Tak­ing farm­ing to an­other level

Lesotho Times - - Feature - Pas­cali­nah Kabi

‘MALIBUSENG Moeketsi was left in a state of shock when she was re­trenched by a Maseru-based in­ter­na­tional hu­man­i­tar­ian aid or­gan­i­sa­tion at the age of 48 in De­cem­ber 2007.

Ms Moeketsi knew at her ad­vanced age, find­ing an­other job was not go­ing to be easy as she would be com­pet­ing with can­di­dates young enough to be her own chil­dren.

But de­ter­mined not to let de­spair de­fine her fu­ture, Ms Moeketsi de­cided to ven­ture into busi­ness and es­tab­lished a pig­gery pro­ject at her Roma home im­me­di­ately af­ter her re­trench­ment.

How­ever, Ms Moeketsi had un­der­es­ti­mated the de­mands of her new life, and even­tu­ally, her strug­gling busi­ness col­lapsed, leav­ing her heart­bro­ken but still hop­ing she would rise again.

“I was dev­as­tated, but some­how, I did not lose hope,” Ms Moeketsi told the Le­sotho Times this week.

“around that time, a del­e­ga­tion of lo­cal en­trepreneurs went for a busi­ness expo in Botswana and took dried peaches (man­gan­ga­jane) with them to this fair,” Ms Moeketsi said.

“When they re­turned, a cer­tain lady who is now late, told me how those dried peaches were sold-out at the expo. She said al­though the peaches had soil par­ti­cles in them, they were still a hit at the expo be­cause Batswana don’t grow peaches.”

Ms Moeketsi says af­ter this dis­cus­sion, she de­cided to ven­ture into the dried-peaches busi­ness.

“One day, I was on my way to Bloem­fontein when I met th­ese women sell­ing peaches, and I re­mem­bered what that other lady had told me about the peaches sell­ing so well at the Botswana expo. I asked them where they or­dered the peaches and the women di­rected me to the source in Ficks­burg,” Ms Moeketsi said.

De­ter­mined to get into the fruit busi­ness, Ms Moeketsi said she de­cided to go to Ficks­burg, but made a de­tour into an­other farm in the area, which was also into fruit-farm­ing.

“On that farm, I was given a few tips on how to make a suc­cess out of this busi­ness and that is how it all started,” Ms Moeketsi says.

Ms Moeketsi is now the proud owner of Roma Val­ley Deluke — a com­pany she started in 2012 and pro­duces and sells dried peaches. The busi­ness has four per­ma­nent em­ploy­ees.

“I have cul­ti­vated some peaches and al­ways start with my own fruits but once they are fin­ished, I start buy­ing from farm­ers in nearby vil­lages like nazareth,” Ms Moeketsi said.

“When I started the busi­ness, I bought a dry­ing ma­chine for the peaches but I am no longer us­ing it as it ei­ther made them too hard or too soft. What I do now is purely rely on the sun to dry the fruits.”

Ms Moeketsi has since turned her garage into a dry­ing room for her busi­ness. The peaches, she added, take three to five days to dry.

Yet Ms Moeketsi is quick to men­tion that it has not been plain-sail­ing with Roma Val­ley Deluke.

“When this busi­ness took off, I opened a kiosk at Pi­o­neer Mall and hired some­one to op­er­ate the out­let. But be­fore I knew it, I couldn’t even raise enough to pay the rent.

“But when I went there my­self, I would make around M800 per day but this per­son I had em­ployed was giv­ing me as lit­tle as M200 per day. The sit­u­a­tion be­came dif­fi­cult and I would pay rent from my own pocket.”

a nu­tri­tion­ist by pro­fes­sion, Ms Moeketsi is how­ever, wor­ried that her prod­uct does not have di­etary in­for­ma­tion on its pack­age.

“This sit­u­a­tion makes it dif­fi­cult for me to com­pete with some of th­ese well-es­tab­lished prod­ucts.

“That is why I would want to learn more about how to have such crit­i­cal in­for­ma­tion and be in a po­si­tion to com­pete with any sim­i­lar prod­uct on the mar­ket,” said Ms Moeketsi, who was speak­ing to the Le­sotho Times on the side­lines of the South­ern African De­vel­op­ment Com­mu­nity (SADC)’S two-day work­shop on Stan­dards, Qual­ity as­sur­ance, ac­cred­i­ta­tion and Metrol­ogy (SQAM).

Funded by the Euro­pean union, the work­shop was or­gan­ised by the Min­istry of Trade and In­dus­try, and at­tended by ex­perts from Le­sotho, Botswana, Swazi­land, Zam­bia, Zim­babwe, namibia, Malawi, Congo DRC, Tan­za­nia and the Seychelles.

