The grapes of wrath

The grapes of wrath

……….Fruit tree farmers say having a hard time selling produce…..

MASERU – Struggling to make ends meet in the village, Khetho Mokalimotšo thought he was out of the woods when the government advertised a hard to resist business opportunity.The 58-year-old Khetho Mokalimotšo hastily packed and left his rural Ha-Ramabanta village to Khubetsoana two years ago in hopes of reaping from a government fruit tree-planting project.

The government had promised to provide a market for all fruit trees under the ambitious programme, but since then, the government has not been forthcoming on its promise and Mokalimotšo is now counting his losses. He says he has lost hard-earned money and time producing the fruit trees. Mokalimotšo says he was overjoyed when left his village, sure that the fruit tree programme would pluck him out of poverty.

“I would no longer work tirelessly in the fields only to harvest close to nothing,” Mokalimotšo says. “Also I would be able to have money to cater for my basic needs,” he says. Stuck with over 1 000 trees with no buyer in sight, the dreams of a windfall are turning into a nightmare, he says.

“I was asked by a gentleman to come and grow fruit trees with him as the government through the Ministry of Forestry and Land Reclamation had appealed to the public to grow fruit trees to sell to them,” Mokalimotso says. “When we approached the ministry we were told that there was no money to buy the trees,” says Mokalimotso.

“They have only managed to buy a few trees from us.”

Realising that the government would not buy his trees, Mokalimotso resorted to selling to individuals. “It is little money because they don’t even pay for the water we use for irrigation or buy pesticides, which is why we stopped irrigating the trees like we used to.” Mokalimotšo now depends on part time gardening jobs to survive. He is not alone.

’Makananelo rented a neighbour’s plot at a cost of M300 a month to grow fruit trees. In 2014, she planted 20 000 peach trees with the hope that she would have made “a lot of money” from the project. “When I was still a student at the National University of Lesotho (NUL) we heard a call by the Ministry of Forestry to grow fruit trees,” ’Makananelo says.

“In 2012 we grew the trees where we were staying on campus. Out of the 4 000 fruit trees we were able to sell 700 and the rest we donated to the school,” she says.  In 2015 ’Makananaelo approached the Ministry of Forestry to sell her trees, which she had planted in 2014 and she was told to register her name and would be contacted when her trees were needed.

By the end of 2016, she was feeling discouraged and hopeless and stopped taking care of the trees. “Water was expensive and we could not afford to water the trees any more, especially because of the drought at that time,” she says. “We also could not afford to pay for weeding, we had to let go.” Even though she stopped taking care of the trees it became hard to just uproot them and throw them away so she could stop paying rent.

“Last year I approached the office of the First Lady to donate the trees just so they could be moved from the plot but even today the people are yet to show up,” says a dejected ’Makananaelo. She says she has been unable to recoup her initial investment into the project. When I think about how much was invested in the project I just get agitated, for someone not working it was a lot,” says ’Makananelo. Sekoati Sekaleli, the Forestry Director, put the blame on farmers, whom he claimed had failed to follow “proper procedure” to be recognised by the ministry.

He said the proper procedure is to go to a chief forestry officer in the district and let them know that there is a new fruit farmer in their area.  “After that one will be trained and then go through the registration process in order to be able to work with the ministry,” Sekaleli says. He says most only go to the ministry when they already have a finished product and are reluctant to go through the process. “We prepare budgets in accordance with the demand of the trees, then have to divide the quantity of needed trees by the farmers we have,” he says.

“So when a farmer comes and says he is selling fruit trees during the sale period we wouldn’t have a budget for that if we did not know in time about that farmer.”

He added that some fruit tree farmers do not even know the type of trees they have, making it even more difficult to buy from them.

“When a farmer wants trees for an orchard they want to know the type of trees they will have at the orchard. They want to know if it’s Oom Sarel, San Pedro Novadonna and so forth, they can’t buy a tree they know nothing about its qualities,” Sekaleli says. He says another challenge is that local farmers see the ministry only as the market. “They do not sell to other organisations like World Vision or other countries like South Africa and Botswana,” he said.

“This is despite the fact that we brought in a consultant in 2002 to train them about marketing their fruit tree businesses. No government can afford to be the sole buyer of so many trees,” Sekaleli says. 

Currently there are 480 trained fruit tree farmers working with the ministry. Sekaleli indicated that the fruit tree growing programme started in 2003. “When the programme started the public was reluctant to produce the trees. They did not believe that we could buy the trees from them hence, we ended up allowing public servants to produce fruit trees,” Sekaleli says.

Lemohang Rakotsoane

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