THE Department of Standards and Quality Assurance (DSQA) in the Ministry of Trade and Industry is distributing 400 vegetable crates to fresh produce farmers to aid the safe transportation of their harvest to the market.
The smallholder farmers receiving the crates are beneficiaries of the Agricultural Productivity and Trade Development Project of the Enhanced Integrated Framework (EIF) which is implemented through the Ministry of Trade and Industry and Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security.
Also known as EIF Tier 2, the project’s overall objective is to foster Lesotho’s sustainable economic growth, employment, food security, nutrition and poverty alleviation. This is done through building and strengthening the capacity of small-scale farmers to commercialise, diversify and increase their production of fresh fruits and vegetables for domestic and export markets.
Through the project which began in 2014, many smallholder farmers from Mafeteng, Leribe, Berea, and Maseru have been equipped with greenhouse equipment and technical skills to produce high-value vegetables such cabbage, tomatoes, green, yellow and red peppers among others.
According to DSQA official Mosito Kanono, the crates were meant to ensure the quality of fruits and vegetables did not deteriorate during their transportation to the market.
“The crates will help to maintain the quality of products during transportation from the farmer to the market,” Mr Kanono told the Lesotho Times this week.
He said prior to receiving the crates, the farmers had to improvise with makeshift containers which were not always suitable for carrying perishable products like fruits and vegetables.
“Sometimes they would use discarded packaging for similar imported products, which meant they were unwittingly marketing those competing products,” said Mr Kanono.
“With the crates we are distributing, they will be able to market their own brands because they have a provision to place stickers on them, along with those of the EIF and the government of Lesotho.”
On the criteria used to issue the crates, Mr Kanono said the quantity of crates given to farmers depended on each farmer’s production capacity, with producers with more capacity getting more crates.
He said DSQA’s role in the project also included training the farmers on standards and quality, bar coding and traceability aspects to address the challenges associated with meeting formal market requirements.
Mr Kanono added the training they had imparted on the farmers was yielding fruits, as some were already incorporating the newly-acquired skills into their production processes.