Ac­cord­ing to Pro­gramme Of­fi­cer Kuena Mo­lapo, the pur­pose of the work­shop was to raise aware­ness on the im­por­tance of qual­ity in the agro food-pro­cess­ing in­dus­try.

Lo­cal farm­ers were go­ing to ben­e­fit from this work­shop by learn­ing how best they could present their prod­ucts to the mar­ket through qual­ity man­age­ment prin­ci­ples, she fur­ther said.

“We are try­ing to demon­strate what can be done for prod­uct cred­i­bil­ity as there are big play­ers in the mar­ket al­ready.

“Our farm­ers need to com­pete against th­ese play­ers by pro­duc­ing a prod­uct peo­ple can choose be­cause of its out­stand­ing fea­tures,” Ms Mo­lapo said.

“This is ba­si­cally an ex­pe­ri­ence-shar­ing work­shop and at the end, the in­ten­tion is that all the farm­ers can go back to their own na­tional bod­ies and say we are at this stage with our prod­ucts and we are seek­ing ad­vice on how we can meet set stan­dards”.

asked if there would be a fol­low-up work­shop to see how in­di­vid­ual farm­ers are per­form­ing, Ms Mo­lapo said: “at the mo­ment, no.

“But we have had a se­ries of th­ese work­shops and we hope funds-per­mit­ting, we can come back to­gether again and see how far the im­ple­men­ta­tion has gone at or­di­nary farm­ers’ level. Im­ple­men­ta­tion is the most im­por­tant as­pect at this stage.”

Ms Mo­lapo said there was an ur­gent need to move for­ward and de­mand as­sis­tance so that re­gional farm­ers could grow from do­mes­tic to com­mer­cial agri­cul­ture.

Of­fi­cially open­ing the work­shop on Mon­day, the Min­istry of Trade and In­dus­try act­ing Di­rec­tor of Stan­dards and Qual­ity as­sur­ance, Mole­batsi Rabolinyane said Africa was known for ex­port­ing huge quan­ti­ties of raw ma­te­rial, which should not be the case.

He was speak­ing on be­half of the min­istry’s prin­ci­pal sec­re­tary.

“This is so mostly be­cause our coun­tries have not yet mas­tered strate­gies and tech­niques to com­ply with tech­ni­cal reg­u­la­tions and re­quire­ments set by the mar­ket,” Mr Rabolinyane said.

Some african farm­ers be­lieve it is vir­tu­ally im­pos­si­ble to com­ply with stan­dards and are not aware they could be as­sisted by their na­tional qual­ity in­fra­struc­ture to pen­e­trate and at­tain their ex­port mar­ket, he added.

Mr Rabolinyane also said the glob­al­i­sa­tion of mar­kets as ad­vo­cated by the World Trade Or­gan­i­sa­tion (WTO) had brought African farm­ers chal­lenges they had to deal with if they are to com­pete.

“Con­sumers in de­vel­oped economies have com­pli­cated de­mands that have to be catered for fully. To­day they talk of Ge­net­i­cally Mod­i­fied Or­gan­isms Cer­ti­fi­ca­tion; they de­mand to know whether child-labour was used, and whether the en­vi­ron­ment was not pol­luted dur­ing pro­duc­tion, among oth­ers.

“This there­fore means we have to know their de­mands be­fore pro­duc­ing any­thing des­tined for ex­port,” Mr Rabolinyane said.

“and for coun­tries to trade among them­selves, they have to agree on the level of qual­ity, safety, char­ac­ter­is­tics of the com­mod­ity they wish to trade in, reg­u­la­tions and other laws as the case may be.”

Ac­cord­ing to Mr Rabolinyane, the process of agree­ing on how a trad­able com­mod­ity should look like is what stan­dard­i­s­a­tion is all about, while qual­ity as­sur­ance refers to all planned and sys­tem­atic tasks that one would carry out to pro­vide con­fi­dence that a prod­uct or ser­vice meets all set re­quire­ments.

He said the fol­low­ing can be used to en­sure com­pli­ance: test­ing and in­spec­tion, good man­u­fac­tur­ing prac­tices, good hy­gienic prac­tices, haz­ard anal­y­sis and crit­i­cal con­trol points.

“Metrol­ogy talks to the sci­ence of mea­sure­ment. In trade, we have to agree on the amounts be­ing traded and more­over, on how to la­bel our com­modi­ties,” Mr Rabolinyane said.

“Our con­form­ity as­sess­ment in­fra­struc­ture has to be recog­nised by peers in the re­gion and in­ter­na­tion­ally. ac­cred­i­ta­tion is a tool used to as­sess that an or­gan­i­sa­tion is com­pe­tent to per­form its tasks.”

ac­cred­i­ta­tion, he added, pro­vides for ac­cep­tance and recog­ni­tion of con­form­ity as­sess­ment pro­ce­dures and re­sults among trad­ing part­ners to al­low free move­ment of goods and ser­vices.

