By:Thoboloko Ntšonyane

MOHALE’S HOEK – Bethel Business and Community Development Centre (BBCDC) stands in the country as a blueprint for sustainability and rural development.

This permaculture center nestled in Phamong, Mohale’s Hoek, is not only advancing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) but also revolutionizing clean energy and sustainable business practices.

The BBCDC, which is a totally off-grid enterprise, combines innovative solar cooking and biogas production with earthship construction to create a resilient, sustainable community within Phamong.

The school was designed following a permaculture system – one of its principles is to store energy for later use.

“One of the principles is also to basically use renewable resources to create value so solar is one of those components that we are using in this permaculture system that we apply here,” says the founder of this institution’s daughter, Thung-Thung Yaholnitsky.

The philosophy behind this practice, she says, is in harmony with nature rather than against nature.

The European Union (EU) Lesotho last week organized a tour to BBCDC to learn about this place, the campus and how it harnesses renewable energy to conduct its day to day business.

The institute teaches young men and women general engineering skills, manual capabilities, applied sciences and leadership capabilities to address both rural and urban areas’ growing development needs.

This is done through different skills and competencies ranging from financial, self-sustainability, and responsible environmental management.

They offer modules ranging from solar technology, construction, metal work, wood work, travel and tourism, food science, business and Information Technology (IT), and environmental sciences.

The center obtains most of its energy from solar energy for heating, cooking, space heating, greenhouse structures, and lighting.

They use the PV system to also operate students’ equipment such as welding equipment, water pumping, irrigation and appliances of offices and houses within the campus.

To run the biogas system, they use wind turbines.

BBCDC Solar Technology instructor ‘Malitha Mochochoko says they harness solar power for cooking and drying fruits with equipment they have ingeniously manufactured.

The member of the NUL-ERC, Maruti Kao, says research shows that Lesotho enjoys at least in a year, about 300 days of sunlight.

To harness this they have solar cookers to cook and bake. They also have solar crop dryers to dry fruits and vegetables for preservation.

The center produces the biogas from students’ toilet waste – they not only manage waste sustainably but also provide a reliable energy source.

To also ensure sustainability, BBCDC employs the integration of earthship technology for sustainability, and to showcase their innovations.

They have a hall constructed through tyres which absorbs the heat for winter and becomes cool in summer. This hall is rented to the community and also used for teaching purposes.

Not only has the center forged clean energy partnerships with both local and international universities, they have distinguished themselves as a resilient, sustainable community proving that off-grid living can be both practical and impactful.

Serving as both an educational hub and a business, the center collaborates with local and international institutions to drive research in clean energy solutions.

The Low-Carbon Economy Transformation through Sustainable Energy Modernization and Access – Lesotho, (LETSEMA) is a joint project between the National University of Lesotho (NUL), BBCDC and the University of Turku in Finland – and is co-funded by the EU through its programme, Erasmus.

This project aspires to strengthen and promote sustainable energy practices in Lesotho through developing training facilities, forging international, national and regional partnerships.

The EU Delegation of Lesotho’s Head of Cooperation Mario Guiseppe Varrenti says the promotion of renewable energy and energy efficiency are at the heart of cooperation between Lesotho and the EU citing that in 2023, the EU unveiled the Renewable Lesotho programme aligned to SDG goal 7 which is about clean and affordable energy.

He says with collaboration between research and vocational institutions,  they believe that transition to renewable energy can create jobs and skills especially for young people in Lesotho and across the world saying that the LETSEMA initiative was born out of this idea.

Varrenti adds: “That is what inspired us to support this initiative that comes as a collaboration between four players… So these players are collaborating to upgrade and expand, the courses in renewable energy and energy efficiencies that are offered by these institutes to also upgrade the laboratories, for more practical training for those students enrolled in these programmes. There are also exchanges between the four institutes.

“The objective is to have a long-standing impact by upgrading amazing work that has already been done in order to train and equip those enrolled in these courses with the skills needed to work and accompany the energy transition.”