A game-changer for farmers

A game-changer for farmers

THE government this week imposed a one-month ban on the import of fresh agricultural produce from South Africa in a sweeping move that has been welcomed by farmers as a game-changer.

Ministry of Small Business Development principal secretary, Tankiso Phapano, says the ban on agricultural imports, which is still in its experimental stage, will be in force for a month.
This will likely give the government an opportunity to assess if Lesotho’s farmers, who have long complained of marginalisation, will be able to supply enough to satisfy local markets.

There is a high likelihood that the new policy could be extended permanently if local farmers come to the party.
Under the new regulations, which came into force on February 1, 2021, it will be illegal to import into Lesotho agricultural produce such as tomatoes, green beans and green peppers.
The idea is to shield local farmers from their South African counterparts who are better resourced.

We perfectly understand the rationale behind the new policy. We also agree in principle with the new policy.
We however have a problem with the timing of the announcement. We are already in the middle of the rainy season and we are sure most farmers would have preferred to be told of this new policy way before the rains fell.

In the absence of such warning, this week’s announcement by the Ministry of Small Business Development, welcome as it is, sends the wrong signal that this was a knee-jerk reaction.
It would have been much better were the farmers told way in advance of the new policy to give them a fair chance to step up their game.

We have always argued that one sure way of rolling back the shocking levels of poverty we see in Lesotho is by re-committing ourselves to till the land on a commercial basis.
We are blessed with great soils and enough water to irrigate our crops. With proper planning, Lesotho can easily transform its fortunes and cut the shocking levels of unemployment.

But for the farmers to succeed, they will need more than our good wishes. They will need ready markets to sell their produce. They will also need access to cheap bank loans.
They will also need massive backing from the government, through affirmative policies such as this one.

We want to see young, Basotho farmers winning big contracts to supply local supermarkets. That is the only way we can empower our young farmers and roll back poverty in Lesotho.
We know these farmers stand no chance in hell if pitted against their much more resourced South African counterparts.

But they have no option but to deliver, otherwise it would be pointless to ban imports only to create massive shortages on the market.
We must learn from the catastrophic decision by the previous government to ban meat imports into Lesotho. We soon experienced massive shortages as local farmers failed to supply enough quality meat.
The lessons are quite clear: our local farmers must step up their game or they will render the government’s brilliant initiative to support them impotent.

Our farmers must reclaim the domestic market.
We also believe that the new policy will ensure that every loti remains in Lesotho. This will help generate wealth in Lesotho.
The days of Lesotho being South Africa’s economic backyard must be over. We must empower our own farmers and allow agriculture to be the engine for economic development.

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