IN HIS budget speech in parliament on Monday, Finance Minister Timothy Thahane painted a not-so-rosy picture of the state of our national economy.
The budget presentation came amid a background of immense challenges facing Lesotho.
Unemployment among the youths has soared.
Economic growth has shrunk.
Basotho mineworkers in South African mines have been retrenched.
Revenue from the Southern African Customs Union (Sacu) has also declined significantly over the past 12 months.
Our major donors the United States, Germany and Ireland, have problems of their own meaning they are now reducing their level of support to countries such as Lesotho.
Thahane said with all these problems it is clear that Lesotho must make hard choices.
He called on the nation to start producing goods and services for a global market.
He also called for “a radical change in the mindset of our people, especially the youth”.
One area that we think needs such an urgent mind-shift is the agricultural sector.
That key sector is in a parlous state.
The bill for decades of poor governance of that sector is now due.
For years our agricultural sector has been in terminal decline.
Food production has been dwindling since the early 1980s.
The numbers tell a surreal story.
In 1980 Lesotho could produce 80 percent of its cereal needs.
Now, three decades later, we can barely produce 30 percent of our cereal needs.
Surely, something is clearly wrong in the manner we have administered this key sector.
We need to see a clear programme designed to stop the rot.
But there is one area where we would want to respectfully differ with Thahahe.
We think the key to unlocking the vast potential within the agricultural sector does not lie with subsistence farmers.
Rather, the solution lies in commercialising agriculture.
Only then can we grow enough crops to feed ourselves and have excess for resale.
Our farmers must be encouraged to grow crops even on the little arable land available but on a commercial basis.
Subsistence farmers alone have neither the capacity nor the gravitas to radically transform our agriculture sector.
Unless we take this commercial route, Lesotho will continue to be forever beholden to its giant neighbour to feed its own people, which is a national embarrassment.
The fact that we cannot feed ourselves and have to rely on imports for basic foodstuffs and handouts from international relief agencies compromises our sovereignty.
It also gives potent ammunition to misguided elements among us who are calling on Lesotho to surrender its sovereignty to South Africa.
The Faculty of Agriculture at the National University of Lesotho must provide leadership in research in order to revamp agriculture.
When white commercial farmers were kicked off their properties during Robert Mugabe’s chaotic land reform drive in Zimbabwe they quickly found a lot of takers on the African continent.
Some went to Mozambique, Zambia and others as far afield as Nigeria.
These countries were able to strike well-structured commercial land deals with the farmers who brought a wealth of experience to the recipient countries.
Lesotho needs to come up with a similar model.
We need to tap foreign expertise in agriculture.
Such a model will in no way compromise our sovereignty.