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Ministry bans fresh produce imports



MASERU-THE government has imposed a one-month ban on the import of selected fresh produce into Lesotho. The ban was conveyed through an internal memo issued by the principal secretary in the Ministry of Small Business Development, Tankiso Phapano. The memo was written to the ministry’s Director of Marketing. Fresh produce such as tomatoes, green beans and green peppers will not be allowed into Lesotho. Phapano said the idea is to protect local farmers who face stiff competition from their South African counterparts. The ban came into force on February 1, and will run until the end of the month. Phapano said during they will embark on a programme to see how they could promote and improve local produce. “As we speak Basotho have tried to grow such commodities in numbers according to our studies,” he said. He said Basotho have also tried to build greenhouses to plant tomatoes, green beans and peppers. The ban of the selected produce will likely motivate Basotho farmers because their produce would be bought, he said. Phapano said their marketing assistants deployed in the 10 districts will assess the commodities in their districts. He said six districts in Lesotho are already growing the restricted produce and they want to give them a chance to showcase their potential to supply the market. Phapano said it is high time that Lesotho makes decisions without being constrained by the issue of “standards” especially at a time when the world has been engulfed by the Covid-19 pandemic. “We cannot even feed ourselves so it is not wise to talk about standards unless we are exporting to other countries,” Phapano said. He said Basotho should come first then standards and other things after. He encouraged Basotho to start buying from other Basotho for the economy to thrive and the money to circulate internally. Phapano said if the farmers excel, the ban will be extended indefinitely. He said Covid-19 has served as a lesson for Basotho to start depending on themselves rather than on foreign farmers. He said Lesotho could not always live as a market centre for other countries. He said Lesotho used to export food to other countries many decades ago. Meanwhile, the chairman of Khathang Tema Baitšokoli, an association of street vendors, Tšolo Lebitsa, welcomed the announcement. He said the restriction will help Lesotho’s farmers by creating new markets for their commodities. Lebitsa said competition between them and their South African counterparts was very tough but the South Africans would always win because of the quality of their produce. With the new restrictions, Basotho will produce more to get enough profits. He said the competition was unfair and demotivated Basotho farmers who could not produce enough to satisfy the local market. Daniel Chakela, who is the chairman of Leribe Farmer’s Association, said the ban is highly appreciated and will save most produce from getting spoiled. “As it is, due to the lockdown we were already wondering what was to happen to our produce because our biggest market has been shut,” Chakela said. “Street vendors are our biggest customers and during this period when they are not allowed to sell, our produce is stuck,” he said. He added that they are still discussing where to have a central location where consumers can easily access their produce. “We have lots of tomatoes despite the fact that we struggled to get seeds when the planting season started. With this opportunity we have been afforded we will try by all means to serve consumers,” he said. “We are grateful that they are finally doing what we have been asking for,” he said, adding that it is good that the government is giving “local produce preference to encourage agricultural growth”. Thabo Mantutle, the owner of Sefali Farm in Leribe, said he currently has about 10 000 tomato plants and 13 000 green pepper plants. Mantutle started harvesting during the last week of December and is adamant that he will harvest until the end of March or mid-April. Mantutle started commercial farming in 2015 when he became a beneficiary of the Smallholder Agricultural Development Project (SADP) project funded by the World Bank. Since 2009 he had been producing cabbages and fruit trees. Mantutle, like many farmers across the country, sells his produce to street vendors. “I have tried countless times to work with big retail supermarkets but have not been successful,” Mantutle said. “They have stringent conditions as they compare us to South African farmers who have the quantities and machinery, forgetting that we got to start somewhere before reaching those levels,” he said. He commended the government on this initiative advising that next time such provisions should be announced at the beginning of the farming season. “This ban is restoring hope that was long lost because we thought that the government does not care about us. Some of us shied away from investing intensively in farming for fear of not knowing where the produce would be sold,” he said. “Retail supermarkets want small quantities delivered frequently in specified packaging and that is costly. Hence, most of us only trade with street vendors as they also pay cash and enable us to invest back immediately into agricultural operations.” Covid-19, he said, affected them but they still forced things and went to plough their fields. “We could not get seeds on time and some varieties we did not get at all as we buy them only in South Africa. The lockdown made it impossible for us to prepare accordingly for the growing season.” His hope is that this ban becomes permanent so as to contribute significantly towards the growth of the agricultural sector and Lesotho’s economy. Nkheli Liphoto & Lemohang Rakotsoane

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