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Roll back poverty



A comprehensive 156-page report released by the World Bank last Friday must be compulsory reading for every policy-maker in government.
The report titled, Lesotho Poverty Assessment: Progress and challenges in reducing poverty, says significant steps have been taken in reducing poverty in Lesotho in the last 15 years.
It says the poverty rate fell from 56.6 percent in 2002 to 49.7 percent in 2017.

That is commendable but is still no cause for celebration. The reality, as the report admits, is that poverty remains deeply widespread in Lesotho.
Seventy-five percent of Lesotho’s estimated 2 million people are either poor or remain vulnerable to poverty.
While the report makes interesting reading, with impressive statistics, what it says is however nothing new.

We and our political leadership in Lesotho have always been aware of the challenges and the many excellent proposals that were cited in the report to extricate this country from its deep mire.
But we have over the last few decades failed to make significant progress in fighting poverty largely because of the vacuous politics of self-aggrandisement we have sought to pursue.
Political infighting, the bureaucracy within government structures, the lethargic manner we approach issues of development and the lack of prioritisation have all conspired to keep us in the jaws of poverty.
The result has been economic stagnation.

That is why we are praying, for once, that our political leadership will carefully study the report with a view to finally implement some of the great ideas contained therein.
We hope this report will finally jolt them into action.

But until we resolve the political stalemate and end the squabbling in the corridors of power, we can never focus on the bigger issues of fighting poverty and the pursuit of the development agenda.
Among the many issues the World Bank report dealt with, we wish to focus on just two: boosting the private sector and our agriculture.
The report says Lesotho needs “new sources of sustainable and inclusive growth, with a dynamic private sector that creates jobs and helps the country seize opportunities in regional and global markets”.
In simple terms, the World Bank is telling us that the private sector can be an engine for economic growth. Without a strong private sector, there will be no jobs to mitigate against poverty.
That is the simple reality.

But the government must create an enabling environment for the private sector to thrive. That means ensuring the private sector has access to finance when they need it. That means ‘lowering the regulatory costs’ to ensure the private sector thrives.

We now anxiously watch to see what creative mechanisms the government will put in place to strengthen the private sector.
But perhaps the biggest avenue out of poverty for the majority of Basotho remains agriculture. That is why it is important to strengthen that key sector.
The report says 71 percent of all Basotho are involved in some form of agriculture. The majority of course are into subsistence farming and only grow crops for consumption.

To roll back poverty, there is need to improve agricultural practices through irrigation systems and a switch to commercial agriculture.
Lesotho is blessed with vast amounts of water and there is absolutely no need to continue relying on rain-fed agricultural methods where we could continue to be susceptible to the vagaries of nature.
The report also speaks of diversifying crop production by venturing into deciduous fruit production and the growing of vegetables.
Isn’t it time that we replicate on a larger scale the successful fruit growing projects in Mahobong to roll back poverty?

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