Anger over new wool rules

Anger over new wool rules

…Farmers accuse Phori of rehashing hostile regulations….

MASERU– FARMERS are bracing for Round Two of their grueling and long-drawn battle with Small Businesses Minister, Chalane Phori.
Phori is on collision course with farmers after he allegedly ignored a parliamentary committee’s recommendation to make drastic changes to the controversial wool and mohair regulations he introduced last year.
The farmers say Phori has just rehashed the contentious 2018 regulations instead of binning them altogether. They say the new regulations are stuffed with the old hostile clauses that make it difficult to sell their wool and mohair.

Even the new clauses, the farmers say, are equally nocuous as they add new bureaucratic layers that only delay the sale of their fibre.
They say Phori’s proposed amendment reinstate the same clauses they have been fighting against for the past year and are a clear indication that Phori has no intentions to change the old rules.
The farmers also say the amendments contradict the recommendations of the parliament’s ad hoc committee on the wool and mohair industry.
The committee recommended that the 2018 regulations be repealed after finding that they were hurting farmers instead of improving their lot as Phori had vehemently insisted when he pushed amid hostile protests from angry farmers.

On Monday, the Lesotho National Wool and Mohair Growers Association (LNWMGA), which represent a majority of the more than 40 000 farmers, wrote to the committee to complain about the new regulations.
The association is particularly concerned that Phori has not changed the clause 6 of the regulations which says a farmer “shall not export wool and mohair unless is prepared, brokered, and traded and auctioned in Lesotho”.

Instead the new regulations repeat that clause word for word.
This is the same clause that has been the source of the fight between the government and the farmers.
“We cannot auction wool in particular, in the country as this process requires brokering under the guidance of an accredited institution not available in the country but the Wool Testing Bureau of South Africa based in Port Elizabeth,” the association says in the letter to the committee’s chairman Kimetso Mathaba.

“Buyers are not prepared to buy contents of bales without proper certification. For this to happen bales have to be transported to Port Elizabeth.”
The testing of the wool goes to the core of the conflict. According to international standards wool and mohair should be tested and certified before being auctioned.
The results of the tests determine the price of the fibre because it assures the buyers that they are getting the right product for their markets and mills.
Without the tests the farmers don’t know if they are being ripped off by the buyers. The buyers too don’t know if they are not paying the right price for the right product.
Lesotho does not have an accredited testing centre.

The Wool Testing Bureau of South Africa can only issue a testing certificate if it is involved in the collection of samples for its lab. The testing bureau is however only prepared to collect those samples if the fibre is in Port Elizabeth, not Lesotho. Their argument is that it is uneconomical for them to travel all the way to Lesotho to test 40 000 bales. They test hundreds of thousands of bales at the laboratory in Port Elizabeth.
The farmers say without testing certificates their fibre will only be bought on the black market where the prices are significantly lower than on the auctions.
This has been their major gripe with Stone Shi who government granted a monopoly to sell Lesotho’s wool on the international market.

Shi did not have testing certificates and could not take the fibre to the auctions, so he approached buyers from China who bought the fibre in private transactions.
Until now farmers don’t know who bought their wool and at what prices.
Shi has failed to give details of the tests he claims were conducted in New Zealand.
He is also yet to reveal his buyers in China.

The farmers say the same clause forces them to sell their wool in Lesotho when the ad hoc committee recommended that regulations “should be repealed with immediate effect in other to allow Basotho farmers to sell their product at the institutions or places of their choice”.
The farmers are also worried that the new regulations come with additional conditions that make it difficult for farmers to trade their fibre.
For instance, the new regulations say individual farmers shall apply for an export permit before their fibre is brokered, auctioned and traded in Lesotho.
The association sees this as an attempt to saddle the farmers with more paperwork.

They say it is not feasible for each of the more than 40 000 farmers to apply for a permit. Some of the farmers produce a few kilograms and have always relied on the association to consolidate their whole to reduce marketing, administration and transport costs. “Over the years we have demonstrated that it pays to market as an association and the resultant construction of woolshed and marketing as a body has proven us right,” the association says.

Phori’s new regulations also say permit applications from those who want to export as a group should include bale transport forms, consent forms and identity documents of all farmers.  This, the association says, will “cause delay and bureaucracy to move the bales out of the country”.

“The LNWMGA has the expertise to carry (out) this process as they have done before”.
The association says while waiting for the new regulations to be approved they are running out of space to keep their wool and mohair because bales have been piling up in the shearing sheds.
It says unless they start exporting the fibre farmers will not get paid by Christmas to feed their families, send children to school, deal with the impending food shortages and revive the collapsed rural economy.

Staff Reporter

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