Farmers plead for timely delivery of seeds, inputs



MASERU – Lesotho could achieve self-sufficiency in food production and cut down on over a billion Maloti in food imports if farmers are afforded the necessary support in utilising available arable land. “We cannot keep on depending on handouts and yet we can produce on our own,” was the consensus echoing at the quarterly meeting of district farmers’ forums hosted at Victory Hall in Maseru on Thursday this week. Since farmers have already started activities for the summer cropping, with the highlands commencing early to prepare the soil and plant seeds for early field crops, farmers said they start the new season having suffered big losses from the last season as a result of too much rain.

“In Leribe we have sold far less than what we usually produce, it was a shame, it is embarrassing,” said ’Matimello Kheola from Leribe Farmers Forum, further explaining they could not even honour a 100-ton order. She, however, said as farmers and through their forums they have grown crops and there is progress all over the country, adding what is needed is investment in equipment and farm machinery to achieve bigger yields. Testimonies of growth have also been expressed from the Berea Business Forum, which has extended its mandate beyond just agricultural activities, but has already launched an investment arm of their activities.

The business started independently by the forum offers shares to members and entities as a way of boosting business and growing wealth in the district. “Our aim is to create jobs for our young people in the district through agriculture,” explained ’Masehlabaka Lebina, the newly elected Berea Business Forum Chairperson. As part of their strategic planning for the new planting season and years ahead the district farmers’ forums were also looking into ways of dealing with the challenges of climate change.

Through the climate proofing project coordinated by the Rural Self-Help Development Association (RSDA), smallholder farmers have made several commitments and pledges to ensure that Lesotho is food secure and farmers have access to markets. Amongst the priorities identified, farmers in all the districts say they want to be independent in the sector for smooth and growth orientated production. They want to secure seeds and other inputs timely and access markets without any hindrance.

Suggestions such as the establishment of one-stop shops where farmers can get seeds, medicines, organic fertilisers and equipment as well as technical assistance have been tabled. Farmers also pointed out that models such as shearing sheds spread across the country for small-stock farmers (sheep and goats) can be employed to achieve this objective. Other areas to be implemented include bulk buying for inputs and selling of produce to be competitive in the market.

“It is painful to see consumers being robbed in broad daylight by retailers and vendors. At one point a bag of potatoes was sold at an exorbitant price of M120 in Qacha’s Nek,” lamented Thapelo Rantle from Qacha’s Nek Farmers Forum. He said it is sad stories like this one that have motivated, especially young farmers in his area, to produce more, adding now there is enough supply of locally produced potatoes to satisfy the market. According to the RSDA there are a lot of opportunities for farmers for them to turn their production activities into viable and sustainable businesses.

Through the climate proofing project, farmers in Lesotho have already identified a number of farm produce that can compete in the exclusive market of slow food international and Mountain Partnership initiative. The country has further initiated an alliance with chefs as a way of getting Basotho farmers to produce directly to the plate. The initiative will see Lesotho registering a number of slow food labels which will soon conquer the organic produce market. Currently dry beans (Lebete), sorghum and honey production are some of those earmarked for this market.

Smallholder farmers will also be promoting production of red meat from mainly sheep and goats kept in traditional pasturing feeding as well as other products. “This is testimony that we are on a different agenda altogether. Farming is no more pastime activity but business,” says RSDA Programme Director, ’Makarabelo Mathoebe. She says farmers in Lesotho are now beginning to realise that opportunities abound and have formed partnerships that will change the whole landscape of farming in Lesotho. “There is no doubt our farmers are technically ready to produce as per the market standards; what we need now is to capacitate them with equipment and farm machinery.

“We also need to strengthen our governance structure to further boost investor confidence in our model projects,” she said, adding the business wagon is already in motion. The RSDA and the smallholder farmers will also be exploring other projects with specific investment targets in the coming season, especially in building proper infrastructure in boosting both production and market competitiveness.

The meeting, held quarterly for district farmers’ forums, concluded that amongst others, they need to be assisted to resuscitate egg circles in the districts where such have died for collection and storage of eggs, establish food storage facilities in all the districts and to be helped with research support to be able to sustainably produce secure seeds that can perform well in the different farming zones of the country even with the current climate change challenges.

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