MASERU – Minister of Agriculture and Food Security Mahala Molapo has expressed mixed feeling regarding the budget allocated to his ministry for the 2019/20 financial year as he looks into the projected tough conditions of food shortages and unemployment ahead.
With the country experiencing extreme poverty and hunger, coupled with high rates of unemployment and a ballooning food import bill, the sector has been allocated M703.8 million, which is inadequate, according to Minister Molapo.
The minister, on the other hand, believes that the allocation, which has been improved from last year’s M335.1 million, will make a significant contribution towards improving commercial farming and other activities in the sector.
Unemployment levels in Lesotho currently stand at 24 percent with the country’s youth mostly hit hardest. Agriculture has been labeled as one of the sectors that can significantly contribute towards the reduction of unemployment in the country.
Finance minister Dr Moeketsi Majoro said during his budget speech that government has taken a decision to promote and invest heavily in commercial farming as a strategy to address food insecurity, unemployment and shortage of foreign currency reserves.
He also revealed that the ministry will continue with its efforts to attract private investors in commercial agriculture.
Lesotho is expecting poor agricultural harvest this year as a result of episodes of dry weather and heat waves experienced in 2018, which together had a negative impact on crop production.
Estimations are that 491,000 people in Lesotho will require emergency food assistance.
To answer to the needs, the World Food Programme (WFP) made a promise in their 2018/19 lean season update released in December last year that they would launch their lean season response early this year by providing food in return for communities’ participation in asset creating activities.
It is against this background that the minister of agriculture had hoped for a higher allocation to cater for anticipated tough conditions.
“I am cannot say I am entirely happy with the budget but at the same time we all know that government does not have money and that is why they have cut our salaries by five percent. I must say that I am happy on the side of the capital budget but then I think we just have to hit the ground running with what we have and see how far we go,” Molapo said in an interview with Public Eye this week.
Regarding the imminent food shortage in the country, Molapo corroborated FAO statements by submitting that the country could be forced to seek assistance from other development partners to address the situation.
He, however, encouraged the farming community to use the current rainy conditions to prepare for winter cropping with the focus on wheat and peas production.
“If we happen to use all the money from our budget we will have to go back to the government for reallocation, that is why I am saying we are going to use what we have and see how far it takes us,” he added.
To reduce the burden, government has promised to continue to subsidise the seedlings and fertilisers to the farming community. Minister Majoro revealed that 4,000 hectares (ha) of land will be dedicated to planting grains in different areas of the country, while 107 ha will be dedicated to vegetables, with 120ha being set aside for deciduous fruits production.
Under the guidance of the Ministry of Trade and Industry and LNDC, the agriculture sector is also set to benefit through the expansion of the area under deciduous fruit production from the current 34ha to 150 ha in the next two years and 500 ha in the medium term which will add 1000 jobs.
LNDC is also expected to finalise by mid-year, plans for large integrated piggery, poultry, aquaculture and beef operations as well as a grains initiative to roll out the area planted to 4,000 ha in Botha-Bothe, Leribe, Berea and Maseru for both domestic and export market.