MASERU – The Marketing Department in the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security has urged farmers to produce enough to meet the local market’s needs. The Director of Marketing, Lekhooe Makhate, said the ministry conducts sensitisation sessions for farmers across the country so that they know what the market demands are.
He said the farmers should also know who they produce for and in what quantities. “We need data so that we can make plans,” Makhate said, adding that farmers should not produce for themselves but for the market and that they should also be clear of what the market needs them to produce.
He said the database helps them decide on importation of produce to enable restrictions to what is in abundance from local farmers in the local market.
The department, he said, therefore appeals to farmers to group themselves and exchange information so that they know what they have in their respective areas. Makhate said this would help his ministry to know if the farmers could be able to meet demand in the market and for how long.
To support his point, he picked the example of the Potato Lesotho Association (PLA), which he said has just begun to harvest their yields. “Likewise, we are expecting them to give us the quantity of their produce so that we can decide if and when we can prohibit the importation of potatoes,” he said.
For years, local bean farmers benefitted from the World Food Programme (WFP) market through the schools feeding programme and it is crucial for the farmers to know the dynamics in the market. ’Matseleng Keele from the Maputsoe-based Tasty Food Packers said they have always been buying sugar beans from Basotho farmers, although not every farmer knows about this available opportunity.
“It is only farmers from Maputsoe and a few from Teyateyaneng who are aware of this lucrative market opportunity,” she said. Keele said they are worried that the supply is fairly low because the farmers do not come as they are expected.
She said if the farmers could make use of this opportunity, there would be no need to import beans from South Africa, adding that due to demand they buy everything the farmers have. However, she noted that standards should be set for those who supply them with beans. “We need clean beans,” she said, adding, “The beans should also not be old.”
They travel throughout the country to buy beans if suppliers do not have transport, in that way, “making business simpler.” “So far we have only collected 85 tonnes of beans from the suppliers,” Keele said, adding that they need a lot more than that.
This year, she said, the produce has been fairly low as compared to last year because of the heavy rains that damaged the crops. However, there is one farmer who managed to supply them with 25 tonnes of beans. The farmers know that they have to come to the Tasty Food Packers to sell their produce on Tuesdays and Thursdays, she added.
A seasoned farmer, Lephoto Taoana, who has been in the farming industry since 1989, said they used to have a reliable market with WFP but it faded away when the Covid-19 pandemic set in last year.
Now they have another reliable market where they sell their beans. Last year, he had planted 45 acres of land in Thaba-Bosiu on the outskirts of Maseru. However, the heavy rains impacted negatively on his crops, washing away about eight acres of his bean produce.
In recent years, farmers have been grappling with the complexities of climate change. Another farmer, Daniel Chakela, who is the chairman of the Leribe District Farmers Association, also cited the now defunct deal they used to have with WFP.
“It’s a good thing that ‘Tasty’ came into the picture when that market collapsed and the company buys our products throughout the year,” Mr Chakela said.
’Mantoetsi Jobo of Thaba-Bosiu on the outskirts of Maseru is a mixed farmer, besides being a fulltime school teacher. For years, Jobo had been yielding good harvests from her fields in Thaba-Bosiu. It was only last year that her harvest reduced drastically because of the heavy rains that fell between October and March this year.
She said now they have another reliable market where they sell their beans since Tasty Food Packers allows them to sell in bulk, making a lot of money in the process as farmers. “This is a big advantage for us as the farmers and we should use it completely,” she said.