THE Minister of Agriculture and Food Security, Mahala Molapo, says the government has made progress towards the expansion of orchards around the country in order to develop a deciduous fruit industry as part of its job creation strategy.
This follows the successful implementation of the World Bank funded Likhothola Fruit Farm, a horticultural project in Mahobong.
The farm produces peaches, apples, apricots and plums with support from the World Bank assisted – Private Sector Competitiveness and Economic Diversification Project (PSCEDP).
The project now supplies major local and South African retail outlets like Pick n Pay, Shoprite, Fruit n Veg and Spar.
Following his recent tour of Likhothola, Mr Molapo, who was accompanied by Trade Minister, Tefo Mapesela, said the government was eager to build on the success of the commercial fruit project and strengthen value chains.
“We are in advanced talks with a private company that has experience in commercial horticulture to oversee this project when it is weaned,” Mr Molapo said.
“The plan is also to give the farmers additional space of 20 hectares to plant different fruits.
“They will also establish a packaging house with cold storages for the purpose of exporting the produce.”
Initially piloted in Mahobong, Qoqolosing and Sehlabeng sa Thuate, producing different varieties of apples, peaches, apricots and plums, it was observed that apart from their exceptional qualities in terms of size, taste and colour, most of the produce also ripens earlier than that from other countries. This has also presented a unique opportunity to fetch premium prices as early products on the market.
The produce is distinctly recognisable by its brand name Mountain Harvest on the market.
The Likhothola Fruit Farm, which occupies 10.73 hectares and accommodates 14, 900 trees was set up by nine farmers in Mahobong.
Mr Molapo said the project would transform Lesotho’s agricultural sector through diversification from the conventional grain production into high yield cash crops that have the potential for self- employment.
“I am impressed with the quality of fruits and we tend to believe that such quality is only found in South African products.
“But today we know that Lesotho can produce this type of fruits and this is remarkable progress we have made as a country.
“I hope the government will do more to provide a level playing field for more people to get involved. Institutions of higher learning can send their students here to learn on how to produce internationally certified fruits so that the products can break into the international market.”
Mr Molapo’s sentiments echoed those of Finance Minister, Moeketsi Majoro, who said in his budget speech last month that the government would support the expansion of orchards in order to create jobs.
“The Ministry of Forestry and Land Reclamation, Trade and Industry, Small Business and Cooperatives and the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security working with banks, insurance companies, buyers, and investors will lead the roll out of fruit orchards. Their efforts will build on the successful operation of the Likhothola Orchard in Mahobong, Leribe
“The government is also attempting to lure Dutoit Agri (Pty) Ltd (of South Africa) and other large fruit growers to invest in Lesotho’s virgin fruit industry. Discussions on potential investment will advance in FY2018/19,” Dr Majoro said last month.
Meanwhile, Mr Mapesela said the horticulture project laid the foundation for successful commercial agricultural production in the country. He said he was particularly impressed with a suitability map which notes areas that are suitable for planting fruit trees.
“This also makes it possible for us to do agricultural zoning, which will enable us to produce suitable crops on a massive scale in order to diversify and also industrialise the country,” Mr Mapesela said.
He said the industrialisation and mass production for the domestic and export markets would grow the country’s economy and generate foreign exchange.
“A project like this will ensure that the recently opened fruit and vegetable market centre at Tikoe Industrial Estate has supplies and therefore remains functional,” Mr Mapesela said.