LERIBE – The establishment of an agricultural market hub in the country’s Northern region is one of the much-needed steps of progress in the quest to incubate an entrepreneurial culture among local farmers, especially the youth. These were remarks by the Minister of Agriculture and Food Security, Keketso Sello, in his address at the official launch of the Tsikoane Fresh Produce Market, trading as Northern Agri Hub, in Leribe on Friday. The centre has been established to effect the idea of agricultural commercialization, to facilitate the movement of agricultural outputs to traders and consumers.
And to achieve these objectives, Sello said it requires the clustering and location of smallholder and emerging farmers with the focus on enhancing their access to physical, economic and social capital, agricultural outputs of vegetables and fruits, markets and training and organisation opportunities. “The hub should bridge a gap between inverting a marketable product and the actual marketing of the product even beyond the country borderlines,” he said.
Shakes Enterprise has been appointed by the Ministry of Agriculture for the effective management, operation and maintenance of this centre. “We have the pleasure of introducing a company comprised of farmers and fresh produce market operators coming together to procure and guarantee fresh and high quality produce from local farmers from the north of the country and ensure its distribution to various markets.
“We are prepared, capable and willing to engage further with stakeholders and the farming community onwards,” the manager of the centre, ’Maben Mohasi, told the gathering. According to the management of the hub, most rural areas in Lesotho face the triple structural challenges of unemployment, poverty and inequality as can be attested by numerous studies made in academia, government, and industries.
This is most aptly evident in the crisis of rural underdevelopment, underutilisation and unsustainable use of productive land, including redistributed and state-owned land. The CEO at Shakes Enterprise, Lerata Mokoteli, said that the overall purpose of rural development is to improve the quality of life among rural households, enhancing food security through a broader base of rural agricultural production and exploiting the varied economic potential of Lesotho.
“In comparison to other countries, Lesotho provides the lowest support to producers. There is need to adequately support these farmers, otherwise this initiative would not be realised,” Mokoteli said. He said smallholder farmers have inadequate access to high quality inputs and improvement in this area could increase the quality and quantity of their commodities.
According to Mokoteli, the market centre concept draws on existing models from countries such as Mexico, India, and the Netherlands, among others. Experience and empirical evidence from these countries, he said, show that the market centre offers a viable solution in addressing social and economic inequalities, unemployment and poverty by promoting agro-industrialisation within small-scale farming and emerging commercial farming sectors.
“This will ensure that the escalated land distribution and more inclusive and strengthened land rights considerations are accompanied by equitable, efficient and well-planned land and agricultural development. “Its successful fulfillment requires various stakeholders in the agricultural sector and those related, to come together in networking, sponsorships, training, legislation and various aids,” he added.
Representing farmers, the chairperson of Leribe District Farmers Association and vice-president of the Lesotho National Farmers Union, Daniel Chakela, expressed their delight with the establishment of the centre saying local farmers now have a market where they can sell their fruits and vegetables. He said the initiative will help to grow the agriculture sector in the Leribe district. During the launch of the Northern Agri Hub, development partners had a tour of the facility, interacted with the farmers and saw their produce while others identified roles they can play in its realisation.