Lesotho youth launch largest export project

Mots’elisi Jesseica Sekonyela

Maseru, Lesotho

Lesotho-born Khotso Maphathe, a fine arts photographer, creative director and filmmaker in March 2023 pioneered a five to ten year awareness campaign called “Maipato the faceless wool community”

The 25-year old said this project is aimed at awakening Basotho and giving them a face in the wool and mohair industry  which is the country’s largest export in a bit to eradicate poverty and potentially produce a targeted 30 millionaires in the set time frame.

Khotso Maphathe- Project Manager at his wool and mohair art exhibition

Lesotho is a small, landlocked country in Southern Africa and has the cradle of its economy as its natural resources that include wool and mohair. “The wool and mohair industry is a crucial sector for the economy of our country which relies heavily on agriculture and agro-processing. Wool and mohair account for a significant portion of the country’s agricultural exports,” said Maphathe.

The interest in this particular project was sparked by his virtue of being a visual storyteller. Maphathe describes his artistry as a form of visual communication that educates, raises awareness and inspire freedom of speech. “I felt a desire to do a photo collection showcasing the facelessness of people, which basically means the lack awareness,” he said.

This desire was then followed by a research and consultation with experts on what the Basotho nation seems most oblivious on amongst the natural resources they have. It was amidst the research that Maphathe found wool and mohair to be the perfect fit for his vision.

Models wearing Bonono merchants blankets made of local wool

“The wool and mohair industry dates back to the 1800s during the British colony era. Today, Lesotho is home to approximately 400,000 sheep and 1,3 million goats which produce high-quality wool and mohair that have been a cradle for the nation’s economy over centuries and yet Basotho, especially youth participating in its trade still remain a minority,” he added.

Photo frame made of wood by local craftsman, Jokedone.

The first phase into the Maipato project was the art exhibition that Maphathe hosted in December 2023 where he showcased art pieces inspired by his vision that included sheep and goats photographs and Basotho blankets made by Bonono merchants with wool sourced locally. In these art pieces Maphathe worked with an independent craftsman, Jokedone who made photo frames from wood, Litema and Maluti Studios as well as independent photographers and models.

Following the art exhibition as the second phase of the project, Maphathe started an incubation programme for farmers to receive grooming and guidance from experts for a period of five to ten years where they will be trained on breeding technics that guarantee quality wool and mohair as well as expert guidance on access to markets for farmers independently without using the government as a broker, as this lowers profits significantly.

In ensuring the success of this project, Maphathe has on his team a genetic specialist, agricultural project management specialist, animal nutrition specialist, veterinary doctor and a sheep breeding and farming expert as well as experienced farmers.

Rapelang Mmoso who is one of the expert farmers said he joined this project in November 2023 as a beneficiary of the incubation program as well as an advisor in breeding techniques as well as the industry economics. He said the programme has incubated five farmers to date who are getting expert guidance on breeding techniques that guarantee improved fertility, rapid growth rate, larger carcass yield and fine wool.

“We are currently incubating five farmers under the Maipato project. We hope to reach more farmers in the period of five to ten years as the goal is to produce at least 30 millionaires from this industry,” Maphathe said.

He added that despite citizens’ individual or collaborative efforts to venture into the industry, it will also require the government to reform the wool and mohair regulatory policies that restrict farmers to maximize profits from the trade of wool and mohair.

“Despite its significance to the economy, there are still major challenges facing this industry that include the absence of processing facilities within the country, causing the need for the raw material to be exported to South Africa at low prices where they in turn process it and sell it at much higher prices. This makes it impossible for farmers to acquire notable wealth from the wool and mohair trade,” he said.

The Minister of Agriculture, Food Security and Nutrition Mr. Thabo Mofosi in an interview with the Lesotho News Agency (LeNA) in September 2023 said the state of wool and mohair production in the country is satisfactory.

Hon. Mofosi stated that with the Sheep Start Centre opened in the Quthing district, the country will be able to increase the production of sheep and goats that will be used for the wool and mohair production across the country.

He said the centre is equipped with machinery that will be used to store sperm for livestock artificial insemination for a longer period.

He also mentioned that the ministry is acquiring a nitrogen plant aimed at assisting with the necessary procedures towards the enhanced production of wool and mohair in Lesotho.

The agricultural minister further explained that the Quthing district centre will help save funds used for importing rams and ewes from South Africa.

However, the establishment of raw material processing facilities within the country still remain the biggest cause for concern for the wool and mohair farmers.

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