Writes: ‘Makarabo Matšumunyane
It is estimated that as of 2020, about 50% of the total population of Lesotho is living under the poverty line. Food resources are fast deteriorating, climate change is affecting the normal farming system and the whole agricultural system has been disrupted, hence food security is threatened. With all these bottlenecks and hiccups, and the limited access to finance, we as Basotho people have to make it a point that we are able to produce enough food for our families and those living around us.
Leutsoa Khobotlo is a self-driven Mosotho gardener who was raised through the means his family obtained from crop and grain farming. Khobotlo like many young people, wished to further his studies to Tertiary level but due to unpredicted circumstances he was unable to gain entrance into College. It was after two consecutive years of rejection into Lerotholi Polytechnic that he decided to carry on his family legacy in farming and make a living out of it. Though he had always been passionate about gardening, he never anticipated it to be his career.
Khobotlo said his mother used to harvest maize then sell to Lesotho Milling Company, grow vegetables and feed her family. He further said during his high school years, he often had no money to pay his school fees and therefore had to work in the school garden as a way to cover his fees. After being rejected by Lerotholi Polytechnic, he decided, “you know what? School is not meant for me, why don’t I focus on what I know I do best and let the scholars do their thing!” That is when he started to focus on farming as a business.
By then he was working as a Police Assistant at Leribe Police Station in Hlotse, he capitalized the M300 personal savings that he had and started growing spinach, tomato and green beans on land that was full of blackberries. He removed all the blackberries and produced a garden. He said out of the M300 that he invested; he got so much profit that it was unbelievable, even to him. He sold to his colleagues at the Police Station and workers at neighboring offices. After his first sales, he then started to supply vegetables to Motebang Hospital, Shoprite Leribe as well as Mountain View Hotel.
Moreover, he then applied to United Nations Population fund (UNFPA) for the greenhouse grants that were offered. Among all the individuals and associations that applied, he came out top and won the greenhouse kit and set it up in Leribe Youth Centre. That is where he grew green beans and the spinach that was about 70cm high.
The breakthrough came when he represented youth on EU climate change day got much publicity. Thereafter he was called for training courses both by the University of Cape Town (UCT) and Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT). Khobotlo said his channels were further opened when Tasty food packers sponsored him for a 26 days training in China where he trained with two different Agricultural Universities: Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences and China Agricultural University after recognizing him at UCT where he was representing the Lesotho Student Association. That is where he learned most of his applied skills that he now practices today and now he is able to produce at his maximum all year round.
Furthermore, Khobotlo said he now grows spinach, okra, green beans, carrots, herbs such as oregano, cinnamon, garlic grass, coriander and many others applying the modern skills that he learned while he was in China. He says his target market is the textile industry workers at Maputsoe and many other workers who normally buy from the informal market in the process teaching them how to prepare healthy food and use herbal spices instead of artificial spices. In addition, he said that he has scaled up his production to a larger area and even got a chance to buy some agricultural tools such as a cold room for storage of vegetables after harvesting, soil testing equipment and an electric dehydrator.
In conclusion, he said that he has seen a turn up in his sales even though he sells his vegetables at lower rates so that his products are easily accessible. On the other hand, he said he does not use any inorganic fertilizers and poisonous insect repellents as his aim is constantly supply his customers with environmentally friendly products for the sake of their health as well as the well being of the soil that he is cultivating.
A new Lesotho Poverty Assessment finds that even though poverty fell over a 15-year period, it still remains widespread with nearly half of the population living in poverty and 75% of the population either poor or vulnerable to poverty, according to a joint report by the World Bank and the Lesotho Bureau of Statistics released that was released in December 2019.
Under the prevailing circumstances of high unemployment rate, declining economy and the high rate of depletion of natural resources, we still have to make a way to maneuver through any opportunity that presents itself. If we unleash the full potential that is embodied in the skills and talents that we possess, there will surely be a way out. It is estimated that almost 50% of the population earn a living through crop cultivation or animal husbandry with nearly two-thirds of the country’s income coming from the agricultural sector, meaning that it is high time that the country puts more focus on agriculture and support young and emerging farmers like Leutsoa Khobotlo.