Farmers’ roll back hunger

Farmers’ roll back hunger

……‘Block farming scheme is the best way to beat hunger’…..

MAFETENG-Smallholder farmers who have entered into a block farming arrangement with the government say the project could be their best way to beat hunger and poverty, but lack of adequate support from the government is hampering progress.

In a bid to boost production among small-scale farmers, the government initiated block farming. It entails a group of farmers in the same community farming in uniform practice, receiving inputs such as seed, labour and machinery from the government in exchange for a portion of their produce.

Thabang Nkaota has been part of the project since its re-establishment in 2014. He says his family is better off, although production can be ramped up if the government avails enough resources to farmers.

“It has enabled me provide basic needs for the family,” he says.
The government provides him with resources such as fertilisers and in return, he surrenders 60 percent of his earnings to the agriculture ministry, he says, adding that he produces an average of 30 bags of wheat each farming season.

Constant delays in getting resources from the government have been a major setback, he says.

“I informed the agricultural extension officer about the problem and they have been trying their best to talk to the ministry but history keeps repeating itself,” laments Nkaota, who says he hopes to diversify into maize production.

“Its demand is higher,” he says.
Nkaota says he decided to venture into block farming after some Agricultural Extension Officers (AEO) informed them about the project at a public gathering.

“I couldn’t afford (to increase production) on my own so I joined,” he says.
The unity among farmers who are part of the venture has made challenges such as planting lighter, he says.

“Our togetherness as small-scale farmers and determination always has helped us pull through so far,” Nkaota says, noting that most people in his village are part of the venture.
’Mageorge Maoela, one of the farmers, says planting “is more difficult” if one goes it alone.

“We always come together to eliminate rats and it is so much easier when working together with other farmers,” Maoela says
Farmers have established a committee that is tasked with guarding the fields to ensure that newly planted crops are secure.

“The men in Ha-Maoela don’t sleep at night once we have planted our wheat. They only manage to get some sleep after we have harvested,” she says.

’Malipuo Ramokone, another farmer, says block farming has enabled struggling small-scale farmers to increase their yield.
She says farmers are always on alert to ensure that children and animals are kept away from the fields.

“Our children now understand that although the fields belong to their families, what’s planted there isn’t theirs hence they should respect and protect it,” Ramokone says.

Fusi Raphuthing attributes the success of the project to rich soils in the areas as well as the local chief’s “ability to govern the people well”.
“We are able to satisfy our partners demands… their investments are protected,” Raphuthing says, adding that farmers however worry about the effects of climate change.

The agriculture extension officer for Tša-Kholo Resource Centre, ’Matebello Khaile, says subsidy farming is open to all interested farmers in selected regions.

She says unlike before, farmers are only provided with resources after the AEO has certified the size of the land prepared for planting.
“This is to avoid one person buying quantities for resale at higher prices,” she says.

Khaile says the planted area for block farming in Mafeteng was this season reduced to 300 acres from 400 acres last season due to lack of resources.
She says the ministry sells its share of produce from block farming, exhorting farmers to take ownership of the project.

“Don’t expect the government to do everything, remove weeds if need be,” she says.
She urges farmers to visit their nearest resource centres to find out about plans for the summer season.

To ease the logistical nightmares often faced by farmers, “it would be wise’ to decentralise the distribution of the subsidised resources to district level.
“That would ease the challenges for farmers because at times some have money to purchase (inputs), but cannot afford the transportation costs,” she says.

The Eastern and Southern African Small Scale Farmers Forum (ESAFF) national chairperson for Lesotho, ’Mamalefetsane Phakoe, says the government should always consult stakeholders such as farmers in the planning, implementation and review of policies and projects such as block farming.

“The government should involve farmers in decision making because whatever government decides affects farmers directly,” she says.
Consultation would help stop the government’s practice of “introducing things” that farmers do not need.

Although block farming is said to target every farmer, only four districts benefited last year, she says.
“I still do not think last year was the first or last time we faced that kind of problem,” she says, also asking the government eradicate delays in paying farmers.

“Even for tractor owners, this forced others to withdraw from block farming. It is a major problem and I don’t know when we will start to deal with it,” she says. “Farmers incur so many costs.”

She also bemoaned delays in distributing inputs and machinery to farmers, saying this had severely affected planting season plans.
“At least the government should buy 10 machines for each district as the existing support has failed farmers,” she says.

She says the problems encountered by small-scale farmers forced the ESSAF to hold subsidy orientation with block farming beneficiaries of Ha-Maoela for them to evaluate themselves at both district and national level.

“We wanted those in block farming to share ideas and experiences with others so that we grow our agriculture,” she says.

’Mapule Motsopa

Previous Deputy Speaker booted out
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