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Cultivating Excellence: Lebohang Mosaola’s Agricultural Insights

Business

29-year-old Lebohang Mosaola (LM), an Agricultural Specialist, tells Seahlolo’s Ntsoaki Motaung there is a pressing need for strengthened expertise and resources in Lesotho’s Department of Agriculture Research. Mosaola, a Diploma holder in General Agriculture, brings forth his proven track experience in livelihood development, business, agricultural pharmaceuticals, and training facilitation.

Seahlolo: When did you discover your love for agriculture?

LM:
I am an ambitious, hardworking, and result-driven young Xhoza man who has always had a keen interest in agriculture. I was raised in the Mafeteng district in Lesotho, where my family has a long history of farming. This upbringing instilled in me a deep passion for agriculture, which eventually turned into a calling when I pursued a Diploma in Agriculture.

During my studies, I had a transformative experience that led me to specialise in veterinary public health.

It was during my college years that my profound interest in agriculture truly blossomed. I discovered that the field is brimming with endless opportunities, with various sub-sectors each having a complex value chain. This realisation opened my eyes to the dynamic and multifaceted nature of the industry, and it motivated me to position myself as an agent of change within it.

To me, agriculture is not only essential for ensuring that no child goes to bed hungry; it also has therapeutic benefits for human health. There are scientifically proven plant species with mood-elevating qualities, demonstrating the profound impact that agriculture can have on our well-being. The COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent lockdowns have further emphasised the indispensability of farmers, highlighting agriculture as the source of life and good health.

Seahlolo: Your interest lies in Farm input suppliers, Why this focus?

LM: My passion lies in the farm input supply sector, specifically in the agrochemical industry. As someone who considers themselves an agent of change, I am motivated by the noble mission of saving lives. I am dedicated to helping farmers adopt practices that result in both healthy and sustainable crops. The key is not only to produce food, but also to guarantee its safety for human health.

Seahlolo: You have trained numerous farmers, can you share your impact

LM: Since 2020, I have empowered approximately 1,500 farmers through Leseli La Lihoai, providing both physical and remote training. My mission is to bridge the gap in technical know-how, recognising that farmers are eager to invest in information. The convergence of agriculture and technology is crucial for improving farming practices and reducing unnecessary costs. My motivation to train farmers goes beyond Lesotho’s strategic plan; it stems from the clear technological gap that exists. The private sector, an essential component, plays a vital role in achieving national goals. Therefore, the training interventions aim to address this knowledge gap and utilise technology to promote sustainable farming practices.

Seahlolo: What can you say is the common problem for most farmers?

LM: Economies of scale present a significant challenge, as farmers face financial constraints and limited access to finance, leading to reduced production.

The absence of standards and extension services contributes to the unsafe use of agricultural chemicals, which in turn contributes to global issues such as Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR).

Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is an increasingly concerning topic, even more so than cancer. The lack of technical knowledge among farmers in carefully monitoring their activities, particularly in the administration of livestock drugs and agrochemicals, poses a serious threat to human health globally. This is not only true for Lesotho’s farmers and key players, but for everyone.

Seahlolo: Thoughts on Lesotho’s Agriculture in general?

LM: Agriculture Research: Lesotho’s agricultural success hinges on continuous research and innovation, which requires strengthened expertise and resources within the Department of Agriculture Research. Technological integration is crucial for driving meaningful change. Therefore, the Department of Agriculture Research needs to have fortified expertise and resources, particularly in exploring advancements in both crop and livestock hybridisation.

Self-Sufficiency: Lesotho’s lack of competitiveness in global food production necessitates a change in approach. The majority of our inputs are imported from countries that we consider to be our competition. Additionally, it is concerning that we do not have a single registered breeder farm for crops or livestock.

Farmers are being encouraged to import improved genetics from other countries. What is even more concerning is that the government is not supporting local aspiring farmers in breeding, but rather importing genetics as well. There are no efforts being made to conserve our native genetics, and we are at risk of losing them completely. These native genetics may be crucial in the next 10 or 20 years for developing and breeding crops and livestock that can adapt well to Lesotho’s climate.

