Enterprising Spirit in Lesotho
I met Tiisetso Ivy Sefatsane in Lesotho recently when she was introduced to me by the Irish Consul Mrs. Mannete Ramaili.
Tiisetso was born in the village of Ramohapi in Botha-Bothe district of Makhoakhoeng in Lesotho. She lived on the outskirts of the village in Abia with her mother and two sisters. Her father separated from her mother when the family were quite young, so this has always been an ‘all girl’ family for her.
Her mother, Ketseletso Sefatsane, is a hard-working woman who worked in a petrol station and educated her daughters. Her mother endured a lot of hardship to make sure that all three daughters went to university.
Tiisetso’s older sister, Khahliso, is a marketing graduate. Her younger sister, Maseabata, studied Business Management and is currently completing a degree in Entrepreneurship.
Tiisetso went to St. Charles Primary and then St Charles High School. She wanted to study accountancy but got a pass in English which was not enough – she needed a credit. Around this time, in 2008, Limkokwing University opened in Maseru, the capital city. Tiisetso decided to apply for one of the new courses they were offering. Her sister advised her to study tourism which she did. “Limkokwing University changed my mindset” she said. “The university doesn’t train you to be an employee. When I graduated, I wanted to be an employer”.
She graduated in 2012 with an Honours Degree and took a job with a travel agency. It did not work out well. She worked there for three months but had great difficulty getting paid. As a result, she says, “my clothes were getting old and torn and I was begging money from my mother”.
She had supported herself plaiting hair throughout her time in college. Now, in paid employment, she found that she was getting poorer each week. She resigned her position and began to plan her next project.
She initially went back to plaiting hair to raise funds: “I have quite a talent for plaiting heads which I realised at eleven years old” she says. “I took my contact list of clients and told them: I’m back”. Her price was more competitive than the salons, and she offered to come to client’s homes and plait their hair when it suited them. Clients paid her and covered her travel expenses. Over a five-month period, from February to June, she raised 25,000 South African Rand which was enough money for her to buy a plastic tunnel for growing vegetables.
Two colleagues, Mr. Lebentlete and Mr. Konstable, helped her to erect the tunnel, trained her in growing seedlings and gave her contacts for suppliers. Initially she grew only spinach. “It was easy to manage” she says “I could irrigate them in the morning and do other things during the day”. She sold to local vegetable shops.
Soon, she had raised enough money to buy seedling trays. “This is much harder work” she says ”Seedlings take six weeks to mature and you have to plant new seedlings every week so that you have a constant supply”. She now employs two women and grows green peppers, chillies, okra, lettuce, eggplant and tomatoes to mention a few when the weather is hot (spring and summer): cabbage, spinach and lettuce when the weather is cooler (autumn and winter).
Her entrepreneurial spirit was recognised recently when she won the national “Appreciation Woman Award in Agriculture”. She did not know that she was short-listed until she got a call telling her that she was in the final top ten. “I’m making a lot of effort for my country. I didn’t realise they were watching what I do. They believe in me. I’m really changing the economy of the country. I feel I have to do more” she says.
She currently sells to farmers and retailers. She is a sole trader and she is doing well – but she is ready to move on.
She has applied to study a master’s degree in Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security at the NUI in Ireland. A former lecturer texted her with details of this sponsorship and she jumped at the opportunity to apply. She sees this as a logical extension of her business.
“You can see the climate change in Lesotho” she says. “it used to rain from September to May. Then in winter (April to August) the temperature would change. That doesn’t happen anymore. Now, it’s cold until December. Temperatures are 25 – 35 degrees in summer. There is no rain. Farmers don’t grow vegetables a lot anymore. They need to know what to do when it is very hot. I will be able to advise farmers and clients. We need to be able to analyse climate change so that we can grow enough food and sustain agriculture in the country” she adds. “Climate change affects the germination of plants. We need to know how to grow crops with very little water”
She wants to return to Lesotho and offer advice and consultancy to farmers, private clients and the agricultural industry in general.
She has big plans for the future. Her vision for 2020 is that she will trade as a company, not as a sole trader. She will offer shares in her business. She has no debt. Investors are needed for infrastructure. She will sell less that 50% interest in the business so that the decision making will always be hers.
The land that she owns in Makhoakhoeng will still be used to grow vegetables, but she will be based in the capital Maseru. She will employ more people and use the land to produce many varieties of flowers, vegetables, trees and pulses. She would like to begin exporting, especially shrubs.
The land could also be developed for tourism activities like abseiling, rock climbing, quad biking, mountain climbing and horse riding around the river.
She is not sure if she would like to marry, and definitely does not see herself doing this until she has achieved much more. “I’ve seen so many people who got married before they established their business. With a husband you have to share, and a husband has the right to say no. If your husband says no, you have to stop. It’s all about respecting your husband. You cannot do something without your husbands’ permission” she adds.
Tiisetso is a woman of limitless vision, amazing energy and boundless enthusiasm. She has only begun to make an impact on her country. I, for one, will be following her progress with great interest.