THE Agriculture, Food Security and Marketing Ministry has resolved to settle outstanding wool farmers’ payments using cash since the said farmers do not have bank accounts.
The ministry said it was finalising logistical arrangements for payments to be made and would soon announce when it was ready to travel around the country to hand out cash to the owed farmers.
In March this year, the government set aside M10 million to pay the 2711 wool and mohair farmers whose payments have been outstanding since 2018. The farmers were supposed to be have been paid by the Lesotho’s then only licensed broker, Maseru Dawning. The broker has been battling to settle the payments since then and the government has now resorted to paying the farmers.
This after the government introduced a new policy localising the trading of fabric ostensibly to improve farmers’ financial benefit from their products while also improving tax revenue for government.
This was done through introduction of the Agricultural Marketing (Wool and Mohair) Regulations, 2018 which prevented anyone from trading in wool and mohair without a licence from the Ministry of Small Business, Cooperatives and Marketing.
The regulations also stipulated that all transactions should be done locally. Prior to that law, Basotho farmers had been selling their fabric through South African brokers such as BKB among others.
But after being bitterly opposed by many farmers, the regulations were eventually amended to allow farmers trade their fabric with brokers of their choice.
Addressing journalists on Tuesday, Agriculture minister Nkaku Kabi said his ministry had already paid M8, 1 million of the total M10 million to an undisclosed number of farmers.
The government has been unable to pay the remaining M1, 9 million as the affected farmers did not have bank accounts. He said they were also struggling to track down some farmers.
The ministry has therefore resolved to disburse the remaining M1, 9 million to the owed famers from Quthing, Qacha’s Nek, Maseru, Thaba Tseka, and Berea in cash.
They have decided against using mobile money platforms as some farmers cannot even be tracked meaning they have no known cellphones.
“We have resolved to pay the outstanding farmers in cash,” Mr Kabi said.
“We will soon announce when we will be travelling around the country handing cash to the farmers. Some of them do not have active bank accounts while we are failing to track down others.”
He said they would team up with farmers’ associations and the Ministry of Small Business Cooperatives and Marketing to verify the farmers’ records.
Mr Kabi said the cash payment process will be done under heavy security to ensure the safety of the funds.
On his part, the Lesotho National Wool and Mohair Growers Association (LNWMGA) spokesperson, Khotsang Moshoeshoe, said he was unconvinced of the government’s sincerity.
He said the LNWMGA believes that Maseru Dawning owes farmers over M100 million and not M10 million as claimed by the government.
“We believe Maseru Dawning owes farmers way over the M10 million stated by the government. We believe the figure is above M100 million as we have some farmers whose sale statements show for instance that their fabric is worth M70 000 yet the actual funds deposited into their bank accounts would be just M30 000. This means that such a farmer would be owed M40 000 and there are lots of them,” Mr Moshoeshoe said.
Asked why they were not asking the broker to rectify the discrepancies, Mr Moshoeshoe said they would do so when the time was right.
“When the time is right, we will demand accountability for those who are responsible for the farmers’ suffering with regards to the non-payment,” Mr Moshoeshoe said.