He is the co-founder of The Entrepreneurship Network (TEN) which hosts the monthly pitching program The Hookup Dinner (THUD) and the annual Entrepreneurship Expo. Mr. Monyamane (SM) is a 2016 Mandela Washington Fellow who attended the Business and Entrepreneurship Institute at Virginia Commonwealth University. He has also served as a Director on various boards such as the Council of Lerotholi Polytechnic and the Lesotho National Development Corporation (LNDC) representing the Lesotho Chamber of Commerce where he is a member. In this thought-provoking interview with Advocate Mothepa Ndumo (MN), Mr. Monyamane discusses issues on indigenizing poultry farming and production.
MN: You established Mon Foods a few years ago and are known as a champion of sustainable value chains; in what ways does Mon Foods connect to the drive to build sustainable value chains in our economy?
SM: In 2016 we developed The Entrepreneurship Network and began hosting the annual Entrepreneurship Expo. The Expo has been an opportunity for us as Basotho entrepreneurs to exhibit our products and services and to have meaningful conversations and sharing of ideas around entrepreneurship development.
One of the themes for a past Expo was, “Building Sustainable Value Chains” in which we invited stakeholders in the entrepreneurship ecosystem to talk about how we can localize key industries in Lesotho and ensure that we build these industries in such a way that they are profitable through different stages, that they benefit our society and that they are environmentally sustainable. Coincidentally, I came across the opportunity to get into the poultry business following this particular Entrepreneurship Expo, which shows the value of entrepreneurs participating in these discussions.
As soon as I learned about the opportunity that lies in the poultry industry, I decided that it was a risk worth taking. Just for context, in 2019 Lesotho imported USD 30 million worth of poultry (trade. nosis.com), which is more than 17 thousand tonnes of poultry annually from South Africa, with an estimated average annual growth rate of 9.13%. This means that there is ample opportunity for local enterprises to compete with South African companies for the local poultry market, and in doing so we can create jobs, develop skills and expertise and contribute to the fiscus of the country.
Our initial plan going into the business was to purchase a poultry abattoir, which we did, and then to source poultry from local farmers for slaughtering and take them to the market. This approach posed the challenge that local farmers were not consistent in bringing their poultry for slaughtering, we would fire up the boiler and wait for local farmers to honor their appointments to slaughter poultry and they just wouldn’t show up.
The second challenge was that the quality of poultry produced by each farmer would be different, which meant we wouldn’t be able to help the farmers sell the poultry to large retailers, such as Pick ‘n Pay and Shoprite, as the poultry would not meet quality standards. Thirdly, when produced in low quantities, the cost of production becomes quite steep for farmers and they are therefore unwilling to sell at the lower prices required by large retailers.
Therefore, it became clear to us very quickly that this model would not be sustainable. We, therefore, sought to venture into the production of poultry, as well, to have more control of the production process to ensure adherence to quality standards and to control the cost of production, which has given us the potential of securing a more reliable market. We currently source our chicks from South Africa, and therefore there is still a need to ensure that egg and chick production is done in Lesotho and that we can access chicks at a sustainable price. In doing so, we will have succeeded in developing the whole value chain and ensuring that we can compete fiercely with South African companies.
MN: What are the driving vision and mission behind Mon Foods and the poultry business and what challenges have you encountered in your journey thus far? How have you solved those challenges?
SM: The vision and mission are to ensure that Lesotho is food secure, that we create employment for Basotho, that we develop the skills that can be used in the furtherance of Lesotho’s growth through agriculture, that we reduce reliance on South African imports and that we achieve economic growth. The whole purpose of ensuring that key industries are in the hands of Basotho people is to see this objective achieved. Since embarking on this journey in 2018, the challenges have been immense.
The biggest challenge has been that the business is a capital and cash-flow intensive business, which has required a lot of engagement with Basotho people to seek investment. We have also realized that our banks are quite reluctant to take on the risk required to fund such a business and therefore have had to source our funding elsewhere. We are proud that so far, our investors are 100% Basotho, which shows our ability to rally together for a common purpose.
Another challenge is that the government still does not have a structured way of supporting businesses like ours in the agricultural sector, especially at this scale, therefore we are developing things as we go along. We hope to see more intentional support from the government to see that this venture succeeds.