M200 million more for agriculture sector

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RETHABILE MOHONO

MASERU- The agriculture sector will receive an allocation of M1.3 billion from the 2024/2025 fiscal budget, an increase from the previous year’s budget of M1.1 billion. Minister Thabo Mofosi, responsible for Agriculture, Food Security, and Nutrition, made this announcement during the Post Budget Gala Dinner held this week. The agriculture ministry’s budget this year, is M200 million more than the M1.1 billion Mofosi was allocated in the 2023/24 fiscal period.

He said the government recognizes agriculture as the cornerstone of Lesotho’s economy, thus, the need to be allocated such a generous amount. But Mofosi acknowledged that his ministry was unable to fully utilize the M1.1 billion allocated for the past financial period. He attributed this to delays in the release of the funds by the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning which, consequently, hindered the timely procurement of fertilizers, inputs, and agricultural equipment, impacting his ministry’s agenda.

“The ministry of finance needs to find a system that can speed up procurement because delays (in releasing funds) on their part, mean that my ministry remains stagnant. Without budget utilization, we cannot exhaust the funds. We cannot use them to our full potential,” Mofosi said adding that delaying procuring fertilizers and inputs meant a huge setback for a tiny country like Lesotho when the cropping season starts.

“So we decided to now change to ordering fertilizers earlier than usual so that we do not struggle again,” he said, adding that they are about to extend storages at Ha Foso where they can stock up agricultural inputs such as fertilizers and seeds.

“The budget allocation is intended to support the expansion of contract farming. The goal is to enhance the relationship between farmers and buyers, ensuring that producers have access to markets without difficulty,” he said. This initiative will enable farmers to understand market dynamics prior to production.

“About 30-40 percent of our farmers produce without market. But with contract farming our farmers will know their markets and the demand for their produce to avoid losses,” he said. Speaking about markets for agricultural products, Mofosi said his ministry’s mandate is to protect the farmers’ produce. He also said they are working towards helping farmers to meet the required standards and demands.

“In order to prevent the unnecessary wastage of farm produce, their plan for the upcoming financial year’s budget involved organizing workshops to facilitate better communication and co-operation between producers and buyers,” he said

Looking at the budget of the 2023/2024, the aim was to end hunger, achieving food security and improving nutrition and promoting sustainable agriculture so farmers were promised support by continuing to increase access to agricultural inputs and providing technical support to increase productivity.

In this current budget the Minister of Finance and Development Planning, Dr Rets’elisitsoe Matlanyane, said agriculture, often referred to as the backbone of our economy, holds immense potential for driving economic development, fostering private sector-led job creation, and ensuring food and nutrition security for all Basotho citizens.

“A budget of M1.3 billion has been assigned to bolster agriculture. The time has come for Lesotho to implement a comprehensive agriculture transformation support programme to improve both production and productivity for our agricultural sector,” she said.

Dr Matlanyane further indicated that the programme will include enhancing extension services support to farmers, improving agricultural data collection efforts, facilitating access to affordable finance, improving irrigation infrastructure footprint, supporting agricultural value addition activities, as well as storage and logistics.

“Looking ahead, our projects and programmes for the upcoming financial years underscore our unwavering commitment to agricultural development. From the Intensive Crop Production programme to the Wool and Mohair Value Chain Competitiveness Project, each initiative is designed to propel us towards our goals of sustainable food security and enhanced farmer engagement,” she said.

She also said that MCA Lesotho will invest $118 Million (M2,301 billion) over five years in agriculture, to support the development of commercial horticulture in four irrigation schemes located in Leribe (Tsoili-Tsoili, Likhakeng, Peka, Kolonyama) and Mohale’s Hoek (Phamong).

“The project will further strategically identify anchor farmers locally and externally to form partnerships with local Small Holder Farmers (SHF) and landowners. The Anchor Farmer Investor will bring their own financial resources, technical expertise, and existing local and export markets,” she said emphasizing that the initiative is expected to increase horticulture production, create jobs, provide business opportunities, and reduce high dependence on imports.

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