SEVERAL farmers across the country are stuck with unsold wool and mohair after the recent regulations that that blocked the fabric from being processed and auction out of the country.
Some of the farmers who have tonnes of the fabric stashed in wool shed have expressed concern that they may end up starving as they have failed to sell the commodity.
The farmers registered their fears during the ongoing awareness campaign by the ministries of agriculture, small business and trade in Thaba Tseka on Friday.
The ministers of the three ministries are part of a cabinet subcommittee set up by the government to resolve the disputes between the farmers and their partner in the Lesotho Wool Centre, Stone Shi.
On 4 May this year, Agriculture Minister Mahala Molapo torched a storm when he gazetted the Agricultural Marketing (Wool and Mohair Licensing) Regulations 2018, which state that no one will be allowed to trade in wool and mohair without a licence from the Ministry of Small Business, Cooperatives and Marketing. The Small Business ministry is headed by Chalane Phori.
South African company BKB has been auctioning the fabric for local farmers for more than 40 years until the Agricultural Marketing (Wool and Mohair Licensing) Regulations 2018 were gazetted last month.
During the proceedings on Friday, one of the farmers, Esau Maolla, said they were stuck with unsold wool in the wool sheds.
“At the moment we are stuck with the fabric and unable to sell it,” Mr Maolla said.
“We are hungry and would like to know when we will be able to start selling the wool and mohair again so that we can feed our families.”
He also said farmers were anxious to know what would be done with the fabric if the farmers fail to meet the new requirements as stated by the Regulations.
In response, Mr Phori said the farmers should take their wool and mohair to Lesotho Wool Centre which is the only licensed wool and mohair broker.
“We are saying wool and mohair should be removed from the wool sheds to Thaba Bosiu, a facility which the farmers co-own. Those not interested in doing so should keep their fabric at home,” Mr Phori said.
He said there was no for farmers to keep doing business with BKB even though they stand to gain higher returns when they engage the LWC to sell fabric on their behalf.
“This country will be hauled out of poverty against all odds. There is no reason why someone would want to earn lower when there is a chance to earn much higher.”
The regulations entail that all the fabric will be sold directly from the producer to the buyer instead of a previous system where BKB played the middleman.
LWC, a joint venture between local producers and a Chinese owned Maseru Dawning will now be responsible for the handling of the wool at its facility in Thaba Bosiu.
Maseru Dawning recently obtained a court order banning the export of Lesotho’s wool to Wool Exchange in Port Elizabeth through BKB.
Maseru Dawning, which is led by Chinese investor Stone Shi, is a partner in the development of Lesotho Wool Centre joint venture along with the Lesotho National Wool and Mohair Growers Association (LNWMGA).
The agreement between the two partners saw the construction of LWC where wool and mohair will be sold directly to international buyers.
The LWC’s stated aim is to ensure that local farmers maximise the financial returns from the sale of their fabric which will be sold directly to overseas spinning factories through an online auction.
While the majority of wool and mohair farmers are happy with the new direction which government wants to follow in the international trade of the fabrics, some still harbor reservations.
Studies done by the small business development ministry have revealed that when auctioned in South Africa, Lesotho wool and mohair generate about M800 million of revenue. Only M400 million of that amount comes to Lesotho while the rest is lost to middlemen.
The new regulations further make it mandatory for anyone wishing to broker, test, trade and auction, process and export wool and mohair to obtain a license for each from the ministry.
The regulations further state that “the holder of an export license shall not export wool and mohair unless it is prepared, brokered, traded and auctioned in Lesotho”.
“A person who is found to be in a business of wool and mohair shearing shed or exporting without a license will be fined M20 000 or to imprisonment for a period not exceeding two years or both sentences. A person guilty of brokering, testing, processing, trading and auctioning wool and mohair without a licence will be eligible for a M50 000 fine or a maximum of five years imprisonment.”
Speaking during the public gathering in Thaba Tseka district, some of the farmers said they want to realise more income from their wool and mohair.
“This change should have come a long time ago. Nonetheless, I am convinced that the new regulations are going to ensure that Basotho make a living out of their livestock,” one of the farmers, Moloi Sekali, said.
“They (the regulations) are going to ensure that our country’s economy grows and its people are healthy.”
Another farmer, Paseka Namane, said: “Today we are hearing this information from the horse’s mouth and we therefore understand it”.
“If this is going to work out the way they are saying it then I have no doubt that our lives are going to change for the better.”