Veterinary Support: Lesotho’s veterinary workforce is considered one of the weakest, but technological advancements have the potential to address these weaknesses. Currently, there are districts without veterinarians or even district assistants. Farmers depend on the Department of Livestock Laboratory services when they require assistance, and it is worth noting that the only laboratory in the country is located in Maseru.

In instances of animal emergencies, the public is left unaware of where to go to report sick or deceased animals due to the lack of communication channels. Introducing a toll-free hotline could greatly improve and modernise the veterinary industry.

Communal Facilities: Communal areas are well-known hotspots and breeding grounds for numerous livestock diseases. In Lesotho, traditional practices such as communal grazing land, communal animal dipping areas, communal wool sheds, as well as animal shows and auctions, are still prevalent. However, effectively managing livestock diseases and ensuring successful treatment in such environments poses significant challenges. This is primarily due to the excessive use of antimicrobials, which in turn poses a threat to human health through the development of antimicrobial resistance. By embracing precision agriculture practices and technology, communal facilities can be modernised, thereby reducing risks and encouraging responsible antimicrobial use.

Animal Welfare: There are no active laws in Lesotho that regulate humane practices when dealing with animals, both domestic and wild. Animal welfare protects the rights of animals, and when animals are happy and not stressed, they perform better and yield better results. Lesotho lags far behind when it comes to animal welfare laws and practices. The recent introduction of livestock branding is a clear indication that Lesotho is moving in the wrong direction. Livestock branding technology is inhumane. Furthermore, branding is done on the most valuable part of the animal, especially in cattle, which becomes worthless once branded. By adopting both humane and technological practices in Lesotho’s livestock management, the nation can progress and meet global standards.

Seahlolo: Does Lesotho have enough agricultural specialities?

LM: Not really. There is still a significant gap and a need for the government to support learners who are willing to pursue specialty courses in other countries. However, it is important to also create a pathway to offer these specialty courses within the country and establish a self-sustaining ecosystem.

Seahlolo: What are your thoughts on the Lesotho Agricultural College?

LM: Granting autonomy to the Lesotho Agricultural College is essential. By allowing the institution to generate revenue through the use of allocated land for crops, forages, and livestock, it will be able to fund facility refurbishment. The college has a clear mandate to train extension agents and incubate employers, but the issue lies with its management.

It does not make sense, and never will, that such a large and important institution remains under the control of the Ministry of Agriculture.

Seahlolo: Beyond training farmers, what does Leseli la Lihoai aim to achieve?

LM: Leseli La Lihoai focuses on four core program areas: Research, Information, and Advocacy; Skills Development; Food Security, Nutrition, and Resource Management; and Animal Production and Healthcare Support.

Research, information and advocacy:  We are the ears, eyes, nose, and mouthpiece of the farming community. We assist farmers in understanding their situation, identifying gaps, and coming up with solutions to their problems. We conduct scientific research, share necessary information, and provide advice on the best possible means to enhance sustainable growth in the farming sector.

Skills development: We provide farmers with the necessary skills to effectively manage their businesses and successfully enter the market. We help aspiring farmers gain a clear understanding of the agriculture sector and its value chains, enabling them to identify gaps and develop solutions. Additionally, we connect farmers with input suppliers and the market.

Food security, nutrition and resource management: We equip farmers with the skills needed to produce food in the safest, most cost-efficient, environmentally friendly, and sustainable way.

Animal production and healthcare support: We provide farmers with advice on the best animal husbandry practices in order to improve animal health, prevent casualties, and enhance proper drug use. This is crucial in curbing parasitic and microbial drug resistance, which poses a threat to public health. Additionally, we offer training to farmers on how to handle animals safely, reducing their exposure to zoonotic infections that can potentially endanger their lives.

Our company strives to be an essential channel for farmer empowerment, scientific research, and market linkages.

Seahlolo: The most challenging aspect of agriculture?

LM: The most significant challenge in agriculture is dispelling stereotypes and embracing the dynamic, tech-driven nature of modern farming. It requires not only passion but also technological wisdom. Risks are inherent in any business, but the rewards are in line with the level of technological innovation and risk-taking.

Seahlolo: What would fulfil you in your line of work?

LM: I would be delighted to see the issue of Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) being taken seriously in Lesotho through collaboration between the Departments of Health and Livestock Services. It would be a significant achievement to empower Lesotho’s veterinary workforce to contribute to public health.

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