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Meet ‘Mampho Thulo: Lesotho’s Matron of Rural Farming

8 March 2024 by Pascalinah Kabi

 Est Read Time: 5 min(s) 57 sec(s)

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Mampho Thulo’s unwavering commitment spans nearly three decades of service to rural farmers in Lesotho. Credit: RSDA Facebook Page.

In the quiet afternoon hours, when the sun hung high and shadows stretched across the land, ‘Mampho Thulo’s world was intrigued by an unfamiliar and unnerving sight.

A procession of men cloaked in grey blankets approached in groups, casting a sense of foreboding over her heart. With a weighty purpose looming in the air—discussion of land use— the 22-year-old Thulo felt the urge to flee, to escape the overwhelming tide of uncertainty.

“The chief told me, these are the people who have come to listen to you,” Thulo, now aged 60, recounted.

As if guided by divine intervention, Thulo found herself rooted in place, bolstered by a grace beyond her own.

With trembling resolve, Thulo stepped forward to address the gathering at Popa in Mokhotlong, her voice a beacon of determination cutting through the tension.

As the day wore on and the sun dipped low on the horizon, Thulo returned to her workplace, her mind swirling with the events of the field trip.

Colleagues eagerly sought news of her endeavours, yet all she could offer was a simple phrase.

“I spoke,” Thulo recounted to Uncensored News on March 5, 2024, just two days prior to International Women’s Day. International Women’s Day serves as a global platform to honour and celebrate the myriad accomplishments of women across social, economic, cultural, and political spheres.

At the heart of this commemoration stands Thulo, Director of the Rural Self-Help Development Association (RSDA).

Thulo is a resilient figure who has dedicated nearly three decades of her life to the noble cause championed by the Rural Self-Help Development Association in Lesotho.

RSDA’s unwavering commitment lies in eradicating extreme hunger and elevating the livelihoods of rural Basotho through sustainable agricultural initiatives.

Thulo’s journey intertwines with RSDA’s mission, where she tirelessly works to uplift smallholder farmers, empowering them to unify, advocate for their rights, and attain economic independence.

As a cornerstone of agricultural advisory services, RSDA equips farmers with strategic guidance, fosters capacity building, and advocates for the adoption of sustainable, climate-smart agricultural practices. Furthermore, the organization facilitates value addition and facilitates the marketing of farmers’ produce, ensuring their rightful place in the market.

A glimpse into Thulo’s remarkable journey

Thulo embodies grace and resilience, her smooth melanin skin radiating warmth under the gentle glow of office lights.

Dark, short haircut frames her face, accentuating the brightness of her white teeth as she offers a serene, yet compelling smile. With a soft voice that carries a quiet strength, she commands attention effortlessly.

“I am ‘Mampho Thulo,” she begins with a smile, “and I am honoured to be part of the esteemed Thulo family as a daughter-in-law. Our roots trace back to Qhalasi, Mohale’s Hoek but we established our cherished home in Lithabaneng. I hail from Mokhotlong and I identify as a proud Phamola.”

Thulo’s educational odyssey commenced in Mokhotlong, where she laid the foundation of her academic journey at St. Peter’s Primary School, followed by pivotal years at St. James High School.

Her quest for knowledge led her to Maseru, where she soared skyward with Lesotho Airways, enrolling at Mabathoana High School to further her studies. This pivotal chapter set the stage for her future aspirations.

Upon completing her Form E at Mabathoana High School, Thulo embarked on a new chapter, pursuing a degree in environmental sciences at the National University of Lesotho.

Despite her prowess in mathematics, she encountered challenges in social sciences, grappling with the abstract concepts of development that differed from the concrete solutions of arithmetic.

“I faced numerous challenges but eventually mastered the course,” Thulo said.

In 1986, Thulo and her peers graduated from the National University of Lesotho, only to enter a job market stifled by Lesotho’s military administration’s moratorium on absorbing new recruits into the civil service.

Undeterred by the constraints, Thulo embarked on a journey of resilience and adaptability. Initially, she secured a teaching position at Pitseng High School in Leribe, where she honed her skills in education.

