What’s the big debate on wool and mohair all about?

LAWRENCE KEKETSO

MASERU – The general consensus on the big debate in the country, since the introduction of the new handling and trade regulations on Lesotho’s wool and mohair, is that the new changes could be a move in the right direction, but they probably came too soon and caught many players in the industry offguard.

This was one of the conclusions drawn during Wednesday night debate on the issue held in Maseru and organised by the Change Agents, a private Basotho-owned company whose core business is empowerment, through training of micro, small and medium young Basotho enterprises. The debate, which attracted government officials including the minister of small businesses Chalane Phori, wool and mohair farmers, stock traders, brokers and buyers from Lesotho and South Africa, as well as the general business community and ordinary interested citizens, was aimed at tackling head-on some of the contentious issues around the new trade regulations of Lesotho’s wool and mohair.

With the government adamant that the new policy is well-placed and a breakthrough to bringing more benefits to Basotho farmers and the economy as a whole, some of the stakeholders in the industry are still not convinced Lesotho is ready to handle the complexities of the wool and mohair industry. “We may have overlooked some steps in the introduction and implementation of this new regulation, but the policy is already a law now, it can still be improved further,” conceded Phori at the meeting while strongly emphasising the need for everybody to come on board and support this new initiative.

Phori was adamant that engagement of all the relevant stakeholders was undertaken before the new laws were introduced, saying: “We consulted and negotiated but we never came to an agreement. In some instances, government officials were chased away.” He emphasised the need for the change in the industry, saying it may not be acceptable today but in the long-term, even those against this new policy will see the results and increased benefits for the country, which is what the government is pushing for.

“We had to go ahead with the government’s vision. We want to take control of our wool and mohair produce and trade as a country and we want more benefits for the poor farmers and jobs created in Lesotho,” he said. Those opposed to the new regulations cite inconsistencies and unfair practices that seem to favour a monopolised wool and mohair trade system in the country.

Pierre van der Vyver, a representative of Poli ea Thaba, who are specialising in Mohair marketing and trade refused to accept the notion that enough consultations were made, calling for the scrapping of the new rules and starting from scratch to build a new policy. Some of his concerns were on the lack of proper infrastructure in Lesotho to guarantee professional and standardised wool and mohair testing, which will give assurance to the buyers.

He reminded those gathered that of all the global buyers, South Africa was the biggest buyer of mohair and it had already developed the necessary infrastructure for the benefit of the whole continent of Africa. der Vyver added that the biggest benefit for the mohair farmers in Lesotho could be if they market their own produce, saying his company was already some steps ahead in empowering Basotho mohair farmers and producers by partnering with them to improve their livestock.

He also felt that while the new policy was clearly aimed at improving the benefits of the farmers and the country as a whole, there was a need to go back to the drawing board and get all stakeholders’ input for the best results. “What has been done was a huge surprise for all of us. We were caught very much unaware,” said van der Vyver who also charged the new laws were a big inconvenience to their normal trade that dates many years back.

A local wool and mohair trader, with 38 years involvement in the industry, Dr Mohlalefi Moteeane believes the government should have carefully analysed the pros and cons before introducing the new regulations. Moteeane, among others, also feels the new policy is divisive in some way as different associations’ members start seeing things differently because of the imposing nature of the new policy of the farmers’ produce.

He was of the opinion that more time is needed for the new trade rules to take root and bring more benefits, especially to young Basotho aspiring to get into the industry. Another small to medium sized wool and mohair trader, Taelo Ramoruti, felt the new rules were prematurely introduced, saying their type of business was not catered for in the new laws.

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