…vow to turn Mohale’s Hoek into bread-basket of the country
MOHALE’S HOEK – A ray of hope of has emerged as young people in the Mohale’s Hoek district vow to turn the tables against unemployment and poverty through increased agriculture production. For many of them, who are young graduates with at least a diploma or a first degree, these aspiring smallholder farmers say ‘belief, passion and desire’ to help Lesotho and its citizens to defeat hunger is the main driver to achieve in the numerous projects that will be undertaking in their areas.
“This is not a fight one can look away from and run away. We are already swallowed and in the big belly of the beast. Survival is not an option but a must,” says young Mahlapane Thoriso, one of the beneficiaries of the recently completed trainings undertaken in her district by the Rural Self-Help Development Association (RSDA) and funded by the UNDP and its partners under the green value chains project. At least 50 youth and 30 women were earmarked for the training on production, marketing and entrepreneurship in the areas of horticulture, field crops, bees keeping as well as animal production such as piggery and poultry.
The training is part of the global initiatives to empower women and youth to land access and equal opportunities to participate in food security projects. “I have seen many of my former classmates wearing off with despair as they travel to Maseru week in, week out, and they still come back with a sad face, because there are no jobs,” says ’Mapoko Botsane, who has recently graduated with a bachelor of science degree and feels if her education had value she would have long secured a placement with a good pay-check by now.
“I have just fallen in love with my pigs and nobody will make me ever change my mind. I think I have found life here and soon I will be having my own employees and supplying all sorts of markets,” she says. For her and many of her fellow trainees, the training they have received has infused a new sense of life in their blood and they feel more challenged than ever before to get into intensive food production from their allocated or whatever access to land they have.
Their motto is to strive for success with help or without help. As explained by Botsane, many young people have been put off from their dreams because of lack of access to finance, especially grants and loans. She and her group are however cautious about ever pinning the future of the projects on handouts, saying their predecessors who were fortunate enough to receive such did not register much success and sometimes didn’t even get started because they were founded on what they believed was free money.
“I am now in business. I know I have to work very hard for every cent. There is no free money here,” she says with emphasis. For groups, they have already started their own investment clubs from which they believe they can finance their own start-ups. Even if they were to seek development or commercial financing the young farmers say their investment baskets could serve well where collateral or guarantees are needed. As part of their training, the Mohale’s Hoek youth and women were also introduced to already established producers in other districts such as Botha-Bothe, Berea and Mafeteng and they say the network that they were able to establish is already bearing fruits.
The Managing Director of RSDA,’Mampho Thulo, says the project is not only about training young people and women and abandoning them to fend for themselves. She promised that RSDA will be working with the new graduates until 2023 from where she believed they would be strong enough to stand on their own feet.
“We don’t just end there, but we are also making sure we leave them in good hands where they will get all the necessary support and guidance,” she explained while encouraging, especially the youth, to attend all the meetings and obligations of the district farmers’ forum. Thulo further encouraged the young farmers to always stick together to achieve success, adding through concerted efforts they would be able not only to capture the markets, but dominate.
She says there are many opportunities for smallholder farmers to access even big markets such as the European Union and the North Americas markets under instruments such as AGOA. “We are currently looking at profiling some of our Lesotho produce in sorghum, beans and honey with organic giant brands such as Slow Foods and Mountain Partnership, to which we already have a competitive edge,” she says further elaborating that through such initiatives Basotho smallholder farmers reap very good returns.
For the UNDP, the Mohale’s Hoek project will not only be a once-off appearance as its success would be key in future undertakings targeting climate change, poverty eradication and empowerment of women and youth. Project Coordinator, Motlatsi Phatšumane, says the fact that the green value chains project in Mohale’s Hoek has been extended to the end of the year is proof enough of the importance of ensuring its success.
“UNDP comes in as a partner to the government of Lesotho and other partners, with the aim of enhancing business and entrepreneurship. The structure of agricultural activities in Lesotho is for feeding families, but we need to go further and make it a business,” he states, further pointing out that most of what people eat in Lesotho comes from outside the country calling on the graduates to look into how more food can be produced locally which, in turn, will create jobs and boost the economy.
“Many projects point out at the vulnerability faced by women and youth and we must take advantage of the value chain processes and ensure everyone benefits,” he stresses, further encouraging those who received the training to share with their peers in their villages so that they all grow together. He adds that with the skills and knowledge spreading even further, the possibility of gaining from grants or revolving funds will be huge to help women and youth to advance their projects. “…but we must work hard to reach that. We also need to formalise our agri-businesses and not just operate ad hoc,” he says.
He concludes by encouraging farmers to use local expertise to strive to maximise production with the desired market and health standards, pointing out there are even better opportunities emerging in the agriculture sector. The District Agriculture Officer, ’Malerato Lekhooa, is over the moon with the completion of the training saying all that was left was for newly initiated farmers entrepreneurs to put what they learned in their different fields.
“It is fortunate that the project was only being implemented in Mohale’s Hoek. It means you are being given an added and competitive advantage than other young farmers in the country. Work together and support each other so that young farmers in Mohale’s Hoek all do well.
“Unless the youth are fully supported they will be demotivated and collapse. We need to go all out as the district admin structures and partners to get boosting fund especially for our youth projects, she appeals. The 62 trained women and youth who have been divided into three groups will be given an opportunity to pitch their ideas before financiers so that they can see what they can get or be advised how well they can present their proposals. Among the financing partners in the project are the Finmark Trust, Standard Lesotho Bank as well as the Lesotho National Development Corporation. The project was initially conceived as a Covid-19 recovery initiative.