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Potato association on charm offensive



MASERU – Co-op Lesotho and the Potato Lesotho Association (PLA) are on a charm offensive to convince Lesotho’s farmers that they have what it takes to satisfy the local market and kick away poverty.
Last Saturday, the two organisations were in Sebapala in Quthing to drive that agenda. Local farmers were invited to display their products.

The idea was to showcase the potato harvest under the Mantša-Tlala Project (Drive out poverty project) and highlight the potential that exists among local famers.

Zanele Peete, the chairperson of the Mantša-Tlala Project, said part of the campaign involves inviting producers and consumers to witness the massive potato harvest by members of the project.

He said farmers under the project have been selling more bags of potatoes than before, although actual statistics are still being compiled.

He pleaded with Basotho to stop relying on South African imports when the Mantša-Tlala can satisfy demand.
“Basotho’s products should be given first priority in the market,” Peete said.
Peete said he learnt at a recent meeting he attended that local farmers can produce enough to feed Basotho through cooperative societies.

“I am saying through Basotho cooperatives, Lesotho can feed Basotho,” he said, adding that the favourable climate, fertile soils and abundant water supplies that Lesotho is blessed with came as an advantage for local farmers.
“What can prevent us from producing?” he asked.

Speaking at the show, Mosothoane Kalinyane, a Marketing Officer for Ministry of Small Business in Quthing, said the government, the private sector, farmers, and their representative organisations were united in promoting local produce as well as proffer advice to each other.

Kalinyane said regular meetings between buyers and sellers were part of the drive and helped producers to know the gaps in the market and to meet the expectations of potential buyers.

Speaking at the same occasion, the Field Operations Manager for Co-op Lesotho, Thabo Shale, said they lacked enough knowledge on potato farming hence they collaborated with other organisations to reach every Mosotho.
He said they are also working with the Small Business Ministry because of complaints by most farmers about the lack of markets for their produce. The Ministry of Small Businesses oversees the marketing department.

Speaking with a businessman who buys from local farmers, Shale said he was informed that some of the produce supplied was of poor quality.

Potato Lesotho Association spokesman, Mahasela Nkoko, said producing good quality potatoes in large quantities could be the answer to Lesotho’s unemployment problems.

He said Potato Lesotho and Co-op Lesotho are already working to improve farming methods, hinting at the introduction of a products grading system.

Nkoko said no produce will be allowed on the market without passing through the grading system.
This will enable the association to keep track of producers and examine problems pertaining to poor produce.
Leseko Makhetha, an economist from the National University of Lesotho (NUL), said Lesotho imports potatoes worth about M3 million every month.

Makhetha said Lesotho used to produce enough food for local consumption and exporting the surplus but now this is history. He said 95 percent of products in the market shelves today are imports from South Africa.
He said potatoes produced in other countries are inorganic because farmers there use chemicals to get good quality products free from pests and diseases.

The altitude for Lesotho is high and there are no pests and major diseases affecting potato production, he said.
“Most of the countries prefer organic potatoes and there is high demand for Lesotho potatoes,’’ he said.
Makhetha said farmers in Quthing, Mohale’s Hoek, Leribe and Semonkong have been equipped with knowledge on potato production through a training programme to be rolled out countrywide.

Southern Region Research Officer for the Ministry of Agriculture, ’Matumelo Rafiri, said Lesotho has the potential to produce potatoes, onions, cabbage and other green vegetables.

She said drought can be overcome by adopting rigorous water conservation methods.
The bigger challenge, said Rafiri, is that Basotho are producing on a small scale.

Owner of Lower Moyeni Stores, Wesley Burmeister, said he does not mind stocking Basotho products in his shops but complained that local suppliers were inconsistent.

He said farmers normally bring good samples to him but the products that they eventually deliver are of poor quality.
“You may find that inside the bags, there are rotten and small sized products,” Burmeister said.
He said rogue farmers “increase the weight of the bags by adding stones”.

Refiloe Mpobole

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