Writes; Tshepo Heqoa
Litapole ke letlotlo is an agricultural association based at Ts’enekeng in Semonkong. Beginning with 18 members, the organisation reduced to 10 members due to past production problems that resulted from finances. This association started in 2004 following a business development facilitation program by Serumula Development Association (SDA). According to research, Semonkong indicates more competence than every other region toward the potato seed production quality in the country.
“The main objective of venturing into potato seed production was as a consequence of the desire to improve and relieve the livelihoods of the rural people by SDA” says Monaheng Atoro, a founding member of Litapole ke Letlotlo Association.
Serumula Development Association (SDA) is a non-governmental organisation (NGO) that operates in the rural areas of Lesotho. It delivers and promotes cost-effective and attractive business services to the rural people, mainly for addressing job creation, environmental restoration and for encouraging the self-drive mind-sets.
The emphasis of sustainable agriculture and rural development by Serumula is on projects that promise sustainability, marketability and adaptability to local conditions. Potato seed production is such a project when run in the highlands of Semonkong. Semonkong is a perfect model for this project as various researches indicates it to have vertisol soils that are of lithomorphic origin. These provide ideal conditions when coupled with the summer rain climate conditions that Lesotho has.
Litapole ke letlotlo is an overwhelmingly growing business project. Farmers from distant regions as, Leribe, Thaba-tseka, Qacha’s Nek and other extremities of Lesotho travel to Semonkong to buy the cultivar produced in the area. An advantage found in this location is disease free soils that many places are void of.
Furthermore, the kind of potatoes grown by the project is BP1. BP1 tubers are mainly medium sized, very uniform, oval and slightly flat shaped with shallow eyes, and have white flesh and skin. These high yield tuber cultivars have a medium to long growth period of 90 – 110 days from emergence to natural foliage die-back. BP1 needs lower levels of nitrogen which the Semonkong soils are able to provide. The most intriguing thing about these tubers are their quality when eating. Being good and a firm cooking type, they are considered as a good all-rounder that is preferred by many housewives.
The Ts’enekeng Chief, Mofumahali Kholu Mahau is a founding member of Litapole ke letlotlo Association. With much zeal and love for the tuber seed production, she exclaimed that this is a treasure they all are willing to push and do to its fullest capacity. The Chief further shared with the silo crew that she lost her husband a number of years ago, but was able to build a new bigger house with the returns of the project. On one occasion she was able to cheque a sum of M120 000.00 individually from the production at her own fields. Similarly; other members of the organisation did not go unrewarded as they also harvested handsomely from the fields they had cultivated.
Every endeavour in agriculture however is without challenges. For the current year- 2017, production was not so good when compared with all other previous years. Climate change is a concerning issue to every sector that deals with public welfare and health. The cultivar planted for seed production are originally bought from South Africa from highly qualified seed genetic engineers. Having bought the seed for M10 000.00, the chief is expecting only M5 000.00 returns when selling.
This undertaking has improved the livelihoods of many people supported by this project. Many find part time employment, while others hire their fields for a certain amount of money.
The Challenges Met.
Potatoes are highly susceptible to blights (Both Early and Late Blights). These are occurrences that find their way in many potato fields throughout the country. But the members of the organisation take an effective step of eradicating these bacterial infections through pesticide applications. Snow also affects the production, as potatoes become watery when snow falls before the harvest time. The only possible cure is to take care of optimum planting dates in these areas.
The fascinating part is the awareness that these farmers take with regard to the health of their soils. The soils are taken for nutrients testing at the Department of Agricultural Research. Mr Rampeta, a specialist in Agronomy in the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security would regularly facilitate and assist in the soil testing and production activities of the association.