Writes: ‘Makarabo Matšumunyane
Dr. Puleng Matebesi is an expert in breeding of Merino sheep and Angora goats at the Wool and Mohair Promotion Project (WAMPP) working with the two sheep studs that are located at Quthing and Mokhotlong. She works hand in hand with Project Field officers, District Agricultural officers, the Farm Managers and herders at the two sheep studs as well as the wool and mohair farmers to facilitate the breeding program of the WAMPP.
Dr. Matebesi holds a PhD in Animal Science from the University of Free State where her research was based on the improvement of Merino sheep and Angora goats. In 2000 after obtaining her BSc. Animal Science Degree, she worked under the project called South African Botanical Diversity Network, later on in 2003 joined the National University of Lesotho where she became a lecturer in Animal Science until 2019 when she joined WAMPP as the National Breeder Expert.
WAMPP targets small-holder wool and mohair producers and aims to improve their livelihoods by improving the quality and quantity of wool and mohair. Under this project, Dr. Matebesi said as to achieve the goal of WAMPP, they have implemented several programs including the Culling Exchange Program whereby a farmer trades four sheep, which are more marketable in meat production than in fibre, in exchange for a ram that is genetically improved for fibre production. This program is inclusive of each and every wool and mohair farmer countrywide. Apart from the Culling Exchange Program, she is responsible for the Artificial Insemination Program. WAMPP is currently preparing to build two Artificial Insemination Centres in the country. In addition, WAMPP is also undertaking efforts to ensure that there are certified ram producers in the country under the Private Commercial Breeders Program in which thirty producers will be trained and will work hand-in-hand with Quthing and Mokhotlong Sheep Studs.
She further said that they work quite well with the wool and mohair farmers since these farmers have a very good understanding of how their industry operates. She said she can safely conclude that substantial work has been done to educate farmers and they have advanced so much in the knowledge and understanding the value of good genetics and breeding practices.
Outlining the challenges that she is facing as a National Breeder Expert, Dr. Matebesi said working with and handling new knowledge is a challenge itself, it takes time to pass it on and to implement it. “I can say maybe from 2008, my dream has always been to manage farms that produce good quality Rams, I am just realizing a dream come true twelve years down the line,” she said.
“Furthermore, working in the agricultural sector as a woman itself is not an easy task, sometimes you have to work in a specific herd, but due to culture you cannot be permitted to enter certain sheep sheds in some places. Also dealing with animals itself is very expensive, because unlike working with plants where you can maybe set two experimental plots, you are dealing with a live animal, whose health, emotions and well-being matter.”
“On the very same point, one huge challenge we are facing is climate change as it affects the breeding season. It is difficult to teach the farmers based on the knowledge that was maybe applied twenty years back because things are different nowadays. For instance, “you can target a certain time for breeding because it is known to be a green season, but you find that there is drought and there is no green grass. This could compromise the reproductive ability which we regard as the most economically important trait. Furthermore, most of my time is spent deep in the mountains at the sheep posts and at the two sheep studs that are in Mokhotlong and Quthing and I have to leave my family behind more often than not. Lastly, another challenge is animal theft. It makes our job very difficult because farmers have a fear of investing only for thieves to sweep away all their hard labour.”
“My favourite part about this job, is seeing lambs and kids. I remember this one time we had just operated on a lamb and it was in a critical condition, I took it to my room with me and took care of it and it lived. A priceless moment for me is hearing that we have these new ones, it just thrills me and fills me with so much excitement. Again, my joy overflows when I see a farmer getting good quality rams. I just love animals, they are always friendly and they will never disappoint you one way or the other.”
“My message to Basotho at this point when we are facing this pandemic that has taken the world with a storm, especially now that our borders are shut down, is that we should hold tight in Agriculture so that we can sustain our country with food. To the wool and mohair producers I say: let us work hard and start producing rams within ourselves or countrywide so that in times like this, we are able to buy and sell rams among ourselves since we are unable to cross over to buy them. To those who are still contemplating entering this industry, I would say, this industry requires patience, it’s not quick cash at all, invest now and your efforts will begin to pay at a later stage. First develop the passion for these animals; that is how you will succeed.”
“As I conclude, Basotho, Covid-19 is here to stay, putting on a mask is the new normal, let us take care of ourselves and let us make an effort to comply to the set recommendations and regulations,” said Dr. Matebesi.