‘Government did not do its homework’


. . . farmer criticises temporary ban on tomato, apple imports


MASERU – In a bid to boost the sales of locally produced goods, the Ministry of Agriculture, Food Security, and Nutrition has temporarily banned the importation of tomatoes and apples. Some farmers through their association, however, this week expressed pessimism over the wisdom behind what they characterised as a knee-jerk reaction which may not be properly thought-out.

The Minister of Agriculture, Thabo Mofosi, earlier this week announced the two-month ban, which commenced on Tuesday and ends on April 30. He said the move would allow local farmers to fully control the market for the two products.  “The ministry will keep a watchful eye on the bargaining of the two products to ensure that there is acceptable buying and selling between traders and farmers.

“This government mandate is to see to it that the products of farmers reach potential markets. The ministry will come back for further announcements once the borders are opened,” Mofosi said. The minister went on to say that because of Lesotho’s relatively cold weather, locally grown apples are of higher quality than those grown in South Africa, with Lesotho apples reaching the market two weeks before those grown in SA.

According to Khotso Lepheana, the programme manager for the Lesotho National Farmers Union (LENAFU), they are already collaborating with the department of marketing on the border closure for the benefit of farmers.

He said lack of proper storage for agricultural products is a major drawback for farmers in Lesotho, adding that this is the proper course of action because it will help farmers sell their goods on time and save them from going to waste.

He said the country’s high tomato and apple production is the cause of the shutdown. According to a recent survey, there are around M497,004 worth of tomato boxes throughout the country, while some orchards, like the Maoa-Mafubelu Fruits Farm, Likhothola and Likhetlane all located in Leribe have an abundant supply of apples.

He said in order to keep the products from going to waste, they must be put on the market as quickly as feasible. “Therefore, the ministry has decided to temporarily suspend the issuing of permits for the export of tomatoes and apples temporarily for a period of two months. As a result, our farmers will have an opportunity to trade in the Lesotho market free from foreign competition.”

The senior marketing officer in the Department of Marketing, Nothembile Nobala said the three orchards in Leribe produce a total of 135,753 boxes of good quality apples per harvest.

She stated that red apples make up around 81 percent of the produce while 11 percent consists of golden apples with green apples making up eight percent. Studies show that in 2023, Lesotho imported $1.49 million (M29, 107,150) in tomatoes, becoming the 78th largest importer of tomatoes in the world.

In the same year, tomatoes were the 189th most imported product in Lesotho. Lesotho imports tomatoes primarily from South Africa, whereas in 2021, Lesotho imported US$2.3 million (M44, 930, 500) in apples and pears mainly from South Africa. 

In an interview with Public Eye, African Women Farmers Allies (AWFA) President Mots’elisi Mokhele-Peete said yesterday that the minister has clearly identified where he said the country does not have storage capacities.

She said the same are backyard farmers therefore have no storage facilities for their products. Moreover, she said, the same farmers were not educated on post-harvest management skills, which would prevent the current panic.

“Also, if government could advise itself that in each and every district there is a food storage facility or a food reserve facility it would be easier because some of the food would be stored there and not go to waste and even be used until the next harvest.

“As a person, I do not think the government has done a right move by closing the borders. Tomatoes are very delicate and maybe by next week they would have gotten rotten. Has the ministry done enough research on how long these will sustain the country,” she said.

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