Youth­ful farmer shows the way

Lesotho Times - - Feature - Pas­cali­nah Kabi

HE has been through the wringer in the few years he has been a com­mer­cial farmer but 34-year-old Hoaba Nkun­yane is not a quit­ter.

Mr Nkun­yane says he did not re­sign from his lu­cra­tive job with the Le­sotho Rev­enue Author­ity (LRA), only to aban­don his own busi­ness be­cause of teething chal­lenges which con­tinue to gnaw at the en­ter­prise.

The proud owner of Lit­soamobung Fresh Pro­duce which he es­tab­lished in 2014 along­side his wife Mal­itšoanelo and mother-in-law ‘Ma­pula Makara, Mr Nkun­yane is the epit­ome of cool as he re­calls the tur­bu­lence that has char­ac­terised the en­ter­prise since its in­cep­tion.

Such is the youth­ful farmer’s re­solve that no amount of heart­break is go­ing to make him aban­don his brain­child hence his com­po­sure de­spite the heavy odds stacked against the busi­ness.

Sit­u­ated in the heart of Koro-koro, about 37 kilo­me­tres south of Maseru, Lit­soamobung Fresh Pro­duce is a farm­ing par­adise bloom­ing with suc­cu­lent cab­bages, toma­toes and pota­toes.

Yet de­spite the ap­par­ent pros­per­ity, Mr Nkun­yane says Lit­soamobung Fresh Pro­duce is fac­ing im­mense chal­lenges which in­clude fail­ing to find lo­cal buy­ers for its pro­duce, es­pe­cially the cab­bages.

“Agri­cul­ture was not one of my dream ca­reers when I was grow­ing up. I was into the sciences and grad­u­ated with a Bach­e­lor of Com­puter Science and Sta­tis­tics de­gree from the Na­tional Univer­sity of Le­sotho (NUL) in 2008,” Mr Nkun­yane told the Le­sotho Times this week while tour­ing the im­pres­sive farm.

Mr Nkun­yane was soon hired by LRA as Busi­ness An­a­lyst — a po­si­tion he held un­til Septem­ber last year when he de­cided to take the plunge, so to speak.

“I have al­ways loved be­ing my own boss and be­fore venturing into com­mer­cial farm­ing, I had tried two other busi­nesses which didn’t do as well as I had hoped.”

Mr Nkun­yane’s first busi­ness was in In­for­ma­tion Tech­nol­ogy and when it failed, he teamed up with his wife and went into sell­ing ar­ti­fi­cial flow­ers.

“We soon re­alised peo­ple were not in­ter­ested in this kind of busi­ness and had to close shop,” he said.

But de­spite the col­lapse of yet an­other busi­ness ven­ture, Mr Nkun­yane did not give up on his dream of be­com­ing an entrepreneur but was now at a loss about what to pur­sue next.

“A friend then sug­gested that com­mer­cial farm­ing was some­thing I could try, but I was not too sure be­cause of my past ex­pe­ri­ence of fail­ure,” he said.

“Still I found the idea ap­peal­ing but this time, I de­cided to do thor­ough re­search first.

“While in­ves­ti­gat­ing the prospects of com­mer­cial farm­ing, I dis­cov­ered the coun­try im­ported cab­bages worth M2 mil­lion ev­ery month. This was ex­clud­ing other veg­eta­bles Le­sotho brought in, mostly from South Africa,” he said.

Af­ter this ex­cit­ing dis­cov­ery, Mr Nkun­yane was hooked on the busi­ness ven­ture, and made his wife and mother-in-law part­ners.

“Even though I didn’t have pas­sion for agri­cul­ture at the time, my late fa­ther, Thabo Nkun­yane, loved farm­ing and he would wake us up ev­ery morn­ing to plough our fields. So af­ter re­al­is­ing the im­mense po­ten­tial in this busi­ness, that love for farm­ing was reignited.”

How­ever, Mr Nkun­yane still needed to own land to em­bark on his new hor­ti­cul­tural jour­ney.

“I needed land to farm on so I de­cided to buy 23 acres in Ha Mo­foka in Koro-koro.”

Mr Nkun­yane and his part­ners started with pota­toes in 2014, but the yield was poor be­cause of the un­con­ducive red soil of the area. The fol­low­ing year, the part­ners ven­tured into cab­bage pro­duc­tion and the re­sult was equally dis­as­trous.

“We had thought the red soil was good for our ven­ture but learnt the hard way that it was too acidic and needed to be neu­tralised first be­fore we could start farm­ing,” Mr Nkun­yane said.

“In ad­di­tion, we learnt the hard way that one can­not go into farm­ing with­out suf­fi­cient water. We pumped water from a bore­hole into our tank but it wasn’t enough for our pro­duce.

