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Top soldier waging war against hunger

by Lesotho Times


His future in the Lesotho Defence Force might not be certain, but the same cannot be said of Lieutenant General Maaparankoe Mahao’s thriving farming enterprise in Mokema.   

Keiso Mohloboli

1Far from the madding crowd of scheming politicians and gun-slinging colleagues, Lieutenant General Maaparankoe Mahao looks anything but the vicious Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) Commander who had to be exiled from his homeland for more than three months to ensure peace prevailed in the run-up to the kingdom’s 28 February 2015 parliamentary elections.

Lt Gen Mahao speaks of a simple life among his neighbours in Mokema, and how he would tend his father’s livestock as a youngster and live off the land the way his very own ancestors had done until the advent of colonial rule.

He would later obtain a Bachelor of Laws degree from the National University of Lesotho (NUL), and more qualifications both at home and abroad, culminating in his employment with the LDF in November 1996.

An avid taekwondo practitioner, Lt Gen Mahao (47), reflects on his early years in the LDF and his elevation to Commander in August 2014—a promotion which was part of a chain of events which not only prompted a general election two years early but also brought Lesotho to the brink of civil war.

Suddenly, Lt Gen Mahao found himself at odds with some of his colleagues in the LDF due to the promotion, while politicians also used the acrimony to further their own selfish interests.

IMG_20150407_140242After a Southern African Development Community (SADC)-brokered deal resulted in his departure from Lesotho last November alongside his nemesis, Lt Gen Tlali Kamoli and Lesotho Mounted Police Service Commissioner Khothatso Tšooana, to allow for peaceful polls and the restoration of cordial relations between the police and army, Lt Gen Mahao and his fellow security chiefs returned from their leave of absence last week.

While he has not been officially informed of his future role in the LDF since there is now a new government in power, which allegedly has its own candidate for the LDF command, Lt Gen Mahao appears to be thriving in his newfound ‘freedom’ as he has returned to his roots in Mokema to pursue agriculture—his “obsession” from the time he realised the “real” value of land when still a very young boy tending his parents’ livestock.

Alongside his wife, and three sons, Lt Gen Mahao has since embarked on a commercial agricultural enterprise at Seasonal Harvest Farm, which is about 34 kilometres from Maseru.

With immense support from his community and the chief of Mokema Ha Lebakae, the LDF commander is now running a promising, if not already flourishing mixed-agriculture initiative. With its slogan ‘Farming is the way to go’, Lt Gen Mahao looks content as he surveys the bags of potatoes, sorghum, maize,  and livestock feed ready for the market, as well as his impressive chicken and rabbit projects.

Farming implements in the shed confirm an operation that could indeed, translate into the serious agribusiness Lt Gen Mahao says he wishes to have established by 2017.

“I can’t imagine life without farming, as it is not a hobby to me but an obsession,” Lt Gen Mahao said as he took the Lesotho Times crew on a tour of his farm measuring close to 15 acres.

“I was born here in Mokema and grew up herding my parents’ livestock. I was initially tempted to invest in real estate, and buy houses to rent out, but my obsession with farming got the better of me, and I decided to invest here among my people.

“So in 2006, I started farming maize, sunflower and sorghum on 10 acres of this land and would sell the produce to people around Ha Lebakae and Koalabata, where I am currently staying with my family.

“However, last year, I decided to go large-scale and expand the market, and also started producing livestock feed, for my own use because now I have a piggery project, in which I focus on breeding and pork production. I am also into poultry production, and sell eggs to my local community as well as businesses. I collect plus or minus 600 eggs a day, and I intend to expand the project. But to minimise costs, I have to engage in livestock-feed production, and I am also into potato-farming.

“As for the cattle business, I am just starting but intend to make it big by the target date of 2017. I also have rabbits and traditional chickens, and will soon be establishing a bee-keeping project as I am also hoping to go into honey-production big time,” he said.

Lt Gen Mahao said during his suspension from the LDF last year while he faced a court martial for “behaving in a manner unbecoming of an army officer”, he planted 200 peach trees as he expanded his enterprise.

“The bottom line is I would want this farm to be productive all-year-round, be it in summer or winter.”

To enhance his business, Lt Gen Mahao said he purchased ploughing, pesticide-spraying, harvesting, milling, and packaging  machinery.

“I just wanted to make my farming easier when I bought this farming equipment, but now I am also letting it to my fellow villagers around Mokema and also in Roma,” he added.

Reiterating his ambition to become a “very serious commercial farmer”, Lt Gen Mahao said: “Actually, I want this farm to turn into a very serious agroindustry where I would be producing virtually everything at a very large scale.

“Everything should be happening here; the farming, packaging, everything.

“Right now, I have four fulltime employees, and also have many seasonal workers, which I believe is helping alleviate poverty in my community.

“But like I said, I have big plans for this place, and luckily, I was blessed to have a wife who has also taken to farming so much that even when I am not around, like when I was in exile recently, she was taking care of everything.”

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