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Juicy business rekindles hope



Lemohang Rakotsoane


’Mamotebele Ratšele has always been a resilient person but after months of knocking on doors for a job in Maseru she had lost hope.

So she packed her few possessions, including the Graphic Design Degree from Limkokwing University of Creative Technology, and went back home in Butha-Buthe.

Ratšele says she was however not bitter because she was not the only graduate whose persistent job hunt had come to naught.

Lesotho’s unemployment rate stands at 25 percent but the proportion of youths (15-24) who don’t have a job is a staggering 33 percent. Among female youths like Ratšele the figure is 40 percent.

The economy is not growing fast enough to create jobs for the thousands of graduates produced every year.

Back home Ratšele decided to try earning a living the way her forefathers did, from the land. But hurdles soon started popping up even before she could put anything in the ground.

The first problem was that her family’s fields were far from the water source, making it impossible for her use them for horticulture.

Then there was the reality check: she knew nothing about farming especially one as technical as market gardening.

Her solution came in the form of a retired agriculture teacher who stayed in the village. They partnered and Ratšele thought the project was about to start. Yet her plan to lease land from people whose fields were near the water source proved difficult.

“As an aspiring farmer, people were very reluctant to lease their fields to us hence they only decided to give us their fields which were no longer producing quality crops,” she says.

The biggest problem however came after she had managed to secure the fields. Ratšele and her partner soon realised it takes more than land and skill to start an agribusiness.

They were fast running out of money and banks were reluctant to lend them any.

The partners had poured all their savings into seedlings and fertilisers, leaving almost nothing for operational costs.

Still they were however not deterred.

“Life does not allow us to save and have enough money to start our own businesses or pursue our ideas and if you wait until you have more than you have today you will wait forever,” Ratšele says.

Without enough money they found themselves having to constantly plead with landlords who wanted to kick them off their land.

“That in itself was a setback because at the end of the month they were demanding their money and threating to destroy our crops when we failed to pay on time,” she says.

Their problems did not end there.

“About 300 of our cabbage seedlings died due to harsh weather conditions, it was very hot and they just died. That was when I understood the saying do not count your chicks before they are hatched”.

“To us every seedling had a price tag and we were hoping to get as much as we can to help sustain the following growing season.”

The problems persisted. They found that they were wrong in their market analysis. They had thought the villages near their small farm would be their major market but the first harvest proved that they were wrong.

“People in our area did not buy our produce and that we did not expect or saw coming,” Ratšele explains.

“When this happened we had to go to town to look for a market to sell our produce and luckily we were able to get a deal from the fruit and vegetable stores”.

After securing a market for their vegetables Ratšele and her partner saw another opportunity to sell peaches.

“Unfortunately, sometimes we would go for some time without the peaches being sold and they would rot. That was when we decided to start making juice”.

Last year they got funding from the Smallholder Agricultural Development Project (SADP) to buy the necessary equipment to establish a juice making plant.

“We received about M270 000 to buy the equipment that we needed and slowly but surely we have been able to secure most of the needed equipment and hopefully by September we will start making juice on a bigger scale,” Ratšele says.

Currently they have been producing juice and ginger drink which they are selling at garages in Butha-Buthe.

“We have received good feedback that our juice is in demand, people like it. However, now because it is winter the consumption of juice has declined,” she says.

Ratšele says there is a lot of potential in the agriculture sector and the youth should not be afraid to get their hands dirty.

She says unlike with the vegetables, when the locals were reluctant to buy, with the juice things have turned around.

“We realised that our peach juice was selling better than the apple juice we made with imported apples,” she says.

Their plan is to make tomato juice, carrot and pumpkin juice.

She urges the youth to “take matters into their own hands and create their own jobs”.

“We are the future and we should start building the future we want today. We have heard that the government can no longer afford to hire us. Let us create our own employment with brilliant ideas that we have.  Let us stop running after politicians and focus on our future,” Ratšele says.

She adds that people should not be shy to ask and share information they have because “the time to keep information to ourselves is way gone”.

“We should help each other to work on our dreams so that we can one day defeat this escalating unemployment problem.”

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