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Mokhotlong farmers open lodge



MOKHOTLONG – WOOL and mohair farmers in Mokhotlong are slowly moving to the tourism industry after the government disrupted their business through policy mishaps in the last five years.

Under the government of Prime Minister Thomas Thabane, the farmers were forced to sell their produce to the Thaba-Bosiu Wool Centre that was run by a by a Chinese businessman, Stone Shi.

It was a move that was to soon infuriate farmers countrywide as Shi failed to pay.

Five years after that controversial policy, the Mokhotlong’s wool and mohair district’s committee, which consists of 17 shearing centres, have now joined hands to build the Wool and Mohair Lodge to provide accommodation for tourists.

The lodge, although not yet fully fledged, is operational on a self-catering basis.

It opened its doors in 2019, shortly after the government intensified the crusade to force everyone to sell their wool and mohair to Shi.

The All Basotho Convention (ABC)-led government had created a wool trade monopoly for Shi, who collected a lot of wool and mohair from the farmers countrywide and later failed to pay.

The crusade to force farmers to channel their produce to Shi was led by Tefo Mapesela, who was the then Trade Minister, and Chalane Phori who was the Minister of Small Business Development.

Mapesela was the ABC spokesman while Phori was, and still is, the party’s deputy chairman.

Mapesela, then the Mokhotlong MP, has since defected from the ABC to found his Basotho Patriotic Party (BPP) which lost last Friday’s election dismally.

Farmers say they starved and sank deeper into poverty after the government failed to pay them.

Some farmers could no longer afford to take their children to school while others were left by their shepherds to seek employment in South Africa.

Other farmers are still owed while others were underpaid, they claimed.

“The situation was unbearable,” Aaron Moketa, Chairman of Moremoholo stud, said.

“Some had strokes while others died of heart attacks,” he said.

“We struggled a lot with the problems we had with the government,” he said, adding that “it had always been our forefathers’ plan and wish to have this”.

Moketa said they were extremely happy to have implemented this project, at long last. If things go south, Moketa said they would have “something to fall back on”.

These farmers invested a staggering M2 million to build a 20-roomed lodge comprising bedrooms, dining hall, kitchen and a hall.

Each centre contributed M50 000 annually. It took the farmers a year and four months to build the lodge. Moketa said they are going to use this project to help them navigate their way out of poverty.

At the beginning, only 17 centres were involved and now the figure has risen to 19. Moketa said their journey has not been an easy one.

He said they had toiled to make the project a success. He said the project became a success through strong leadership. One of the recent achievements is that they drilled boreholes at the lodge.

“We want to develop the place in order for it to be sustainable. It is through developments that we could achieve that,” he said.

Moketa said their aspiration is that the incoming government lead them to greener pastures and not meddle in the affairs of wool and mohair farmers.

What happened in the past, Moketa said, “should only remain in history books”.

Their wish is to see the government fishing around for investors to develop farmers and not the brokers because they have learnt the hard way.

Moketa said the Basotho National Party (BNP) through the leadership of the late Chief Leabua Jonathan built the shearing centres and allowed farmers to run them.

And since then all things were operating well for the farmers under successive governments.

For him, all hell broke loose under the coalition government led by the ABC.

Other parties in the coalition were the Basotho National Party (BNP), the Alliance of Democrats (AD) and the Reformed Congress of Lesotho (RCL) which all performed dismally last Friday.

“They handled our wool and mohair with cruelty and we have forgiven them because now we are the same,” Moketa said.

“We are all going to wear the gumboots and head to the fields,” he said.

The Thaba-Ntšo Shearing Centre Chairman, Tieho Maqhama, said the major problem that they faced was to see the previous government violating their rights as farmers.

Maqhama said the ABC-led government robbed them of their livelihood. Worst of all, they were left unpaid after their produce was taken to Shi.

“This led to a major setback for us because we got divided as farmers,” he said.

He said it took time for them to come together and work collaboratively again. Another problem that they faced was that of climate change especially when there was snowfall.

Maqhama said although the snowfall occurs regularly, they never get used to it as it affects them badly as they have to keep their sheep and goats in safer places some days.

The chairman of Senqu Shearing Centre, Pheello Moloi, shared the same sentiments about climate change citing that they would have snowfall in winter only. But now they also have it in summer.

“These days, he said, due to climate change, snowfall could happen in October, something that did not happen in the past,” he added.

Moloi further said in the case of climate change, sometimes there is no rain due to drought and this affects their animals because they have nowhere to graze.

He said the Covid-19 pandemic affected farmers because the prices of medicines and products went up and the borders were also closed. This therefore frustrated their movement.

Through their collaboration as farmers in the district, they have secured a market internationally. Moloi said they are also known by lots of buyers because of this collaboration.

And it is easier to get donors because of their partnership. This association was established in 1972.

’Mapule Motsopa

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