“We also de­cided to trans­port water from Koko-koro river to the farm us­ing a truck, cov­er­ing a dis­tance of about 1.5 kilo­me­tres to ac­cess the pre­cious liq­uid, which made our op­er­a­tions even harder.”

The farm-own­ers also had to em­ploy lo­cals to water their 70 000 cab­bage seedlings, but this also pre­sented its own chal­lenges.

“Some would water the plant too much while other plants got very lit­tle water and it was ap­par­ent that this was not go­ing to be sus­tain­able.”

And while deal­ing with the water chal­lenge ex­ac­er­bated by the coun­try’s worst drought in four decades, the farm was hit by a dis­ease out­break, deal­ing the pro­pri­etors yet an­other body blow.

Dis­ap­pointed and frus­trated, Mr Nkun­yane and his part­ners took sam­ples of their farm’s soil to Pre­to­ria, South Africa, for test­ing where the re­sults opened their eyes to the re­al­ity of com­mer­cial agri­cul­ture.

“The tests showed that the soil was too acidic for the kind of farm­ing we wanted to do.

“We were ad­vised to neu­tral­ize the soil, which we did, and also en­sured it had suf­fi­cient nu­tri­ents. We also switched to con­ser­va­tion farm­ing by us­ing the drip-wa­ter­ing sys­tem,” he said.

Con­ser­va­tion agri­cul­ture en­sures there is min­i­mum dis­rup­tion to the soil’s struc­ture, com­po­si­tion and nat­u­ral bio­di­ver­sity and boosts crop yields while im­prov­ing the longterm en­vi­ron­men­tal and financial sus­tain­abil­ity of farm­ing

This new farm­ing method gave Lit­soamobung Fresh Pro­duce a new lease of life and the own­ers started grow­ing toma­toes in green­houses.

“We would har­vest toma­toes for five months with­out any dif­fi­cul­ties and that kept us go­ing,” he said.

Lit­soamobung Fresh Pro­duce has since be­come a thriv­ing en­ter­prises, much to the joy and also dis­may of its own­ers.

“We are now sup­ply­ing Mafeteng Sho­prite with veg­eta­bles and still ne­go­ti­at­ing with other re­tail out­lets.

“Un­til re­cently, we had Chi­nese shopown­ers buy­ing from us but they have since started im­port­ing their cab­bages de­spite the fact that we have thou­sands al­ways ready for the mar­ket. But we have learnt that the Chi­nese de­cided to im­port, say­ing it is cheaper to do so,” he said.

Mr Nkun­yane said it was wor­ri­some the coun­try con­tin­ues to im­port cab­bages de­spite the pres­ence of ca­pa­ble hor­ti­cul­tural farm­ers like him and his part­ners.

But de­spite th­ese set­backs, Mr Nkun­yane said he be­lieves the worst is over for Lit­soamobung Fresh Pro­duce.

“We are still try­ing to find our foot­ing in this busi­ness but we have come a long way for us to give up now. We are pro­duc­ing far much bet­ter qual­ity than what is be­ing im­ported and what we just need is to be given a chance of sup­ply­ing to big­ger retailers.”

Mr Nkun­yane re­vealed the com­pany had now added let­tuce to its cur­rent out­put of cab­bages, toma­toes and pota­toes and was also con­sid­er­ing venturing into beet­root and but­ter­nut pro­duc­tion.

“We see a lot of po­ten­tial in com­mer­cial farm­ing, which can boost the coun­try’s econ­omy if han­dled well.

“We also humbly re­quest that the gov­ern­ment meets us half­way by lim­it­ing the im­por­ta­tion of veg­eta­bles as this is neg­a­tively af­fect­ing our busi­ness,” he said.

Mr Nkun­yane is how­ever quick to men­tion he is not fight­ing for this be­cause of his busi­ness but strongly be­lieves lo­cal pro­duce is of high qual­ity and cheaper.

“If we were to stop im­port­ing com­modi­ties like cab­bages, con­sumers would buy our prod­ucts, thereby sav­ing our busi­ness,” he said.

“We have 12 em­ploy­ees but we are go­ing to lay­off six of them be­cause you can see the huge yield but there are no buy­ers.

“We have heard sto­ries that Le- sotho was once an agri­cul­tural gi­ant and we need to re­claim that po­si­tion by en­sur­ing we don’t im­port sim­ple mer­chan­dise like veg­eta­bles. But that can only hap­pen if the gov­ern­ment meets us half­way by in­tro­duc­ing strict im­port poli­cies.”

MR Nkun­yane with HIS pro­duce.

Hoaba Nkun­yane In­spects THE CAB­BAGE field on HIS Farm In Koro-koro.

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