AGRICULTURE and Food Security Minister, Mahala Molapo, says government will not stand by and watch criminals destroy the country’s efforts to address food security challenges, adding that offenders will be severely punished for fire incidents that have destroyed maize crops in different parts of the country.
Mr Molapo was speaking this week in the aftermath of last week’s incidents where more than 34 acres of maize ready for harvesting were reduced to ashes in two separate fire outbreaks in Ha Motšoana and Qeme in the Leribe and Maseru districts respectively.
The maize crop was planted under the block farming scheme which government introduced in the 2006/2007 financial year to stimulate commercial farming in Lesotho.
Under this scheme, the partly government-owned Standard Lesotho Bank provides guarantees for farmers to access credit. Government and farmers equally share the produce, which in this case would have been 340 bags of 50 kg maize for either party.
However, this will no longer be the case after 20.6 acres of maize in Ha Motšoana and a further 14 acres in Qeme were torched by unknown offenders last Monday and Wednesday respectively.
“It is true that two block farming projects, with maize ready for harvesting, were set alight last week,” Police Spokesperson, Inspector Mpiti Mopeli told the Lesotho Times, adding, “The two incidents occurred in Ha Motšoana and Qeme and investigations are ongoing and no arrests have been made so far”.
Mr Molapo this week issued a stern warning to the offenders, saying government would work with the police to ensure they were brought to book.
“It is not only these two incidents as there have been others that occurred in Ha Setho, Linotsing and Peka where a lot of damage was inflicted,” Mr Molapo told this publication.
He said the fire attacks affected measures aimed at achieving food security, adding the situation was aggravated by the fact that fields belonged to ordinary farmers.
“We spent a lot of money buying fertilisers and seeds sold to farmers at a subsidised price of 50 percent. And when maize is lost to fire, it means we lose millions (of maloti).
“Most of our people are already poor and dependent of farming and this means the country will continue to suffer and we will increase the burden on the already strained resources.”
Mr Molapo said fields that were planted by government were more susceptible to attacks because, “there is no one to look after the produce on a day to day basis and when fire incidences occur, we lose everything”.
“We urge farming owners involved in block farming to be our eyes and ensure that nothing bad happens to the crops because when government runs a loss, they lose so much in the process,” he said, adding, government was losing a lot in anticipated harvests because some herd-boys grazed their livestock in the fields at night.
Mr Molapo, who is also the ruling All Basotho Convention party’s legislator for Thaba Phatšoa, said there were different accounts on the fire incidents.
He said it was a normal practice for many in Lesotho to burn grass in their farms in preparation for the new planting season and it was possible that the maize could have caught fire during a grass-burning episode.
“Some of the fields were burnt down owing to fire lit by the herd-boys who were braaing dried maize while some were burnt down by lit cigarettes that had been discarded.
“We also have a reported case of a farmer who attempted to get rid of the shoba weed by burning it. Unfortunately the fire spread to the neighbouring farm which had a maize crop ready for harvesting,” Mr Molapo said.
He said although this was an accident, the offending farmer would still face charges because of his negligence, just like negligent drivers who were also charged for traffic offences.
Last month the Agriculture ministry said Lesotho was poised for a better maize harvest this year owing to good rains.