Lesotho farmer Leutsoa Khobotlo (31) says that in 2014 he was forced to move from his homeland in Maputsoe to Hlotse District, a significant market town in Leribe, Lesotho. “After finishing high school, being the eldest of my three siblings, I had to start making a living to support my family,” he explains.
Stranded and without any financial stability, he was obliged to rent a room at a local ministry which was constructed of wood and grass. This wasn’t just a pit that he had fallen into – it was the seed of his career.
He sought permission to use a 30-by-20 metre dumpsite at Mount Royal for cultivation. Gambling with his last 300 malotis, he decided to buy tomatoes and pepper seeds and other necessities. “I had to do other piece jobs to afford food and rent,” explains Khobotlo.
As he planted the seeds in the ground, it was like he had rolled dice with the hope to strike a six. But once the dice spins, only fate determines the outcome, so much like agriculture. This is three months of waiting for the tomatoes and peppers.
And finally, his dice displayed a six: a win. Using the environment to his advantage, Khobotlo used a bucket to sell his produce at the market, yielding proceeds that amounted to 2500 malotis.
While selling at the market, a policeman informed him about a funding opportunity in the Lesotho ministry of gender, youth, sports and recreation, which aimed to encourage youth participation in agriculture. Being a hustler at heart, he took the opportunity with both hands. “Around April in 2015, I recall getting a message stating, ‘Congratulations you have qualified…’,” Khobotlo remembers.
He became one of the first young people in Lesotho to receive the funding from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). They awarded him a three-year contract to utilise a fibreglass greenhouse and he used the money made from his street sales to expand his operations in the tunnel.
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Establishing a market
Khobotlo progressed from being just a street vendor to supplying retailers. As a small-scale farmer, he thought he had hit a jackpot, but his views have subsequently changed. What led to him to stop relying on supplying retail stores is the hassles they gave him with regards to pricing and more.
“At the end of the day, both parties should progress, not just one side,” he says. “I didn’t benefit much, despite the fact that I was well-known.”
Khobotlo says now he recommends developing a market and tackling food challenges in his community rather than supplying retail outlets. He says that it allows you to bypass the middleman who is solely interested in making a profit.
This small-scale farmer is now a founder of GreenLife Organics, which offers soil testing, greenhouse building and mentoring aspiring farmers. His journey bears testament that most of the time, if not always, success is a result of audacious steps.
On his two-hectare piece of land in Maputsoe, he grows sweet peppers and herbs, including basil, lemongrass and parsley. So far, he has six employees. He supplies his produce to Maputsoe’s factory workers, who are some of the lowest earners. But being low-earners doesn’t stop them from supporting him because he brings value in their lives.
“[This] market is reliable. But only if I address their needs on time,” Khobotlo says.
He reinvests the proceeds in the business – he has erected a borehole and a small water reservoir that accommodates at least 5 250 litres of water.
His enduring desire to make a difference in food and agriculture systems continuously propels his ambitions. Through all the hard trials of his journey, he says, it continues to be fulfilling.
“The youth should go back to their villages and start focusing on food justice, creating their own jobs rather than waiting for employment,” he advises.
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