Riverside Fresh Farm Produce, the pride of Lesotho
Riverside Fresh Farm Produce, a farming enterprise in Hlotse, Leribe district in Lesotho, is living proof that agriculture is the fundamental source of national prosperity as it contributes significantly to the nation’s gross domestic product through pig breeding and egg production.
“Agriculture is our wisest pursuit, because it will in the end contribute most to real wealth, good morals and happiness” the former US President Thomas Jefferson once said. And Riverside Fresh Farm Produce is doing just that!
Situated at Khanyane, Ha Mokotane village, the farm was founded in November 2013 by its current Managing Director Raphael Khoeli. As one drives to the farm, they are greeted by huge silos that store the chicken feed and the larger-than-life pigsties and chicken grow-out houses. The highly organised farm will make one believe that this commercial enterprise is owned by a white farmer from South Africa, but nope…it is one of our own!
Initially, the business started as the sole proprietorship with only one boar and one sow, kept for piggery production but in 2014 Khoeli realised that the business was growing, therefore he changed the operations from being a sole proprietorship to a limited company and diversified from piggery to egg production.
Initially, he invested M150 000 from his savings to finance the purchase of 2 800 point of lay birds for egg production. The current layers stock has grown to over 25 000 and Riverside Farm makes between M600 000 and M700 000 from eggs monthly.
The farm buys birds that are at a point of lay from different producers and they normally take about seven days before they can start producing eggs. The eggs are then collected, cleaned, sorted, graded and finally branded for competitiveness on the market. The farm sells eggs to individuals and supermarkets in Leribe district as well as within Mokhotlong and Thaba Tseka districts.
When Khoeli conducted research about the possibility of Riverside Fresh Farm Produce to penetrate the egg market, he soon realized that due to weather conditions, Mokhotlong and Thaba Tseka districts had low level of egg production, hence an obvious opportunity was realised and began to supply to markets in the two districts thereafter.
As a result, the Riverside-branded eggs gained popularity on the shelves of many retail business in Thaba-Tseka and Mokhotlong district because of their freshness.
The farm also breeds pigs on a large scale. To maintain one of its aims – that of sustainability through agricultural projects. With this in mind, Riverside Fresh Farm Produce has reared 150 pigs for pork production as well as live pig sales. The meat is sold to local butcheries, supermarkets and individuals. Live pigs are sold in the form of piglets for rearing purposes whilst the mature ones are for meat.
Despite the business blooming, Khoeli said Riverside Fresh Farm Produce still encountered some challenges, just like every other business. Among others, he said, was that the farm was still growing and it struggled a lot on measures of expansion.
“The initial production from the birds did not meet the high demand of eggs on the market. Business expansion itself was quite the barrier since it is capital intensive and the available capital was limited. Availability of point of lay birds was quite a challenge initially because we had to import parent stock from South Africa. This led to fluctuation in egg production and stock since we sometimes went for up to three months without stock – something that affects egg production negatively,” he said.
Market penetration was also not easy since the farm faced competition from small producers. This affected their method of pricing since small holder farmers sell at low prices so as to clear their stock. The pricing problem is also affected by the presence of foreign-owned supermarkets who tend to import their own eggs from South Africa and had an unfair advantage to their business. And lastly, he said, Riverside just like any other farm, would also become a victim of pandemic animal diseases time and again, which definitely affected production.
“As means of mitigating those challenges,” Khoeli said, “Riverside Fresh Farm Produce tried to source different suppliers of parent stock. This was done mainly to avoid going for months without birds for egg production. The farm also increased number of birds at the farm from 2 800 to 25 000 to meet the daily demand of eggs on the market.”
The farm management has also enaged with government and other stakeholders to strengthen trade laws that can protect local farmers from international competition.
In addition, the farm has secured funding from the Smallholder Agricultural Development Project (SADP) funded by International Funding for Agricultural Development (IFAD) through Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security (MAFS). The SADP funds were used to acquire the branding machine. The machine assists farm with sorting and grading of the eggs.
Riverside managed to secure funding from SADP as one of the conditions was that the farmer should have already started in any type of production. SADP calls for proposals where farmers would pitch their ideas, and the most feasible idea can be selected for funding. Khoeli said apart from the SADP financial injection, riverside management have ploughed back profits they made over the years back into the business.
Today Riverside Fresh Farm Produce is what it is because of the dedication and love of farming that Khoeli and his entire have – and the results are all there to see.
“Agriculture is a noble career that requires a passion-driven farmer to get involved in,” Khoeli remarks with big smile.
To make tis happen, Khoeli ensures that he monitors every activity at the farm and put the right people in place. To drive the company where it is today, Riverside initially employed two employees, one for piggery and the other for the poultry sector.
Today, the farm employs 25 Basotho nationals on ta full-time basis. The company has not yet employed skilled and academically trained labour but it is the fervent hope and wish of the managing director that the farm will one day off load the burden on Lesotho government and employ skilled graduates from agricultural training institutions. However, on-the-job training is provided.
Khoeli also offers a piece of advice to farmers who are in line with what Riverside Fresh Farm Produce is doing and this is what he has to say:
“Agriculture is not just another blurry career, one that would be looked at as a ‘dirty man’s job’. To succeed in this kind of business, one needs to employ all they have in it, be it emotions, finances and physical effort. Farming does not come as an overnight success.
“One has to prepare for natural calamities that might blow off the hard work of the farmer, but in the end, a passionate farmer will conquers and overcome all travesties. To that farmer who wants to venture into commercial agriculture, you will never feel the misses and hits of this noble career until you physically get involved in it.
“Yes you can live the life of your dreams with agriculture. Treat your farm like any other business; keep the records and do all that ever you think any other different company would do. Agriculture does not only give riches to the nation, but the only riches that she can call her own.”