However, driven by her passion for her field of study, Thulo transitioned to a role more aligned with her expertise, joining the Department of Land Planning Use under the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security, where she applied her knowledge to serve her community.

Reflecting on her time in land use planning, Thulo recalls the importance of assisting communities in optimizing their land resources for sustainable development.

Despite the fulfilment derived from her work, she laments the dissolution of the land use planning department from government structures, a loss felt deeply by those dedicated to environmental stewardship.

“The places I worked in Mokhotlong still hold their beauty today. Whenever I pass by, I admire the presence of forests, some healthy rangelands, and reminisce about my role in these projects. This job taught me to work closely with farmers, and I developed a deep affection for them,” she explained.

Cultivating the earth: A divine gift of farming

In partnership with Slow Food Lesotho, RSDA is assisting rural farmers in packaging their produce for the consumer market. Credit: RSDA Facebook Page.

Having honed her skills working with rural communities across the country, Thulo sought a position where she could dedicate her life to finding organic solutions for rural farmers in Lesotho.

“In 1995, I applied for a position at RSDA, where I faced the RSDA board, composed of grey-haired women who wrapped their waists in shawls. They probed me, “Are you sure you can help these farmers, MaThulo?”

“At that moment, I found myself questioning the unconventional setting of job interviews conducted by elders. However, fuelled by a steadfast belief in the necessity of unwavering support for farmers, I made the decision to commit to RSDA.

“Since then, I have remained dedicated to the cause, driven by the conviction that farmers deserve relentless advocacy and assistance until we achieve tangible progress. Even though the journey ahead is shortening, I remain steadfast in my commitment to RSDA,” Thulo explained.dre

She added: “The beauty of working here at RSDA lies in our ability to innovate. As we encounter challenges, we continually develop new solutions to best assist farmers.”

Established with support from German Agro Action, Thulo explained that the Germans laid the foundation for RSDA, instilling a culture of hard work that continues to be upheld by RSDA staff today.

Among RSDA’s esteemed supporters, Denmark Lesotho Network shines as a steadfast ally. Thulo elaborated that Denmark provides RSDA with the freedom to operate autonomously, nurturing a relationship grounded in mutual respect and trust.

“They provide us with the necessary space to address the challenges as we face them. This funding model has enabled us to implement projects and provide solutions as we go along, and this truly benefit Basotho,” Thulo said.

Reaching more farmers through WhatsApp

In the remote district of Mohale’s Hoek lies the secluded village of Ramosothoane. Accessing Mohale’s Hoek town from Ramosothoane presents a unique challenge: villagers must embark on an extensive journey.

With no direct public transport available, the route involves traveling through Semonkong, Maseru, and Mafeteng before finally reaching Mohale’s Hoek.

For some, the journey entails traveling by horseback to Ketane, where they leave their horses behind before continuing their journey by car to Mohale’s Hoek.

This challenging and essential journey underscores the isolation and remoteness experienced by many rural farmers in Lesotho, highlighting the difficulty of providing much-needed information to those in need.

Amidst the havoc wreaked by climate change across Africa, timely access to information on adaptability becomes crucial for survival.

“More than five years ago, RSDA donated smartphones to District Farmers Forums, a collaborative effort among farmers focused on food production for market purposes,” Thulo explained.

She added: “The introduction of smartphones facilitated the creation of WhatsApp groups, with each district having its own group administered by a designated leader. Additionally, there’s a separate WhatsApp group connecting leaders from all districts.”

Thulo elaborated on how these WhatsApp groups function as efficient channels, likening them to cluster bombs that disseminate information to thousands of farmers within minutes.

“If we post in a Botha-Bothe group,” she explained, “members share the information with their resource groups and associations, ensuring rapid dissemination to a broader audience. Each group typically comprises between 100 and 200 members, allowing for swift feedback.”

She underscored how these groups foster camaraderie among rural farmers by facilitating networking and information-sharing. “This strengthens friendships and connections,” she emphasized.

Thulo highlighted the significance of these platforms in reaching farmers in remote areas where road access is limited. “Just last week,” she shared, “farmers from Ramosothoane joined the WhatsApp group, and that brought me immense joy.”

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