IT is easy to come up with new ideas. However, the hard part is letting go of what worked for you in the past, but which will soon be out of date.
A greater risk, though, is that we live in a much globalised world with permanent change all around in technology, consumer tastes, market competition, input costs and prices etc.
The pace of transformation in agricultural farming has remained subdued for many years in Lesotho.
Although wool production began in the 1850s, it took yet another fifty years before almost all the sheep and most of the goat flock was transformed from traditional meat-producing varieties to the exotic Merino Sheep and Angora goat breeds.
A few years ago, the country’s goat dairy industry was introduced albeit on a small scale. Subsequently, a bunch of camels were shipped as a donation from Libya.
A lot of people questioned the wisdom of importing the camels, saying they belong to the desert and we cannot eat their meat. But here is the truth — camels produce the most nutritious milk ever compared to the rest of the mammals on planet Earth. However, the piecemeal interventions often produce mixed results and make little impact or are hardly noticed.
Thus, the goat dairy industry and perhaps even camel dairy industry did not take off because of disjointed approaches, uncoordinated efforts and lack of prioritisation.
Also, these interventions failed to make an impact because they were not demand-driven.
Nevertheless, establishing a sheep dairy industry makes much economic sense in Lesotho.
Most households are sheep farmers. In addition, many people, especially shepherds, already consume sheep milk.
About three months ago when I found a shepherd milking a sheep, I thought to myself, he must have been too thirsty or lazy to look for water.
But I was wrong; sheep milk is very nutritious and the benefits are unlimited. One cup of sheep’s milk contains 15 grammes of protein compared to a cup of cow and goat milk, containing eight and nine grammes of protein respectively.
Sheep milk is a rich source of calcium; a cup contains 473g of calcium, whereas a cup of cow or goat milk has 276g and 327g, respectively.
One cup of sheep milk contains 7.1g of vitamin C more than goat milk — cow milk does not contain any vitamin C.
In addition, sheep milk is much easier to digest and reduces cholesterol levels in the blood stream and reduces the risk of cancer in people.
Sheep milk can be frozen and stored until a sufficient quantity is available to sell or make cheese. More cheese can be produced from a litre of sheep milk than a litre of goat or cow milk.
There is a significant market for cheese in Lesotho and abroad. It is estimated that the per capita consumption of cheese in South Africa has increased from 1.0 to 1.9 kg per year since 1995.
The per capita consumption in France is 25 kg per year followed by Greece and Germany with 20 kg and the Netherlands with 18 kg. The Australians, English and New Zealanders are on nine kg while the Japanese are on two kg.
Research findings also indicate that there is a growing demand for speciality cheeses.
For example, goat cheese is already being sold at a very profitable price in some retail stores in Maseru. It is also exciting to know that the 2013 SA Dairy Champions were sheep and goat cheese. Thus, the production of cheese offers a good opportunity of diversification for sheep farmers in Lesotho.
Currently, wool and mohair are primary sources of income for households. But wool and mohair prices are volatile and gradually declining. Many people who are allergic to wool and mohair already use alternatives.
Therefore, there is emerging competition from substitute products — synthetic fibres and natural fibres — which will lead to a universal decline in the price of wool and mohair. In addition, there are notable shifts in fashion trends — there is increasing consumer preference for lightweight apparel fabrics.
Income earnings from the production and sale of cheese could bring the necessary stability in farmers’ income. Communities might organise themselves into cooperatives to establish dairy factories which would boost farmers’ income.
Meanwhile, the government should introduce policy interventions to enhance access to credit, and reduce illiteracy levels among rural entrepreneurs through training and extension services.
In addition, the government should enforce rangeland management practices to promote land conservation and prevent land degradation.