MASERU – Weak rural infrastructure, limited technical expertise and limited access to credit and investment capital are at the heart of agricultural projects’ failure in Lesotho. Climate change and outdated farm technologies and farm management practices, coupled with lack of access to markets are also high on the list, posing major challenges to the sector that contributes less than 10 percent to the country’s national gross domestic product (GDP).
To address some of these long standing challenges, the World Food Program Lesotho (WFP) in partnership with the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security, on Tuesday held a two-day workshop on the importance of marketing linkages in value chains in Lesotho. The market linkages forum sought to improve the marketing of horticultural and other agricultural produce, including small stock like poultry, while promoting strategies to increase food and nutrition security.
The first of its kind, the forum was further aimed at helping smallholder farmers with information on structured markets that are available countrywide. Linkages forums are further meant to facilitate the flow of produce between the different levels of the marketing system, improve relations between farmers and buyers, as well as minimise conflicts between parties involved. Linkages further harmonise marketing bottlenecks such as quality and price issues while at the same time addressing issues of post-harvest losses.
“We all know that it is globally recognised that smallholder farmers and small businesses are the hidden heroes of the food systems managing at least half of our food economies. “It is therefore imperative to support them through access to an efficient, functioning and equitable marketing system, and this is an opportune time for all national stakeholders to actively participate in providing their contributions towards ensuring a successful marketing system,” WFP Country Representative and Country Director, Aurore Rusiga, said.
She projected that the sector has the highest potential to increase food security, reduce rural poverty and generate both on and off-farm employment opportunities, while contributing to sustainable economic growth and resilience. Agriculture plays a significant role in the country’s economy, as over 70 percent of the country’s population lives in rural areas and depends, directly or indirectly, on agriculture for employment and livelihood.
The National Strategic Development Plan (NSDP II) has agriculture as one of the key areas for the development and growth of the country’s economy. However, the sector, according to WFP, suffers from low levels of productivity and commercialisation which has left the country heavily dependent on food imports to meet domestic consumption needs.
Speaking at the same event, the Director of Marketing in the Ministry of Agriculture, Lekhooe Makhate, said although smallholder farmers engage in many interrelated markets, they however, face challenges in securing market access continuously. The government, he said, has an essential role to play in addressing farming enterprises, specific constraints and maximising potential for sustained access to reliable markets.
“Recent ongoing developments relating to marketing infrastructure call for proactive designing of strategies to link farmers with markets. Continued importation of basic food items deprive smallholders of an opportunity to penetrate identified markets,” Makhate said.
Among other things, he said there is a need to promote inclusive participation in local food systems by engaging relevant value chain actors. He said the country needs to develop smallholder targeted infrastructure such as irrigation, processing, storage and packaging facilities to enhance competitiveness and reduce seasonality of insecurity and food waste.
There is also a need to invest in capacity building, research and smallholders adapted innovation technologies and technology transfer, as well as promote diversification to increase resilience to climate change while reducing farm income fluctuations. Policy and institutional arrangements, including partnerships related to value chains functioning meant to empower smallholders, should also be established.