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Rose Moremoholo

MASERU – FARMERS can brace themselves for a bumper harvest after the Lesotho Meteorological Services (LMS) forecast a 75 percent chance of rain for October, November and December.

Experts who spoke at a Climate Change Forum last Friday there is a 40 percent chance of normal rainfall in Lesotho in the coming season with a 35 percent chance of above normal rainfall this year.

The chances of having below normal rainfall stand at 25 percent.

“We want to know if you can suggest that we go to the fields and sow with such percentages,” Chaka Ntsane, the chairman of Lesotho Potatoes Association, said.

It was further revealed that the country is likely to face a weak La Nina with a 0.5 percent chance.

El Niño and La Niña are opposite phases of what is known as the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) cycle.

The ENSO cycle is a scientific term that describes the fluctuations in temperature between the ocean and atmosphere in the east-central Equatorial Pacific (approximately between the International Date Line and 120 degrees West).

With memories of last year’s devastating drought still fresh in their minds, farmers were not sure what the weather has in stock for them this year.

When Minister of Energy, Selibe Mochoboroane, announced that the country would face El Nino weather pattern last year some farmers feared for the worst and did not bother to go to the fields during the summer cropping season.

Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili declared a state of emergency in December last year after many farmers failed to harvest from their fields. Mosisili requested development partners to assist Lesotho during the hard times.

But this week, the farmers were excited when they were told that there is a chance of good harvest because the rains were anticipated in this farming year.

“75 percent is a good risk to take, we say to fellow farmers let us go ahead and plough our lands. All we came here for is to be told that this year is promising as compared to last year,” Ntsane said.

However, Mokoena France, the Principal Meteorologist at the LMS, said they could not with certainty predict what was going to happen because climatology only works on probability and does not give assurance of when the rains will come.

“It is very difficult to boldly say go and cultivate your land because as much as the percentages of having rainfall are higher than not having rainfall at all it is not known to us when the rains will fall,” France said.

“It might fall in December when it is not the time to plant what had to be planted at the beginning of the season or they might fall in November.”

France said the challenge of taking up the risk solemnly lies on the farmers.

Farmers however vowed to take the risk this year.

Meanwhile, Molahlehi Lebone, the Director of Crops in the Ministry of Agriculture, said even though some people advised farmers to hold on to their fertilizer because of the impending drought last year, that was an individual decision.

“Farming is an individual task and whosoever wanted to take the risk should do that without any hindrance,” Lebone said.

Lebone said other farmers cultivated their land and planted the seeds that were provided to them and amazingly they reaped a good harvest because they took a risk while others failed dismally.

“This is why we say it is even harder to say whether it will be a good year or not,” Lebone said.

“It is hard to calculate outbreaks we can have if we experience heavy rainfall. In 2014 when we had an armyworm outbreak we didn’t see it coming but when we received warnings of having armyworms it was too late to prevent them from destroying vegetation,” he said.

Lebone said they can anticipate emerging and re-emerging diseases like soil borne diseases and vector borne diseases.

The Ministry of Water Affairs said it is getting itself ready for the next drought that may hit the country.

Billy Makakole, Principal Hydrologist, said Lesotho has water in abundance and it is every Mosotho’s right to have water.

However, the collection and water flow of rivers last year for the months of October, November and December was very low and for the months of January, February and March this year the great amount of water could be seen flowing at the end of the term.

“For the year 2015/2015 the flow we had was below average and this put a strain on agriculture,” Makakole said.

Lesotho only has 2025.598 (meters above sea level) in the Katse Dam, 1 650.98 in Metolong Dam and 2 039.77 for Mohale Dam.

Makakole said all the dams have a collection lower than the capacity they can actually hold. He said these effects have been brought about by the severe drought which has dried up wetlands and river streams that feed these three big dams.

The ministry said it is working on an early warning system to recover as much water as can be needed in times of drought.

“We are looking into building a dam in Hlotse to have adequate water and we have Metolong Dam that is already operational and people are reaping good fruits from the initiative,” Makakole said.

Motoho Maseatile, a Director in the Department of Water Affairs, said since the experience of drought in the country, they have developed a drought response plan to relieve public concern on the issue.

“We have launched a borehole water system where we have constructed boreholes for farmers, schools, health centres and villages. We are also on the road of repairing water systems that were broken down,” Maseatile said.

Maseatile said they are also working towards connecting more villages to the Metolong main pipes so as to feed a lot of other villages that have a benefit to the water and this shall not in any way strain the project because it was in the initial plan to connect every home to the main pipelines.

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LEC to switch off households over debts



MASERU – The Lesotho Electricity Company (LEC) will from Tuesday next week begin switching off clients who owe it money.

The LEC issued a seven-day ultimatum to all customers who owe it on Tuesday last week. The deadline ends on Monday.

It is expected that the LEC will begin switching off households that have defaulted.

The state-owned power company, however, is not going to touch any government department or business entities that owe it on grounds that they are in payment negotiations.

The LEC move comes barely two weeks after it cut electricity supplies to the Water and Sewerage Company (WASCO) thus causing it to fail to pump water to communities countrywide for more than two days.

The LEC says it is owed close to M200 million by government departments, businesses and individuals.

The LEC spokesman, Tšepang Ledia, told thepost that the government and the businesses will not have their electricity cut because they are in negotiations.

“We are in negotiations with the government and businesses and hopefully they will pay,” Ledia said.

“We advise the ordinary people to pay their debts before the 20th of March 2023 or else we cut the services,” he said.

The LEC says it is running short of funds for its daily operations.

In December last year the company increased power tariffs by 7.9 percent on both energy and maximum demand charges across all customer categories for the Financial Year 2022/23.

