True son of the soil
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.