Writes Tshepo Heqoa
Mehloli ea Lintle Agro is a wholly owned Basotho engineering oriented company that takes its skills to insert them in agriculture. One may realise at first glance that the people working there are mostly young people that the company seeks to motivate in the direction of innovation. Briefly, Mehloli designs structures for protective farming, not solely greenhouses for the reason that protected farming is a bigger picture with a number of several faculties inside.
“If you will look over there,” Bakoena Pheko pointing at the board in his office, “you will realise that our goal is on design. Design because we want to have structures that will merge our environment here in Lesotho. In addition to this comes terms that will suit existing conditions with regard to cost. Following design we do installation. These include the irrigation system to be used and all other small entities that will enable the whole project to be functional.”
Mr Pheko further added that their project also focuses on maintenance, when clients encounter problems, they come to assess the whole situation. Trainings on how best to utilise the structure are some of the fundamental things Mehloli ea Lintle does. This is because of the strong conviction that the reason for the existence of the structure is for the farmer to make money. And if the structure is not best utilised one may notice that the farm will have a weakness of scoring under.
Mehloli ea Lintle also wishes to shift the prevalent ‘Basotho farmer’ mind-set (subsistence farming) where farmers plant just for the sake of planting, then push them to commercial farming. They instil and motivate profit-making farming that will give rise to the maximum utility of the minimum space. This, he said, will only be possible if Basotho would adopt technology into farming.
“We were talking during a certain program at Harvest FM in the past. As we disclosed, we mentioned that the problem of us Basotho is that we are running away from technology and the more we drift, the more the world and the environment change, much that they are forcing us to participate towards this mutable technology. Consequently, we are pushing the farmers in this direction. We manufacture, install. Maintain and train them in the maximum utilisation of the structure.”
As the discourse continued, Pheko further unveiled that he spotted a silo article concerning Smallholder Agricultural Development Project (SADP), where the government gave money to some farmers of which part, he said they worked with. But this structures to a sad verity, become non-operational in the following six months. As a result, Mehloli has made a mandate to itself to challenge such instances by influencing perennial usage of these structures.
Types of structures
Mehloli ea Lintle basically has two kinds of greenhouse structures; Steel structures with plastic covering that many people refer to as the greenhouses. Correspondingly, the shade net structures are a fragment of the project’s focal point he alluded briefly while showing the advantages and disadvantages of each.
It was a pleasing sight to witness different categories of machinery that their factory had, (machinery for cutting and bending). Outside the buildings is a proposed plot to station molds – a place where all structures are painted before being loaded on trucks for delivery.
“I went to china last year to scout for machinery because I want to catch up with the advancing technology. To advance as an engineer I have to advance with technology. The other reason is, we wish to own the entirety of this land for our manufacturing site, producing different kinds of structures, slowly but surely we will grow. Our current political structure as a country is pulling strings apart so it is affecting us.”
Mehloli ea Lintle has an interesting project it is engaged in with Nalane foundation. This foundation works on educating children after school and further wishes to incorporate a diverse model of farming called Aquaponics in their list of programs, (a combination of fish farming and vegetable production). Moreover, Mehloli is hoping to challenge change in the mind-sets of local people with respect to this project. The two greenhouse structures, 10x40m each and fish taking are being installed in them.
Not only is their operations limited to the low lands and highlands of Lesotho but they have reached several places in South Africa. And exploring opportunities in Botswana and Namibia.
Pheko shared with the silo team the summary of their battles with the government before establishing Mehloli ea Lintle. He said he was a lecture at the Central University of Technology in the Free State teaching Civil Engineering but left because of internal politics. When he got home, he established an office but due to the lack of funds to pull up a factory, he decided to work with Dicla, the biggest distributor of greenhouses in Southern Africa who was hesitant about coming to Lesotho due to political instabilities then. However, unexpectedly he later indicated that if Pheko found any clients in Lesotho he may prepare, and so he did. Very unfortunately in 2015 there were a series of bad weather occurrences that resulted in the destruction of many greenhouses. Pheko wrote an email to Dicla stating the challenges they had encountered with the greenhouses, inclusive of EIF structures. As a result, Dicla responded that they are also facing similar challenges because of the general climate change.
The government went straightway to DICLA complaining about the structures. Coming to Lesotho, Dicla never came to Pheko with regard to this matter, rather shifted the blame to him- the engineer that installed the facilities. Pheko wrote to SADP that they should call him as well, as he had assessed the structures and had a preliminary report about the structures as an engineer. He petitioned that they call him also for discussions that they may assess the structures, but they never called. “Ha hona taba” he said.
“I established the factory and indicated to them that I have all the machinery necessary for making greenhouses. I told them we are going to save Basotho M15 000.00 transportation fee from the superlink trucks. We are therefore within the country, we manufacture this product, come see our factory! I wrote letters to SADP, the Ministry of Agriculture and Food security, the Ministry of Trade, and The Ministry of Finance. The burden I have on my shoulders is to pay employees and settle the National Manpower Development Secretariat study loan.”
Mr Pheko further made known to The Silo crew that SADP responded later saying that they were unaware of his arrival back in the country despite emails he send and SADP greenhouses structures he erected. He was then told to write an application letter of which they since kept silent. The Ministry of Trade took an initiative and came to see and were impressed. They brought EIF funders who were similarly impressed. But with all the bureaucracy associated with the government, it may be hard to believe that the same people bought 120 greenhouse structures from Dicla which amounted to M20 000 000.00 according to their pricing. Petitioning to supply at least ten that they may show what they could offer, they were turned down.
Source of Motivation
“The pain I endured while in South Africa, a foreign land where preference is shown to native people. People over there will tell you that you are a black person and you know nothing. I remember one time designing a 52 hectors orchard structure for a client funded by the government on apple trees. A white guy said we could not do that structure with two months just because I am black. I told him we are going to do it. In about two months we had finished and left the place. So that’s the key”