Agriculture ministry calls crisis meeting

MASERU — The agriculture ministry will have a “crisis” stakeholders’ meeting on the state of the agricultural sector and food security in Lesotho from June 2 to 4, the Lesotho Times can tell.

The ministry’s deputy permanent secretary, Liteboho Mofubetsoana, yesterday told this paper that a wide spectrum of stakeholders in agricultural affairs including farmers, agricultural organisations and developmental partners will convene “to discuss at length the performance of agriculture in the country”.

“We need to discuss the condition of agriculture and its performance in Lesotho especially in recent years,” Mofubetsoana said.

“It has become apparent that the production of food has declined annually due to the poor performance of agriculture.”

Lesotho’s agricultural performance has declined dramatically over the past 20 years.

In 1980 Lesotho could produce 80 percent of its own cereals but now it can only produce 30 percent of what it needs.

Just over 80 percent of Lesotho’s 1.8 million people survive on agriculture.

The agricultural sector’s contribution to national output has also fallen from 20 percent almost three decades ago to just below 10 percent in 2008.

Three months ago the block farming programme, established in 2006 to boost food production and security, hit troubled waters amid allegations that some prominent people had benefited from the loans and farmers who benefited from the scheme had failed to service their loans.

Mofubetsoana said the meeting will discuss the problems affecting the sector.

“We have policies and strategies in place that we are using, but where exactly do we get it wrong?

“We need to identify the problem, establish the cause and devise means to reverse the situation after receiving advice and guidance from all relevant stakeholders.”

Mofubetsoana said the discussions will be of an extensive nature because “we must leave the forum with a clear picture of what needs to be done”.

“We need to have explored all possibilities. Is the country’s state of agriculture the way it is because of poor implementation of policies?” Mofubetsoana said.

“Could it be because agric extension officers do not work well with farmers or that farmers do not embrace their guidance?”

According to Mofubetsoana, block farming will not be discussed as an independent item on the meeting’s agenda but “as part of a wide variety of agricultural issues”.

“Block farming will be just an item among issues to be discussed,” Mofubetsoana said.

However, on Sunday Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili, put an emphasis on block farming when he addressed a Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) by-election rally in the Mpharane constituency in Mohale’s Hoek.

Mosisili hailed the controversial agricultural policy as an excellent initiative “but poorly implemented”.

He added that it was imperative that the government worked around breathing life into the project because although “it has potential it does not seem to be doing well”.

“There is an excellent agricultural project called block farming but it seems implementing it is not going as well as one would expect,” Mosisili said.

“We have to talk about it and ask the public to give its input to guide us in the right direction.

“Next month there will be an all-engaging agricultural conference whereby all agricultural departments will come together.

“The purpose will be to discuss agricultural challenges we are faced with and how to tackle them.”

Mosisili said the consultations would be extensive and “that we will have to come up with a solution in the end”.

“If the problem is agricultural equipment and inputs, then we will get them in order to cultivate our fields and produce crops,” Mosisili said.

Mosisili however refrained from addressing a call by former trade minister Mpho Malie and opposition parties to launch a probe into the alleged mismanagement of block farming funds.

In February, Malie called for an urgent investigation into the block farming scheme after alleging that some prominent people could have looted the funds which were meant to assist farmers.

Malie alleged that the government-guaranteed loans could have been used for money laundering purposes.

This allegation has however not been proven.

Neither have his allegations that some ministers had looted the fund.

The Basutoland African Congress (BAC), a small opposition party with one seat in parliament, went as far as requesting the office of the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP), Leaba Thetsane, to launch a probe into matter.

However, Thetsane declined to take up the BAC’s request referring the political party to commissioner of police after quoting section 5 of the Criminal Procedure & Evidence Act, No. 9 of 1981 prohibiting his office’s direct involvement.

“The only advice I would give at this stage is that the matter be referred either to the office of the Commissioner of Police (the investigatory arm thereof) or the office of the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offences for action,” Thetsane said.

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