THERE were mixed emotions among the Mokhotlong district wool and mohair farmers this week when they received payments for their sold fabric through the Lesotho Wool Centre (LWC).
The Mokhotlong farmers started receiving their remaining balances last Saturday under a new payment strategy devised by the LWC to ensure that they clear the balances owed to the farmers across the country.
This follows long delays in payments for the fabric auctioned locally for the first time through the LWC. For more than 40 years up to last year, Basotho farmers sold their wool and mohair from South Africa through Port Elizabeth-based brokers, BKB.
But on 4 May 2018, the Agriculture Minister, Mahala Molapo, torched a storm when he gazetted the Agricultural Marketing (Wool and Mohair Licensing) Regulations of 2018. The Minister of Small Businesses, Cooperatives and Marketing, Chalane Phori made further amendments on 30 August to include associations and cooperatives among those who were barred from trading in wool and mohair without a licence from his ministry.
The regulations further state that “the holder of an export licence shall not export wool and mohair unless it is prepared, brokered, traded and auctioned in Lesotho”.
Any person found guilty of brokering, testing, processing, trading and auctioning wool and mohair without a licence would be liable to a fine of M50 000 or a maximum of five years imprisonment.
Anyone found to be in the business of shearing wool and mohair or exporting without a licence will be fined M20 000 or be imprisoned for two years.
Wool and mohair is currently auctioned locally by the Lesotho Wool Centre (LWC).
The 2018 regulations sparked strong protests from the wool and mohair farmers and this led to LNWMGA filing a High Court application in September 2018 seeking the nullification of the regulations on the grounds that they violated the farmers’ rights to sell their product to whoever they wished and from wherever they chose.
Meanwhile, the farmers have been up in arms with the LWC after enduring a dry festive period having failing to receive payments for selling their fabric locally.
This week, while some farmers reported an improvement in the proceeds from fabric sales compared to what they used to get in the past while working with BKB, others said they have received lower than they projected.
Bofihla Tšilo, who is the chairman of Liphamoleng wool shed, said he is disappointed by the way things turned out after the government had promised they were going to earn more out of their fabric in selling their fabric through the wool centre.
“What we got is lower compared to the money we used to receive all these years,” Mr Tšilo told the Lesotho Times.
“For instance, with my herd of 60 goats, the average income I used to get was never below M10 000 but this year I have received just around M6000. So, that is far from what I used to earn.
“This is pure disappointment for me as a farmer as I had high expectations. This year I was actually expecting to earn around M30 000.”
He said he had already borrowed against his expected and has no idea how he will settle his debts.
“I do not know which debts to prioritise because the money I have received will not be enough to settle all of them at once. I have been avoiding meeting some of the people that I owe money due to the delay in receiving this money. However, there will be no place to hide now that my debtors have heard that we are being paid today.”
Mr Tšilo lamented that some of the wool farmers have been told that they have to wait longer for the payments for the wool which they delivered late.
“We were also expecting to get the rest of the remaining wool proceeds here today but now we have been told that our wool arrived late at the centre as it only got there on the 6th of this month. This was due to the transportation challenges that we encountered along the way.
“The government should not block us from trading our fabric where we want because we were satisfied with what we were getting there despite talk that we were being ripped off. Now instead, it is the government which is ripping us off by forcing us to go to Thaba Bosiu (LWC),” he said.
Another farmer, Tlohang Mokone from Liphamoleng wool shed, said the farmers’ dissatisfaction could lead them to end up finding illegal alternatives.
“We may be forced to stop sending our livestock to the wool shed for shearing for fear that we will continue to get the paltry proceeds that we got this year. Although private agents are still paying way too little, at least it will be our choice to sell to them,” Mr Mokone said.
For his part, LWC Marketing Officer Tekane Thibeli, said that the wool centre is expediting the process of paying farmers by paying per district to ensure all the farmers have been paid by end of this month.
He said they started with paying farmers from Qachas Nek and this week they are paying those from Mokhotlong.
He also conceded that some of the farmers have had to wait longer due to some unforeseen challenges. He explained that due to its late arrival at the wool centre, mohair was only sold during the period that is normally assigned to wool sales.
“It is possible that the farmers have got lower than they expected because there are some balances which will be settled later. We suspect that some of the funds did not reach the farmers because their bank accounts were now dormant. In that case, we have resolved to assist such farmers by arranging with the bank to still give them the money as though they do not have any bank accounts.
“Through their wool sheds, we compile lists of such farmers which are then given to the bank. The farmers just need to bring their identity documents and name of their wool shed to the bank to get the money,” Mr Thibeli said.
He said the wool which was delivered late will only be auctioned in the next selling season.
“This means their wool will only be sold in the next wool selling window and that’s when they will be paid.”
He also said some farmers could have received less than they expected due to fluctuations in the prices of the commodities on the international market.
Mr Thibeli also said that farmers from Thabang wool shed will not be getting any payments this week since their fabric was delivered without the requisite stock sheets and bale balancing documents, which make it impossible for auctions to be conducted.