Farmers pile pressure on Thabane

Farmers pile pressure on Thabane

MASERU – PRIME Minister Thomas Thabane’s three-month grace period for wool and mohair farmers to sell their produce wherever they want has been described as a farce by some farmers.

Wool and mohair farmers expressed their anger during a well-attended protest march on Parliament last Friday to force a repeal of the controversial Agricultural Marketing Products Regulations of 2018.

Thabane announced last Wednesday that the government was suspending the regulations for three months so that farmers could sell wherever they want while the government sought answers to problems nagging the industry.
The regulations have effectively cut dealings between local farmers and their preferred South African-based broker, BKB, whom they had worked with for the past four decades before being forced to sell to the Chinese-run Thaba-Bosiu Wool Centre.

The government threatened to punish farmers who dared sell their wool and mohair through any broker other than the Thaba-Bosiu Wool Centre.

However, those who obeyed the government and took their products to the centre since June last year have either not been paid until now or have been paid a pittance. Demanding the repeal of the regulations last week, the angry farmers said Thabane’s three months grace period was a joke.

Spokesman for the Lesotho National Wool and Mohair Growers Association (LNWMGA), Khotsang Moshoeshoe, said this was part of Thabane’s tactics to clear mohair from the sheds as the Chinese buyers, customers of Thaba-Bosiu Wool Centre, are not interested in mohair but wool.

Moshoeshoe said since the wool shearing season only starts in September and there are no bales in the sheds at the moment, “the grace period will end before wool is exported, creating the same bottleneck for farmers”.
“The mohair shearing season in Lesotho begins in April and ends in July, while the wool shearing season begins in mid-August and ends in mid-December,” Moshoeshoe said.

He said Mohair auctions, according to the catalogue, are scheduled for August 13 while the focus will be on wool.
“The auction floor shall close again in May 2020 to resume in August 2020,” he said.

“The three months window period would not be beneficial to us, therefore we are here demanding that the Parliament of Lesotho removes Legal Notice No.65 of 2018 completely as it is not beneficial to Lesotho’s wool and mohair industry,” he said.

Moshoeshoe said “it pains us when the leadership of this country gets exposed that they do not know about the wool and mohair industry”.He suggested that the wool and mohair industry should be incorporated into the school curriculum.

“It might not be a bad idea… to consider making a law that incorporates knowledge of this important sector in the school curriculum from primary to tertiary institutions as the wool and mohair industry is a science and it is very broad,” Moshoeshoe said.

The Chairman of LMWGA, Mokoenehi Thinyane, criticised the government for enacting repressive laws.
“I would like to remind Honourable Members of Parliament that it is because of our taxes that they earn a living and because of our votes that they are in power,” Thinyane said.

“Therefore, they should shy away from enacting laws that oppress the public,” he said.
Farmers gave Parliament a three-week ultimatum to respond or face more protests.

MPs from the opposition and some from the ruling parties who have ditched Thabane joined the march in solidarity.
Among the MPs at the march was Thabana-Morena MP, Selibe Mochoboroane, who is also the Movement for Economic Change (MEC) leader.

Mochoboroane said his party would “support farmers to the end to fight this draconian law”.
He said the regulations have driven Basotho deep into poverty.

Serialong Qoo, the MP for Malingoaneng, said he is also a victim of the Legal Notice No.65 after receiving a pittance for his products.  “All we want today is for the Speaker of Parliament to call the Minister of Small Businesses, Chalane Phori, to go to Government Printers and issue a new gazette repealing the regulations,” Qoo said.
Mosalemane MP, Sam Rapapa, said farmers were struggling to make ends meet.

“Some are yet to receive anything and when they ask the Centre is slow in providing feedback and when it is given it is unclear,” Rapapa said. A farmer from Mochoboroane’s constituency, Secheche Secheche, said his life is no longer the same after the introduction of the regulations.

“Putting food on the table is a struggle, let alone taking care of this livestock,” Secheche said.
“We are hungry. We have turned into beggars because our hard work only benefits the Chinese man,” he said.
Piti Fitisi, a Mokhotlong farmer, said farmers are depressed.

“I don’t know how I am expected to take care of my family with a deficit of over M6 000,” Fitisi said.
He said previously when they were working with BKB their lives had improved greatly.
“We do not even know if the balances will come or not. Nobody is telling us anything, even the ministers who said this system will work are nowhere to be found now,” he said.

’Maqenehelo Letsika, a widow from Mokhotlong, said the wool and mohair revenue has helped her take care of her children, however, since last year, she is struggling to provide for her family. “These people should remove these regulations,” she said. The letter of grievances was received by Clerk of Parliament Fine Maema.

Lemohang Rakotsoane

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