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The business of dried fruits



MASERU – FOR four years ’Matanki Mohajane, 49, would pick fruits, dry them in the sun and package them for the market in Maseru.
Although she thought the dried fruit business was a brilliant idea, she knew there was something unprofessional about her set-up.
In addition, the market also did not really warm up to her idea.

That was because the quality of her dried fruits were nowhere near what her competitors in South Africa were producing for the Lesotho market.
What she wanted was to produce quality dried fruits that would hold their own against imports from South Africa.
At the back of her mind, she knew that unless she stepped up her game, her dried fruits business was doomed.
That fear of failure kept her wide awake at night.

And so for four long years, Mohajane struggled to improve the quality of her products.
To add on to her woes, she also did not have the capital to inject into the business nor the technological knowhow to take it to the next level.
At one time she used a make-shift drier to dry her fruits.
That too proved inadequate.

She later tried a drier made by the government-owned Appropriate Technology Section (ATS), a project promoting technological innovations using available materials. That too did not produce the quality she wanted.
Mohajane, together with two of her business colleagues, began a frantic search for a drier that would produce better quality fruits.
They later found the machine.

But the price was way beyond what they could afford. The drier was going for a cool M170 000, money they did not have.
The three friends came together and pooled their financial resources together to buy the machine. They too realised they could not even come close to raising that kind of money. But as fate would have it, they learnt about the Smallholder Agricultural Development Project (SADP), a government project that supports small farming-related businesses. They applied individually.

“We learnt that the SADP helps all Basotho in the villages to start their own businesses,” Mohajane says.
“We were advised to choose some agriculture-related businesses to qualify for assistance and our dried fruits businesses qualified.”
“I and my two friends pitched the dried fruits business idea,” Mohajane says.
She says because there were hundreds of other businesses that had applied for funding, they were not too sure their project would get the financial backing they needed.
But in 2014, the heavens smiled on them and their applications were approved. Each of them was given M107 000 each to buy the machines.
It was only two years later in 2016 that the business finally took pace. That was because they needed time to learn how to operate the machines and prepare the fruits more correctly.
“We were given these machines back in 2014 but it was not easy to start this business because we did not know how to operate the machine itself,” Mohajane says.

“This machine also consumes lots of electricity, which we could not afford at that time.”
Mohajane says she also realised she needed to pump in more money into the business, money she also did not have.
“I liked the business of dried fruits because I thought it was unique. I mean not everyone had thought of this idea,” she says.
“Dried fruits have many unique properties. Chief among them is their ability to hold a long shelf life while maintaining some nutritional value depending on the way they were dried,” she adds.

“Apart from that dried fruits just taste nice, no wonder why our great grandparents made and consumed dried fruits for centuries.
“However, my concern has always been that only a few of these people mastered the art of making them right,” she says.
Mohajane says she is still to make it in business.

But she hopes that this “will prove to be a very good business” in the long run.
“I think I will make a lot of money and create jobs for lots of Basotho and promote Basotho, which is the aim of the SADP, the project that gave us the machines.” Poulo Martin, 42, was also given funding to buy a drier machine.
He says business is looking good for him.

“I started the business in 2016 and it took me a very long time to learn how to properly use the machine,” he says.
Martin says he had not realised he was sitting on a massive income generating idea until he began running the project.
He says he at first had just thought he would be able to dry the fruits for personal use and enjoy the health benefits in the process.
“At first I just thought of the idea of doing it because dried fruits are very important for our health.”

“Running a dried fruit business is the best because most fruits are seasonal and have very short shelf lives due to their high water content.
“This business allows us to enjoy peaches in summer as well as in winter and that is also true with oranges,” he says.
Martin says he too went through lots of challenges to set up the business.
“The biggest challenge was money,” he says.

“I had a number of employees to pay at the end of the day and that on its own was a big challenge.”
“The other problem is that the machine itself uses a lot of electricity, which means I had to buy lots of electricity.”
Martin says he also struggled to package the fruits appropriately to meet the demands of clients.
“I think we still need help from the banks or the government, so we can take the business to the next level.”

Thooe Ramolibeli

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