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Small Business courts EU to fund wool testing laboratory

Bereng Mpaki

THE Ministry of Small Business Development, Cooperatives and Marketing is courting the European Union (EU) Embassy to finance the establishing of a wool testing laboratory.

Small Business Development minister Keketso Sello last week said they were searching for infrastructure investment to support the country’s wool and mohair trade localisation agenda, which is constrained by lack of local testing facilities.

Lesotho currently relies on the Wool Testing Bureau of South Africa located in Port Elizabeth for testing its fibre before selling it.

The government in 2018 embarked on a drive to localise the trading of wool and mohair which had for many years been done through South African trading platforms.

The move, through the Agricultural Marketing (Wool and Mohair Licensing) Regulations, 2018, was meant to improve farmers’ economic benefit from sale of the fibre.

The regulations were however, amended last November after stiff resistance from the farmers until parliament passed the Agricultural Marketing (Wool and Mohair Licensing) (Amendment) Regulation 2019 No 68.

The amended regulations allow farmers to export their produce- a right they had been deprived of when the 2018 regulations were enacted.

Addressing wool and mohair farmers in Mohale’s Hoek last Thursday, Mr Sello said they were in talks with the EU Embassy for possible funding for a wool testing facility.

“We are in talks with the EU Embassy and they have expressed interest in supporting Lesotho to put in place supporting infrastructure for localisation of wool and mohair trade,” Mr Sello said.

The EU’s head of delegation, Christian Manahl confirmed talks with the ministry.

“I have discussed this matter with Minister Sello and while we have not yet received an official request, I mentioned to the minister that the EU would look favourably at a request to finance a consultancy to ascertain the costs and economic viability of a testing laboratory in Lesotho. A decision to establish a laboratory should be taken on the basis of a sound assessment,” Dr Manahl said.

He said the industry would benefit as testing is essential in selling wool on the international market but could also help open up the European market for Lesotho.

“The principal beneficiaries would be Basotho sheep farmers but if this facilitates exports to the EU, it would also be of interest to EU-based companies invested in the sector. We believe in fair trade as a means to stimulate economic growth and job creation, and we would be happy to contribute to this, in particular now, as the economy has suffered from the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The first step before a decision is taken would be a short consultancy. It could also include exploring options for processing of wool in Lesotho, to create added value and jobs. Only when the results of such a consultancy are available will it be possible to know the costs.”

He said they want to assist the wool and mohair industry to overcome its challenges.

“We hope to assist the industry to overcome its challenges by helping Lesotho make decisions on production, marketing and trade, based on a sound expert assessment. Wool (and mohair) is an important sector, in particular for the rural economy, and its development should be guided by economic reasoning,” Dr Manahl said.

Last month local broker, Maluti Wool and Mohair Centre (MWMC) shipped its first container of wool to Bulgaria adding to already existing destinations for Lesotho wool that include Italy and Czech Republic.

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