Last week the LEC boss, Mohato Seleke, said postpaid consumers and sundry debtors owe the company M169.4 million.

He said unless the debtors pay he will be unable to buy electricity from ’Muela Hydropower Project, Eskom in South Africa and Mozambique’s EDM.

This, he said, could cause serious load shedding in the country and could be devastating for businesses.

Seleke said the LEC spends M630 million monthly to buy electricity.

“If postpaid consumers do not settle their debts this could prevent the LEC from being able to buy electricity which can lead the country to encounter load-shedding,” Seleke said.

Seleke said collecting debt from government department ministries was a challenge as there is an understanding that since LEC is a state-owned company, it will continue supplying government agencies with electricity and they will settle their bills when they have funds to do so.

Seleke said the LEC has lost M21 million to vandalism during this financial year.

Relebohile Tšepe

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Bumper payout for former mineworkers



MASERU – AT least 11 316 current as well as former mine workers are set for a bumper payout after Tshiamiso Trust began disbursing the first billion Maloti to workers who are suffering from silicosis and tuberculosis.

The payment comes two years after Tshiamiso Trust began processing claims for the historical M5 billion settlement agreement between mineworkers and six gold mines in South Africa.

Speaking at the payment announcement in Maseru last week, the Trust’s CEO, Lusanda Jiya, said it has been two years since they officially began accepting claims.

“Our people come to work every day with the mission of impacting lives for the better, and the first billion rand paid out to over 11 000 families is just the beginning,” Jiya said.

“We know that there is no compensation that will ever be enough to undo the suffering endured by mine workers and their families,” he said.

“However, we are committed to deliver our mandate and ensure that every family that is eligible for compensation receives it.”

Jiya said the Trust is limited both in terms of the time in which they can operate, and the extent to which they can assist those seeking compensation.

Broadly speaking, the eligibility criteria include among others that the mineworker must have worked at one of the qualifying gold mines between March 12, 1965 and December 10, 2019.

Secondly, living mineworkers must have permanent lung damage from silicosis or TB and deceased mine workers representatives must have evidence that proves that they (the deceased) died from TB or Silicosis.

Tshiamiso Trust has a lifespan of 12 years, ending in February 2031.

Over 111 000 claims have been received to date, through offices in South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, eSwatini, and Mozambique.

The Trust is working with stakeholders in these countries and others to mobilise its efforts and expand operations.

The history of silicosis in South Africa goes back to the late 1880’s when the first gold mines began operations.

The gold was stored and locked in quartz, a special rock that contains large amounts of silica.

Crystallised silica particles can cause serious respiratory damage if inhaled.

In the earlier days of gold mining, dust control, health and safety standards and the use of PPE (personal protective equipment) were not as advanced as they are today.

Tshiamiso Trust was established in 2020 to give effect to the settlement agreement reached between six mining companies.

The companies are African Rainbow Minerals, Anglo American South Africa, AngloGold Ashanti, Harmony Gold, Sibanye Stillwater and Gold Fields.

The settlement agreement was reached and made after a ruling by the Johannesburg High Court as a result of a historic class action by former and current mineworkers against the six gold mines.

Justice for Miners is a coalition of interested parties in the mining sector launched at the Nelson Mandela Foundation in Johannesburg in 2020.

The Johannesburg High Court approved the setting up of the Tshiamiso Trust to facilitate payment by the companies to affected miners.

Keith Chapatarongo

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Farmers cry over cost of livestock feed



MASERU – Lehlohonolo Mokhethi is a farmer who has been running a successful poultry business, thanks to a small loan he got from a local bank.

He now has 300 chickens.

He says his vision is to rear 5 000 chickens by 2025 and employ 30 youths. But he is now grappling with a new challenge: the ever increasing cost of chicken feed.

That is threatening the viability of his business.

“The biggest challenge is that food prices increase every day, feeding is expensive,” Mokhethi said.

“It is quite difficult to make profit in business if each and every day food prices increase. Today I am buying a bag of food with a certain amount then the next day the price has increased,” he says.

“Our customers fail dismally to understand that food has increased and the Chinese are taking our market because they sell at a low price thus I run at a loss.”

Last week, a top attorney in Maseru who is also a prominent farmer, Tiisetso Sello-Mafatle, called a meeting for farmers to discuss these challenges.

She says the government must regulate the prices of livestock feed.

That is critical if the farming business is to succeed, she says.

Attorney Sello-Mafatle says farmers must come up with a structure for livestock feed prices which they would present to the government for gazetting.

“We should state our regulations and give them to the government to make everything easy for both parties because we cannot wait for the government to make regulations for us,” Sello-Mafatle says.

She adds that “farmers should be bullish about what they want and never have fear endorsing new things”.

“I will not be challenged or cry (because of) what life throws at me but I will cry when things are not happening the right way,” she says.

Mafatle says farmers need to know who they are and know the capabilities they have.

“This will help a farmer in becoming the best in any field they are in once they are confident about themselves,” she says.

Karabo Lijo, another participant, said they have to influence the cost of inputs in agriculture, especially livestock feed.

“We have to go back to cost-price analysis where as farmers we are able to derive the selling price and the break-even point in our production,” Lijo said.

“We can also derive the stable or constant mark-ups on our products,” he said.

“We need to do research to increase the ability to produce byproducts which are likely to have the longest shelve life,” he said.

The meeting urged farmers to diversify their products by introducing such things as mushroom farming. They said mushrooms can grow very well in Lesotho due to its favourable climate.

The farmers also demanded that there should be regulations on how land can be sold or borrowed in Lesotho.

Tholoana Lesenya and Alice Samuel

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