“I want to re­it­er­ate that it is im­por­tant that our food-pro­cess­ing in­dus­try is sup­ported by a ro­bust qual­ity in­fra­struc­ture which is recog­nised in­ter­na­tion­ally so that our trad­able com­modi­ties can be sold world­wide with­out prob­lems,” he said.

“This work­shop comes at an op­por­tune time when Le­sotho has re­ceived train­ing on strength­en­ing the na­tional Point of Con­tacts for Codex ali­men­ta­r­ius.

“This train­ing cer­tainly em­pha­sises the im­por­tance of putting the nec­es­sary food safety frame­works and ac­com­pa­ny­ing con­form­ity as­sess­ment in­fra­struc­ture to en­sure that we meet the ‘farm to fork’ prin­ci­ple.”

Mr Rabolinyane said his min­istry had also re­alised that a na­tional stan­dards body was one of the es­sen­tial el­e­ments a coun­try needed to cre­ate if Le­sotho was to be in tan­dem with her trad­ing part­ners.

“Based on this, we plan to es­tab­lish a na­tional stan­dards body this fi­nan­cial year. We have sub­stan­tial ac­tiv­i­ties in the area of qual­ity as­sur­ance, ac­cred­i­ta­tion and metrol­ogy.

“I wish to pledge my sup­port, in this work­shop, on the ini­tia­tives that will be done by the Depart­ment of Stan­dards and Qual­ity as­sur­ance to build Le­sotho’s own qual­ity in­fra­struc­ture.”

He thanked SADC for re­al­is­ing the need to host the work­shop in Le­sotho “es­pe­cially now that our farm­ers are keen on pro­duc­ing for the mar­ket. Hope­fully, this will spur our agro food-pro­duc­ing com­pa­nies to per­fect the way they do busi­ness.”

How­ever, al­though the work­shop’s in­ter­ac­tions were very en­light­en­ing, the par­tic­i­pants agreed that meet­ing set stan­dards or re­quire­ments was not go­ing to hap­pen overnight.

“While we ap­pre­ci­ate the im­por­tance of meet­ing the re­quired stan­dards, I think it is also im­por­tant for us to un­der­stand and ap­pre­ci­ate that this will not hap­pen overnight or within six months,” a par­tic­i­pant from Seychelles said.

“Food is a highly reg­u­lated area be­cause we speak about health and we will not achieve this overnight.”

An­other par­tic­i­pant said it was dif­fi­cult for or­di­nary farm­ers to meet and un­der­stand na­tional stan­dards as they are writ­ten “in a for­eign lan­guage”.

“This is one of the big chal­lenges dairy farm­ers are fac­ing in Malawi as they don’t un­der­stand the lan­guage be­ing used when com­mu­ni­cat­ing th­ese re­quire­ments to them. How­ever, there are plans to trans­late the stan­dards into lo­cal lan­guage with­out com­pro­mis­ing stan­dards,” the Malaw­ian said.

The ab­sence of in­cen­tives for farm­ers meet­ing stan­dards was also con­tribut­ing neg­a­tively to their per­for­mance, he added.

How­ever, a lo­cal farmer who re­quested not to be named, told the Le­sotho Times that the is­sue of stan­dards was too am­bi­tious if not a com­plete waste of time.

“How do you ex­pect us to meet stan­dards when we are not even close to be­ing real com­mer­cial farm­ers?

“We need to ar­rive at a po­si­tion where we can safely say Le­sotho is able to feed it­self be­fore we can think of es­tab­lish­ing a na­tional stan­dards body,” he said.

asked why he was not voic­ing his con­cerns be­fore the rest of the par­tic­i­pants, he said: “We of­ten get vic­timised for say­ing the ob­vi­ous and given that we still need such stake­hold­ers to grow as farm­ers, we just keep our views to our­selves.

“I hon­estly think we need to start by help­ing emerg­ing farm­ers to flour­ish so that we don’t im­port ev­ery­thing. What kind of a coun­try is this that im­ports ev­ery­thing, even wa­ter that it has in abun­dance?

“not ev­ery­one can be a com­mer­cial farmer. Just visit South africa and you will see that only cer­tain in­di­vid­u­als are well-es­tab­lished farm­ers who are sup­ported by their govern­ment to en­sure the coun­try can feed it­self. But in this coun­try, ev­ery­one can do any­thing they feel like.

“The is­sue of stan­dard­i­s­a­tion is good but not now. Let us first come up with prac­ti­cal meth­ods of feed­ing our­selves be­fore we can talk about stan­dards.”

ROMA Val­ley Deluke owner ‘Malibuseng Moeketsi.

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