True son of the soil

Sunday Express - - NEWS - ’Man­toetse Maama

He has al­ways been pas­sion­ate about run­ning his own busi­ness and 35-year-old Paseka Me­lato from Mal­imong — a re­mote vil­lage in Berea dis­trict — has fi­nally re­alised his cher­ished dream.

Now one of the coun­try’s most promis­ing com­mer­cial farm­ers, Mr Me­lato is not only con­tribut­ing to Le­sotho’s food se­cu­rity but also pro­vid­ing his lo­cal com­mu­nity with em­ploy­ment, as well as es­sen­tial ser­vices right at their doorsteps.

Mr Me­lato is a clas­sic ex­am­ple of how de­ter­mi­na­tion can pre­vail over ad­ver­sity — and also that with sup­port from fam­ily and friends, any­thing is pos­si­ble in life.

The emerg­ing farmer never stud­ied agri­cul­ture at any ter­tiary in­sti­tu­tion, but sciences at the Na­tional Uni­ver­sity of Uni­ver­sity and later busi­ness man­age­ment through dis­tance learn­ing, yet to­day, he is the owner of an agribusi­ness that has be­come the envy of many.

Mr Me­lato says af­ter many sleep­less nights mulling over his fu­ture, he fi­nally de­cided to ven­ture into farm­ing in 2012, and has never looked back ever since.

“It has al­ways been my dream to run my own busi­ness, es­pe­cially some­thing that would also di­rectly ben­e­fit the peo­ple of my vil­lage in Mal­imong.

“You see, most young peo­ple leave the area and come to Maseru where there is bet­ter in­fra­struc­ture and ser­vices are within easy reach. Our vil­lage was re­mote and ne­glected as most peo­ple who stayed be­hind were the el­derly who did not have the means to de­velop it.

“I am not a pro­fes­sional farmer but I just fell in love with agri­cul­ture and some­how felt that I would do well if I took it up. I did a Bach­e­lor of Science (BSc) de­gree at the Na­tional Uni­ver­sity of Le­sotho, ma­jor­ing in com­puter science and physics and also did an MBA with Amity Uni­ver­sity,” he said.

“But I have al­ways liked do­ing my own thing. I used to sell or­anges when I was in pri­mary school and would even hire my peers in the vil­lage to sell the fruits at their re­spec­tive schools for a fee.

“Af­ter com­plet­ing my stud­ies at NUL in 2005, I worked as a demon­stra­tor for the var­sity’s Pre -en­try Science Pro­gramme for two months and later joined Quad­rant Com­put­ers as a So­lu­tion Spe­cial­ist, for five months.

“In 2006, we started a com­pany called Tech­ware and I was man- aging the or­gan­i­sa­tion’s projects. In 2009, I moved to mar­ket­ing as Manager-Sales en­gi­neer and held the post un­til Septem­ber 2011.

“I then started a new project, Setha Hold­ings, un­der which this agri­cul­tural busi­ness falls. I started by plant­ing 120 000 cab­bages on an 8.6-acre piece of land in 2013.

“My first sale to the mar­ket was June 2013, but it wasn’t such a good crop be­cause of lack of rain.

“The sec­ond crop was but­ter­nut and wa­ter­mel­ons, and the har­vest was amazingly good.

“We used ir­ri­ga­tion to wa­ter the crop, and re­ceived help from the Min­istry of Agri­cul­ture to es­tab­lish the ir­ri­ga­tion in­fra­struc­ture.”

Ac­cord­ing to Mr Me­lato, he has since di­ver­si­fied into tomato­farm­ing which he does un­der con­trolled con­di­tions or green­houses.

“I con­structed three plas­tic tun­nels, which are small green­house­like struc­tures, with the help of the Small-holder Agri­cul­tural Devel­op­ment Project. I planted an in­de­ter­mi­nate va­ri­ety of tomato in Novem­ber 2014 and in Jan­uary, we started sell­ing to the lo­cal mar­ket, among our own peo­ple in the neigh­bour­hood.

“On av­er­age, we get about 50 to 60 boxes of tomato a week that we sell from each tun­nel. The boxes sell for M55 or M65 depend­ing on the mar­ket forces. The project is do­ing well be­cause of the sup­port we get from lo­cal vil­lagers. We mainly sell to lo­cal street-ven­dors be­cause the idea is to make sure our im­me­di­ate com­mu­nity benefits from what we are do­ing.

“We have two per­ma­nent em­ploy­ees, and also get ca­sual work­ers when the need arises.

“My dream is to start a mul­ti­mil­lion-mal­oti project so I can have year-round pro­duc­tion.

That is my vi­sion; I would like to make sure my vil­lage is as de­vel­oped as any in Le­sotho be­cause, like I said, if we don’t do it our­selves as the young gen­er­a­tion, no one else will.”

Mr Me­lato, who is mar­ried and a fa­ther to one daugh­ter, paid trib­ute to his wife with­out whose sup­port, he said he could not have come this far in his ven­ture.

“My wife is very sup­port­ive be­cause she be­lieved that we would still sur­vive when I left Tech­ware.

“even my rel­a­tives were also very sup­port­ive as they could see that I was very pas­sion­ate about what I was get­ting into.”

Paseka Me­lato in­spects his tomato plants while (inset) he proudly dis­plays his melon pro­duce.

Har­vested but­ter­nuts ready for sale.

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