THE government has impoverished wool and mohair farmers through the introduction of the Agricultural Marketing (Wool and Mohair) regulations 2018 which bar them from selling their produce from outside Lesotho.
This was said by the chairperson of the Lesotho National Wool and Mohair Growers Association (NWMGA), Mokoenihi Thinyane, when he appeared before the parliamentary ad hoc committee on the wool and mohair.
The committee, chaired by Independent National Party (NIP) leader Kimetso Mathaba, was formed last month to investigate the farmers’ grievances regarding the sale of wool and mohair in the aftermath of the 2018 regulations.
The committee was formed at the instigation of Mahobong legislator and Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) leader Mothetjoa Metsing. Mr Metsing proposed that an ad hoc committee be formed to attend to the wool and mohair farmers’ frustrations over the regulations that they say were a hinderance to the smooth running of the industry that has sustained over 200 000 Basotho over the past 40 years.
Last week thousands of wool and mohair farmers petitioned the speaker of parliament, calling for the repealing of the regulations.
The controversial 2018 regulations, prohibit the farmers from selling their wool and mohair from outside Lesotho as they had done for over 40 years until 2018. They also compel the farmers to sell their produce via the Lesotho Wool Centre (LWC) in Thaba Bosiu.
The farmers prefer selling their fabric via South African brokers among them BKB saying they are assured of quick and higher payments than those from the LWC.
But since the advent of the regulations, Mr Thinyane said the speedy payments are a thing of the past.
He said now farmers have to wait longer for payments for their produce with the returns slashed to almost half of what they used to get. He said the farmers have been reduced to paupers who rely on handouts.
Mr Thinyane said he and other farmers were in dire situations so much that his herdsmen had confiscated the tryes of his car as he could no longer afford to pay them.
“I sent my mohair produce in April 2018 but to date I have not been paid,” Mr Thinyane said.
“By the end of September 2018, I already had sent my wool but I have only been paid half of what I received last season (when the produce was auctioned in South Africa). There has not been an explanation whether or not there would be more money coming. The same goes for thousands of other farmers. The situation is even worse for some farmers who have not received a cent of their produce. I can bet now that barely half of 40 000 plus farmers have been paid.”
He said even prominent members of the royal family who are farmers have not been paid.
“Even Morena Masupha Seeiso has also received paltry payments. Imagine what would then happen to us the ordinary people. He summoned me recently asking for his money. I told him that I took his produce to Thaba-Bosiu (LWC) because I had to follow the regulations and avoid being arrest.
“You should visit farmers in the villages and witness for yourselves what they have been reduced to. Our farmers never begged for anything because they worked for their money. Now they have been reduced to paupers who cannot send their children to school,” he said.
The ad hoc committee chairperson, Mr Mathaba said the Tuesday session was the beginning of their investigations into the wool and mohair saga, following which, a report will be presented to parliament.
The Minister of Small Business Development, Chalane Phori said the wool and mohair regulations were meant to cut down the number of middlemen in the value chain to maximise returns for Basotho.
Mr Phori said they had already anticipated that certain individuals who were looking to enrich themselves with the money that should be going to the farmers would be unhappy.
He also said the government did not set out to bar BKB but to push the company to compete fairly by abiding by the law. He added that the government has realised that farmers preferred to work with BKB, so what was needed was for the company to be registered locally.
“We are not fighting BKB. We just want the company to operate legally by getting registered. What we are fighting are illegal practices.
“We want to maximise returns for the farmer. The purpose of the regulations is help the farmers get more money than what they are getting. As it was, the middlemen were getting richer than the farmers. The committee should investigate this questionable resistance by some people,” Mr Phori said.
BKB registered a local company early this year but Mr Phori also alleged that the company owed the Lesotho Revenue Authority (LRA) M1, 4 billion in taxes. However, the organisation refuted the claims while the LRA said it could not reveal information about its clients.
Mr Phori refuted claims that the farmers were receiving less than they previously earned for their fabric calling the claims a smear campaign. He said instead, farmers were getting more than they used to get.
“That people are getting less money is a smear campaign from individuals who have been siphoning money from this business. Not only have farmers received more money but more jobs have been created and transport costs have been cut. As we speak, Lesotho has gained at least US$32 million directly from the buyers for cutting the middlemen.
“This was unheard of in the past. The South African middlemen used to receive the money on behalf of the farmers and convert it into local currency before sending returns to the farmers. They basically took most of the money and sent change to our farmers,” Mr Phori said.