LOCAL water-bottling firms have formed an association as part of efforts to introduce operational standards in the sector.
The body, Motherland Water Association (MWA), was meant to address unethical practices some companies have been accused of perpetrating such as bottling untested or regular tap water.
According to Lekhalong Natural Spring Water (LNSW) General Manager ‘Mantebele Malebo, whose company is a member of MWA, the absence of operational standards and a clear regulatory framework were a stumbling block to the development of the industry.
“The water bottling industry has shown a lot of potential to benefit the country’s economy, and this can be realised through the introduction of operational standards,” she said.
“The quality of a product can only be assessed through standards, and in the water-bottling industry, testing is a crucial element.”
Ms Malebo said the unethical practices of some water-bottling firms would tarnish the image of the whole sector in the long run.
“Lesotho is renowned for being endowed with the cleanest natural springs in Africa hence the label ‘white gold’. We cannot afford to have that image tainted,” she said.
“At the moment, most companies in the sector want to export, but the lack of any standards increases our vulnerability to negative perceptions and also limits our potential to expand.”
Ms Malebo added: “That is why we formed a body called the Motherland Water Association which has since engaged the Ministry of Trade and Industry to come up with basic standards to address the problem of firms that take shortcuts. Our association also advises budding water-bottling companies on the approaches to take.”
Turning to LNSW, she said they were compliant with regional standards.
“Our main hindrance in exporting our products is limited finances even though we obtained a certificate that enables us to trade throughout the southern Africa region,” said Ms Malebo.
Contacted for comment, the Ministry of Trade and Industry’s Director of Standards and Quality Assurance, Molebatsi Rabolinyane, said water-bottling firms should use international standards in the absence of national guidelines.
“We applaud companies such as Lekhalong that have already gone ahead to obtain international certification,” he said.
“The ministry is in the final stages of issuing national standards which are an adaptation of international standards. National standards seek to provide customised requirements that water-bottling companies can choose to follow to ensure quality assurance for their products.”
Once completed, Mr Rabolinyane said, the national standards draft would then be submitted to the Lesotho Electricity and Water Company (LEWA) and other stakeholders for review.
“Following the submission, the onus will rest upon the regulator, LEWA, for implementation. LEWA will assess which of the two categories of bottled water, natural spring water and mineral water, would require strict regulation,” he said.