Mr Stephen Monyamane and his team’s chicken business is already producing around 24, 000 chickens a month! Now, that is a huge achievement by Lesotho’s standards but that is not all. Mon-Foods, as the company is called, has an abottoir which already has the capacity to slaughter 27, 000 chickens a day! That is a whopping 600, 000 chickens a month!
If you think that is a too much, wait a minute, “Lesotho imports 90, 000 chickens—or chicken meat equivalent—everyday,” says Mr Monyamane, one of Lesotho’s most inspiring entreprenuers. “Remember, that meat comes from South Africa and as far as Brazil, USA, The Netherlands,” you name it!
“We carefully studied the market and learned about our competitors,” he said. “So our chickens are fresher, you eat them within 24 hrs after being slaughtered and they are 100% chicken, no brine (salty water) is used, as it is often the case with competing chicken brands. That’s why you get the original taste when you eat our chicken.”
The age-old debate on whether entreprenuers are born or made may never be settled.
But a quick sit-down with Mr Stephen Monyane will leave you with a feeling that, at last, here is a born entreprenuer. His vision, his eloquence, his deep understanding of entreprenuership and his ability to get things done, are rarely a possesion of one individual.
Yet you find them all in him!
As we follow the tracks of Mon-Foods from birth to where it is, we discover a familiar story. The road of entreprenuership has a mix of roses and prickles (mehlabuhlabu).
Let’s do it.
First, Mr Monyamane and his team came together as local investors and plotted a revolution.
When they started, they focused on having an abbatoir, where chickens are slaughtered, and they left the work of rearing chickens to small farmers. So they baught an existing building and gave it some facelift.
That sounded like a great idea, someone else would produce, they would slaughter.
That was, “until we realised that it couldn’t work—for two reasons,” he said. “First, small farmers are used to selling their chickens at higher prices per chicken.” That makes sense because it is the only way to justify their small businesses. “However we, being middlemen, had to buy it from them at a lower price and you can imagine who would win if we had indiviuals buyers as competitors.”
Also, sourcing from different farmers with no common production standards invited meat of all kinds with different tastes and textures.
So Mon-Foods had no option but to shut down and go back to the drawing board.
The path forward was obvious. They had to produce their own chicken. But how? They needed yet another investment in housing. In the end, they got to rent an old government poultry building which was nearlly falling apart. They repaired and fixed everything and, thank goodness, they were now producing chickens too!
From August 2019 to January 2020 they went into a pilot, just to test and learn from the business. Then they paused in Febraruy to study the lessons so that they could continue in March. But when March came, oops!
The whole world was thrown into a lockdown and Lesotho went along.
Business went into a life-support everywhere such that in their case, “we even had to lay down our workers by May the same year.” They had no options. Of course things normalised—or something like that— and their hard-faught business roared back to life. But that was not before they had lost some investors and had to invite new ones for more cash injection into the business.
“We had to be frank with new investors,” he said. “Don’t expect profits in the next 5 to 6 years or so. In fact, expect that the whole thing might even collapse anytime due to unforseen circumstances. That is business. If you understand that reality, then you can join.”
A powerful lesson right there.
The nature of our economy, he said, is such that most people want to live off their businesses’ profits almost immediately. The idea of creating value over profits in the short-run is still foreign in our country. “when you are building assets, establishing markets, creating knowledge, building brands, you are creating a huge value even if there are no profits yet.”
In fact that’s how ALL big companies were created. Cap that with proper governance structures and you got a success recipe.
In the end, stars began to align, and they came the a point where they are now producing 24, 000 chickens a month or an average of 6, 000 chickens a week. The business is about to kickstart a hatchery that has a capacity to hold 24, 000 eggs a week!
Mon-foods is also enlisting around 50 landowners in Thaba-Bosiu such that they can develop their land into a farm with four buildings, each building with a capacity to house 65, 000 chickens. The landowners will receive cash and shareholding in exchange.
So, no doubt Man-Foods is creating an agricultural revolution in Lesotho!