THE government has with effect from Monday banned bottled water imports for retailers, the Ministry of Agriculture, Marketing and Food Security said this week.
The move comes just a week after the responsibility of all Lesotho products was bestowed onto the Agriculture ministry by Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro when he reshuffled his cabinet.
Agriculture minister Tefo Mapesela this week said Lesotho spends M69 million on bottled water imports annually, which was a significant erosion of Lesotho’s economy.
“The ministry will cease to issue bottled water permits starting from 8 February 2021,” reads Mr Mapesela’s statement.
“Despite Lesotho’s abundant water resources, we have always been known to import bottled water. However, this has reached intolerable levels.”
Mr Mapesela said the government is putting in place international standards for water production to ensure the health of consumers. He said his ministry was also working tirelessly towards strengthening value chains in the water bottling industry to ensure maximum benefit on the economy.
Chairperson of the Lesotho Water Bottling Federation of Lesotho, Ntsie Maphathe welcomed the government’s decision saying it was long overdue.
Mr Maphathe said in 2018 they wrote a letter calling for cessation of bottled water imports when Mr Mapesela who was still the Minister of Trade and Industry while Chalane Phori was then Small Business Development, Cooperatives and Marketing minister.
Mr Maphathe said the ban on bottled water imports would help them sell water in large quantities thereby presenting a chance of creating employment.
The move is also expected to improve the quality of production plants which will now be certified while markets would be broadened with a chance of exporting.
“Importing water was a strain to our businesses as the competition was high,” Mr Maphathe said.
He said it was particularly tough to compete with brands that have been on the market for longer and were trusted by consumers because the market always prefers trusted brands.
According to the Lesotho Highlands Development Association (LHDA’s) water exports report of June 2017, the Lesotho received M837, 7 million in royalties from water and electricity exports to South Africa in 2016 alone. Yet M63, 9 million or 7, 63 percent of M837, 7 million, was spent on importing the same water in bottled form.