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The ‘new Eden’ in Mahobong



LERIBE – For years, Lesotho has relied on its textile industry for employment opportunities. Some now think it’s time to look elsewhere and a World Bank funded project is showing the way.
Likhothola Fruits Farm in Mahobong, a horticulture project in Peka and a bridge construction project in Hlotse in Leribe district are examples of how the country can diversify from the textile industry.

It started with the World Bank’s Board of Executive Directors approving an International Development Association (IDA) credit of US$8.1 million (M107.28 million) in 2007.
Of this amount, US$4.2 million (M55.63 million) was a grant to support the government of Lesotho’s Private Sector Competitiveness and Economic Diversification Programme.
The World Bank director for Lesotho, Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe, Paul Noumba Um, was in Lesotho last week to see how the project has fared 10 years on.
The fruit and vegetable farm that Noumba Um visited is part of the horticulture scheme identified to diversify Lesotho’s products, targeting both the domestic and regional market.
This is piloted on the northern border of the country with technical assistance from some South African entrepreneurs.
The Private Sector Competitiveness Project’s intention is to improve productivity at farm level, with high value cash crops.
This follows the government’s realisation of the potential of private sector led growth to achieve sustainable development.
The project contributes to poverty reduction by creating conditions necessary to improve private sector competitiveness, which benefits growth, and eventually job creation, according to the World Bank.

This also followed the realisation that foreign owned textile factories that employ about 40 000 people often close down and leave thousands jobless.
The Likhothola Fruit Farm comprises nine shareholders who started the venture in 2007.
With 10.7 hectares of their own farm land, they have established Lesotho’s second commercial fruit farm after Thuathe, situated atop Berea Plateau.
The Private Sector Competitiveness Horticulture Coordinator ’Makali Nathane told Noumba Um that steady jobs have bettered the lives of community members since the establishment of the orchard in Mahobong.

“The Likhothola Project has made a massive difference to the villagers because they can now put bread on the table for their family members,” Nathane said, adding that “this is a very big aim of the World Bank and the government of Lesotho”. The Private Sector Competitiveness Project director Chaba Mokuku talked of the challenges they have faced over the past decade.
“At the beginning some of the trees died because we did not know how to deal properly with them and we did not have water but fortunately the World Bank replaced the trees by giving the farm other trees,” Mokuku said, adding they had established markets in the United Kingdom and South Africa.

Mokuku said they have met with Eastern Cape producers and they are willing to work together with them. “We still need a lot of things to improve this business. We need a place for training the workers and another place to plant some different varieties of trees,” he said. “For watering our trees we have the river so we pump the water from the river and irrigate,” he added.
One of the farm directors, ’Maprince Phothane, said: “Out of this project more than 10 individuals are able to feed their families, me included.”
Phothane said “at last we have penetrated the market and are able to sell to big retailers like Pick n’ Pay”.

Noumba Um also visited a vegetable production farm called Tlohang Meriting Farmer’s Cooperative Society in Peka in Leribe.
The cooperative is producing different crops. According to Khali Rampa, the cooperative chairperson, the project started on Independence Day in 2011.
“We were 12 members of the group, 11 men and a woman when we started this project,” Rampa said.

“We were working without any equipment, but when time went on we were able to get help from Smallholder Agriculture Development Program (SADP) and they helped us with all equipment needed for farming,” Rampa said. Rampa said business is good.

The association planted 900 tomato seedlings, harvested 247 boxes of 7 kg each and managed to generate more than M10 000 during the past summer.
The project is now able to support 270 smallholder farmers in four districts of Mafeteng, Berea, Leribe and Butha-Buthe.
“The only big challenge we are faced with is a shortage of water,” he added. Noumba Um said he will communicate with his colleagues to devise ways of alleviating the water situation.

Thooe Ramolibeli

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