 million) in 2007.
Of this amount, US$4.2 million (M55.63 million) was a grant to support the government of Lesotho’s Private Sector Competitiveness and Economic Diversification Programme.
The World Bank director for Lesotho, Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe, Paul Noumba Um, was in Lesotho last week to see how the project has fared 10 years on.
The fruit and vegetable farm that Noumba Um visited is part of the horticulture scheme identified to diversify Lesotho’s products, targeting both the domestic and regional market.
This is piloted on the northern border of the country with technical assistance from some South African entrepreneurs.
The Private Sector Competitiveness Project’s intention is to improve productivity at farm level, with high value cash crops.
This follows the government’s realisation of the potential of private sector led growth to achieve sustainable development.
The project contributes to poverty reduction by creating conditions necessary to improve private sector competitiveness, which benefits growth, and eventually job creation, according to the World Bank.

This also followed the realisation that foreign owned textile factories that employ about 40 000 people often close down and leave thousands jobless.
The Likhothola Fruit Farm comprises nine shareholders who started the venture in 2007.
With 10.7 hectares of their own farm land, they have established Lesotho’s second commercial fruit farm after Thuathe, situated atop Berea Plateau.
The Private Sector Competitiveness Horticulture Coordinator ’Makali Nathane told Noumba Um that steady jobs have bettered the lives of community members since the establishment of the orchard in Mahobong.

“The Likhothola Project has made a massive difference to the villagers because they can now put bread on the table for their family members,” Nathane said, adding that “this is a very big aim of the World Bank and the government of Lesotho”. The Private Sector Competitiveness Project director Chaba Mokuku talked of the challenges they have faced over the past decade.
“At the beginning some of the trees died because we did not know how to deal properly with them and we did not have water but fortunately the World Bank replaced the trees by giving the farm other trees,” Mokuku said, adding they had established markets in the United Kingdom and South Africa.

Mokuku said they have met with Eastern Cape producers and they are willing to work together with them. “We still need a lot of things to improve this business. We need a place for training the workers and another place to plant some different varieties of trees,” he said. “For watering our trees we have the river so we pump the water from the river and irrigate,” he added.
One of the farm directors, ’Maprince Phothane, said: “Out of this project more than 10 individuals are able to feed their families, me included.”
Phothane said “at last we have penetrated the market and are able to sell to big retailers like Pick n’ Pay”.

Noumba Um also visited a vegetable production farm called Tlohang Meriting Farmer’s Cooperative Society in Peka in Leribe.
The cooperative is producing different crops. According to Khali Rampa, the cooperative chairperson, the project started on Independence Day in 2011.
“We were 12 members of the group, 11 men and a woman when we started this project,” Rampa said.

“We were working without any equipment, but when time went on we were able to get help from Smallholder Agriculture Development Program (SADP) and they helped us with all equipment needed for farming,” Rampa said. Rampa said business is good.

The association planted 900 tomato seedlings, harvested 247 boxes of 7 kg each and managed to generate more than M10 000 during the past summer.
The project is now able to support 270 smallholder farmers in four districts of Mafeteng, Berea, Leribe and Butha-Buthe.
“The only big challenge we are faced with is a shortage of water,” he added. Noumba Um said he will communicate with his colleagues to devise ways of alleviating the water situation.

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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