Mokhele-Peete empowers women through farming



Globally, about 800 million people don’t have enough food, according to reports. Experts say the number could be significantly reduced if women farmers had the same rights and resources as their male counterparts, and were empowered to contribute fully to the food system.

This is so because women are central to agriculture and make a strong contribution to food security and nutrition at both the household and community levels. In many developing countries, they make up almost half of the agricultural labour force but their production is limited by barriers to finance, inputs, and extension services, as well as land ownership and rights.

As the world works towards the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda, which pledges to “leave no one behind,” a question arises over how we can ensure that women farmers – often one of the most marginalised groups – are truly prioritised and not left behind?

In Lesotho, individual household development and survival has over the years been hinged on farming and today has created notable positive outcomes among many young modern Basotho. This has ignited some interest, whether for commercial or subsistence farming, to sustain their lives and that of their families.  But for women, the scenario can be quite unfriendly.

It is known all over the world that women tend to be sidelined when it comes to operating businesses and are told that this is a male dominated world and that they are expected to stay at home and raise children. Motšelisi Mokhele-Peete thinks otherwise and is among an emerging group of women who have taken a chance at owning and founding her own organisation to afford other women the platform to have the courage to enjoy farming and start their own businesses.

Mokhele-Peete is an advocate for food security, wellness and women and youth empowerment. She has always been into health care services but in 2019 ventured into farming because of the need for her patients to eat nutritious and safe food at all times as well as to improve household food insecurity. Born and raised at Moshoeshoe II, in Maseru, 47 years ago, Motšelisi began her schooling at Katlehong Early Childhood Development Centre where she obtained a primary school leaving certificate.

She then went to St Mary’s High School and sat for her Junior Certificate (JC) before completing her Cambridge Overseas School Certificate (COSC) at St Agnes High School. She then went to Lerotholi Polytechnic where she studied Secretarial Studies and then completed her Post Graduate Diploma in Geographical Information Systems in South Africa. She is currently registered for a Master of Philosophy in International Business.

The entrepreneur ventured into farming because of the need for her patients to eat nutritious and safe food at all times while improving household food insecurity. She would not have known household food insecurity in great detail if it was not for the opportunity she got to present at one of the Southern African Development Countries (SADC) Industrialisation Week sessions.

Mokhele-Peete has also fallen in love with farming that she thought it proper to create opportunities for other farmers, especially women.  Her organisation, Africa Women Farmers Allies (AWFA), is a movement for women and young farmers in Africa, advocating for strengthening capacities and building a new tribe of farmer warriors that are going to fight against household food insecurity and improve national economies, preventing post-harvest losses and improving livelihoods and access to market opportunities.

“Women are mostly thrown under the bus, so AWFA fights for women and youth who cannot fight for themselves and then skills them in reducing household food insecurity and increasing better livelihoods. 

When a woman is empowered, the whole country gets empowered. Women have always been the backbone of economies of many nations but they are marginalised and it becomes difficult to put food on the table. “This is especially the case for single mothers and female child headed families and young brides in communities. “AWFA wants to build a new tribe of woman farmer warriors, those that are farm business tested, skilled and ready for local and international markets,” she says.

This movement was hatched from a platform that the SADC Secretariat afforded her back in 2019 when she was more into healthcare and since then her focus has changed into agriculture and women empowerment in the region. 

She talks about farming as though it is the only thing in the world she sees. She says being a farmer has many potential benefits that include the ability to work outside, often waking up early to feed the animals, inspect crops and perform other agricultural duties. Mokhele-Peete believes it is a therapy on its own and improved well-being (mental, physical and on some level emotional wellness) by just being outside in nature plus fresh air especially in the early morning. Mokhele-Peete further says farming also brings more independence as many farmers operate their own farms so they plan and organise their farms, schedule their days, make important decisions and hire employees.

