Writes: Carl von Maltitz
How do we become successful in the rural areas of Lesotho? Each one has a different view of where and how to start, then a selected few get lucky, while some work for decades to earn their success, while the majority stay poor. What I’ve found over the years in Lesotho as good, practical advice, is to start where you are, with what you have, and work from there. Most people don’t see the riches around them, as they are too focused on themselves, their problems, and their narrow-minded view of the world.
With that in mind, I revised my way of thinking. As one of the exercises we do is roleplaying, I put myself into some rural Basotho shoes. First of all I asked myself, what are my free resources? Mountains and scenery to rival the best in the world, peace, isolation, clean fresh water, a unique history that was recorded. A special culture and traditions, interesting clothing and decorations, and an expressive language. All these features tie into tourism. But wait, there’s more! A knife is just a knife, but if it is decorated with a unique Sesotho slogan like: “Ke Eona!” Or “Khotso! Pula! Nala!” It becomes a valuable memory of time spent in the Mountain Kingdom, and an added bonus if the tourist can translate the sayings to his friends back home.
That same okapi knife could have a clan totem like a buffalo or crocodile on, to signify Linare or Bakwena, and so open up a local market too. I would buy such a knife, especially when knowing about the history and culture. How about a molamu, or knobkierie, with a wildcat on, to signify the Batlokoa, or wildcat people? The stories of ‘Manthatisi, Sekonyela and their contemporaries are well known to Basotho. These ideas might even be incorporated into board games, where the different clans compete, or even the Basotho, Zulu, Xhosa and Griqua. These will interest children, and teach them more about history.
But wait, what does all this have to do with agriculture? Well, if you do things the way you have always done them, you will end up with the same results. Instead of reinventing the wheel, and continuing on a path of poverty, let us look at ways of adapting products to suit and benefit us, and develop new ways to generate revenue, without spending money we don’t have to start expensive products. Let us rather use tourism and related ventures as a way to generate money to augment the regions’ businesses, including agriculture.
If I lived in a village in a scenic area, I would setup a campsite in the most scenic suitable location I could find. It costs very little to set up, and you could use people from the village to keep the area clean, and even set up a small shop with basic supplies like sweets, toiletries, and maize meal. Set up catchy signs to draw attention, like; “Best stargazing spot,” or “Scenic campsite.” Also colour and fashion the village huts the way Basotho used to decorate their houses, thereby drawing extra attention to your village. Then stop any begging and beggars, as the tourists want to rest and not feel like they are on a humanitarian mission. Keep the daily fee low, say R100 per day per vehicle/family/tent, and word will soon spread if it is safe, clean and professionally done.
The above-mentioned idea could generate a lot of extra revenue over time, and will couple perfectly with cheap value adding systems, like tourism trails. Was there a battle fought in your area between Basotho and Britain? Or between clans? Do you know the history of the area? Are there dinosaur fossils or footprints? What is different, unique and interesting? Well informed and eloquent tour guides will transform a mundane experience into a trip that tourists will pay for handsomely, adding value to your proposition.
Add to this something like a tourist wall or cave, where people who visit can carve their names on for a fee. When they or their families visit Lesotho in future, they will be compelled to see the names, thereby ensuring repeat business for your business. Culturally speaking, Lesotho has its own martial art, Stick Fighting, and martial arts aficionados will pay handsomely for classes in it, if taught by a knowledgeable expert. Tourists will be interested too. The same can be said of traditional dance. These could be offered in addition to the tourist trails.
Horse and donkey trail rides might prove to be another great option, and will ensure that the animal owners not only make money from their animals, but also keep the area clean. All these activities could have the camp site as a starting point. Another interesting activity for tourists might be to show the different rock formations, and then put up a fossicking point for the children, where they have to sift through the sand to find fake diamonds and fossil bones made of gypsum. This will keep them entertained for hours.
With so many fitness crazes sweeping the world, setting up an obstacle course or trail run area might also generate interest, for very little capital outlay. Using old tyres, poles, ropes and rocks should make the obstacles challenging enough.This is a small selection of ideas which, when added up, might transform a poor village into a revenue-generating stream, ensuring work for its people and boosting other industries. A big part of the success will depend on educated, eloquent tour guides, who are the faces of the industry.