Wool and mohair farmers caught up in fight

Wool and mohair farmers caught up in fight

MASERU – WHEN two elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers. That has been particularly true for Lesotho’s wool and mohair farmers who find themselves caught up in a fight between two foreign-owned companies over the control of their products.
BKB Limited, a South Africa-based wool and mohair marketer and Maseru Downing Trading (Pty) Ltd, which is owned by an Australian of Chinese origin, are fighting to control Lesotho’s wool and mohair.

The fight led to a temporary freezing of BKB’s bank account held with Standard Lesotho Bank two weeks ago.
The police, who said they were investigating tax evasion, money laundering and the financing of terrorism, had managed to get a court order to shut down BKB’s bank account.

BKB, which has been an agent for Basotho wool and mohair farmers for the past 40 years, was paying the farmers through the account.
After its account was frozen, Lesotho’s farmers could not cash their cheques.
Their association, the Lesotho National Wool and Mohair Growers Association, entered into an agreement with Maseru Downing to sell wool and mohair through it behind BKB’s back.

This led to another setback for the farmers because their exports had to be stopped until further notice.
Farmers told thepost this week that they were hard hit and they do not know or understand what is happening.

Some farmers at Matsieng Shearing Centre say they are only aware that their wool and mohair is not being exported and they do not know why.
The farmers said they do not have full information about why they are not able to export their wool.
They say they were only told that for a while their wool will be stored at the LPMS in Maseru because there was an order to wool exports.

The Chairman of Matsieng Shearing Centre, Teboho Sehlahla, said there were about 276 farmers last year who exported the wool in two groups.
He said the last group of 152 farmers called Marketing Group Matsieng, sheared their sheep on November 24 last year.
“Their wool has not been exported to South Africa up until today,” Sehlahla said.

Sehlahla said they do not have information yet as to why the wool was not exported.
He said as a committee of the shearing centre, they will have a meeting on February 8 to understand what happened.
Sehlahla said they do not know anything about BKB suspending the export of wool.

He said over the years they had worked well with BKB and had since developed a strong bond of friendship with the company.
Sehlahla said they make a living out of the export of wool so if they are stopped from exporting wool, they will suffer as farmers.
He said most of the farmers in Matsieng depend solely on wool exports.

“It is obvious that the farmers will suffer if the exportation of the wool stops,” Sehlahla said. Sehlahla said the 124 farmers in their association last year produced 198 bales of wool. Sehlahla said he does not want to comment on anything involving BKB because he does not have facts.

“All I know is that we have been working well with BKB for 40 years and we hope we will work together forever,” he said.
One of the farmers in the Marketing Group Matsieng, Paseka Malefane, said he has been suffering together with his family because he has not been able to sell his wool.

“Even though I do not receive much money because I do not have enough sheep, I am able to pay for my two children’s school fees,” Malefane said.
Malefane said since it is the beginning of the year he hoped that he would use that money to pay for his children’s school fees.
He said he will look for temporary jobs while waiting for the wool money.

Malefane said for the past 24 years his life has been revolving around selling wool.
He said when it is not the shearing season he would look after other people’s livestock.
Malefane’s wife is unemployed and they have seven children.
“If my wool is not exported I will really suffer,” he said.

The Manager of Qeme Shearing Centre, Phatela Nkopane, said they are not aware that BKB had suspended the exportation of wool and mohair.
Nkopane said they still have a good relationships with BKB.
He said the only problem they encountered was that in January three farmers did not receive their cheques.
“We will surely find a solution,” he said.

Nkopane said they were not affected by the closure of BKB’s account because they will only shear their sheep in September this year.
He said if there are still problems in exporting the wool the country committee will intervene.
Nkopane said their shearing centre has 286 farmers.

He said the farmer who shears most sheep has 300 animals while the least has 15 sheep. He said just last year they produced 114 bales. Small Businesses Development Minister, Chalane Phori, said the dispute arose when the Maseru Downing Trading and Lesotho Wool and Mohair Growers Association had a cooperation agreement but later had some disputes.

“The exports of mohair were put on hold due to the disputes,” Phori said. “Permits for transportation were not awarded to both companies. Lesotho farmers wanted to continue trading with BKB while Maseru Downing wanted to process the mohair locally,” he said.

Phori said six MPs were chosen to form a sub-committee which would investigate the problem and come up with a lasting solution.
Phori was the chairman of the committee. The intervention by Parliament was only stopped after the parties sued each other.

Senate Sekotlo and ‘Makhotso Rakotsoane

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