She notes that, personally, she is motivated by a few values that are important opportunities for her as a farmer or business owner besides leading by example and attracting customers and retaining employees. She says sustainability, profitability, being community oriented and solution oriented are some of those elements. Even through these, she states that over the years the industry has changed in the following ways, especially in Lesotho: in terms of technological advancements; introduction of hybrid seeds; and availability of different types of fertilizers, pesticides, and animal feeds.

She says diversification of crops has also evolved and they now have more crops in their fields and local markets than before, and especially those that are good for their health. “There is also an improvement in agricultural infrastructure. We have seen some organisations introducing greenhouses, irrigation systems, water harvesting techniques and modern farm equipment. Emphasis on agribusiness, agri-value chains and value addition has also been enhanced.”

She lists the greatest challenges that she faces as a farmer, saying in Lesotho the following are still at an infant stage or non-existent, which is, digital technologies, livestock insurance, access to finance and market for farmers.  To Mokhele-Peete, the importance of farming, especially in her own country includes food security and she notes that agriculture is the primary source of food and income for the majority of the population in Lesotho.

She adds that in terms of employment and income generation this remains a significant source of employment in Lesotho, particularly in rural areas where the majority of the population resides. “I also think rural development is another important factor in farming. By investing in agricultural infrastructure and supporting farmers, the government can stimulate rural development, improve living conditions, and reduce rural-urban migration.

“Moreover, Lesotho has untapped export potential for various agricultural products. By leveraging its unique climate and natural resources, the country can expand its export market,” she notes. She is a married woman and a mother to four children. Growing up, she was raised by her late parents ’Malebohang and Sello Mokhele and life had its own up and downs. She was not born with a silver spoon in her mouth.

She is a strong believer and has God as her pillar of strength, lighthouse and anchor at the same time.

Her hobbies include cooking and travelling which is in more ways her way to unwind and engage with other people. In her spare time, she spends time with her siblings as she believes that family is important, and believes in family over everything.

Nothing matters to her more than seeing women included in everything. Through her organisation she has a number of successful projects where women farmers have benefitted.

They have offered mental and spiritual therapies in the rural areas of Lesotho, fisheries and aquaculture in Lesotho which is in progress, and agri-tourism training in Lesotho. She says they have made arrangements and contracts with farms that they have visited in the SADC region, agro-processing and green energy trainings in Botswana, agro-processing and post-harvest skills training in South Africa, Inter Regional Agricultural Symposium in Lesotho yet to be hosted in September 2023, the Smart Health Wallet for farmers in progress as well as Queen Amina (Agricultural Insurance Product) which is also in progress.

“I see women farmers in Lesotho monopolising and leading markets in the agricultural space; owning huge profitable orchards, meat-world chain stores, owning 20km of fish ponds producing a variety of fish and its products, owning hatcheries, also Lesotho being ranked as one of the largest food exporters in Africa with little resources (land) used.  “I see women farmers using e-agriculture technologies to improve their businesses and communicating with the rest of the world and being on an equal footing with farmers in developed countries,” she says. Mokhele-Peete does not just want to succeed on her own but wants Basotho women to be also motivated and called warriors in the coming years.

Through platforms, engagements and opportunities given to women farmers in Lesotho – such as the SADC Secretariat this year has given AWFA – she encourages women farmers in the region especially in the agro-processing and food preservation sectors to delve deep and to widen value chain integration in the region.

As an advocate for strengthening women empowerment, she has in many ways tried to makes possible ways for women to be warriors. She says Basotho women farmers will be participating in the 7th SADC Industrialisation Week to be held in August 2023 – Angola.

This is the beginning of great strides women farmers will make in the economy and also an opportune time for women farmers from Lesotho to learn, experience and show SADC member states what they are producing in the Mountain Kingdom. 

“I urge those upcoming farmers who want to venture into farming to acquire knowledge and skills, learn from past mistakes and never give up, start small gradually expand, access financial and insurance support as well as build resilient mindsets and sustainable farms,” she concludes.

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