Overhaul agriculture

THE problems in Lesotho’s agriculture sector have been well documented.

Players in the agriculture sector acknowledge that the sector has been in perpetual decline for decades.

Instead of producing our own food, we have continued to rely heavily on food handouts from international relief agencies.

We also continue to import essentially all our food requirements from our giant neighbour, South Africa.

We have neglected the agriculture sector for decades and the chickens are finally coming home to roost.

It would appear the bill for decades of mismanaging the agriculture sector is now due.

We think there is something seriously wrong when a nation cannot feed itself and has to rely on imports for survival.

The government would be the first to admit that this situation is not healthy and needs to be reversed urgently.

We would like to believe the two-day conference on agriculture and food security that began in Maseru yesterday will address these concerns.

Most conferences on agriculture end up as talk-shows with government ministers engaging in endless verbal gymnastics.

We hope this is not going to happen this time round.

On another level, the decision to hold the conference is a subtle admission that all is not well in the agriculture sector.

It is a confession that we have indeed bungled in the manner we have handled the agriculture portfolio over the years.

Such a confession would be the first step in stopping the rot and reversing decades of decay.

It takes courage and humility to admit that we indeed have made mistakes in the shoddy manner we have handled our agriculture sector.

Taking the Robert Mugabe route of blaming drought and other natural disasters for miseries that we brought on ourselves will not wash.

There are several things that are clearly wrong in the sector.

The shambolic state of the block farming programme is one such example.

That 52 percent of our arable land lied fallow in the 2008/09 farming season, according to agricultural experts, is yet another dramatic illustration of what needs to be fixed.

We sense a general lethargy in our farming sector that is holding back national development.

But this is no small challenge.

Agriculture and Food Security Minister Lesole Mokoma needs to roll up his sleeves and ensure that he turns around the country’s fortunes in agriculture.

It is a daunting task but Mokoma must seize the moment and provide real leadership for the national good.

The agriculture statistics speak for themselves.

They clearly show that we are in the mud and that we need a monumental effort if we are to haul ourselves from the mess.

In 2009, the World Food Programme said about 450 000 people, about a quarter of Lesotho’s 1.8 million people, were expected to require humanitarian assistance before the next harvest in April.

The WFP said in 1980, Lesotho produced about 80 percent of its national cereal requirements.

By the 1990s, food production had slumped to about 50 percent.

By 2004, the country was only producing 30 percent of its national cereal requirements.

The figures have continued to slump over the years.

The poor maize harvests have worsened the country’s high levels of food vulnerability among the poor who are forced to buy from supermarkets instead of growing their own food.

About 82 percent of Lesotho’s people live in rural areas and eke a living from the land.

These people are some of the poorest of the poor in the world.

It is clear that we indeed have big problems on our hands.

We hope the agriculture conference will breathe new life into the ailing sector.

We need to utilise the little arable land that we have in Lesotho productively to improve agricultural output.

“When we look back we see we have started schemes but they have not been sustainable. The funds that were used could have been used more prudently,” Finance Minister Timothy Thahane told the conference.

If we are to rescue agriculture there is certainly need to ensure that agricultural projects are sustainable and well managed.

We need to instil in our people the notion that farming is a full-time job.

Agriculture can be hugely rewarding if we literally put our hands to the plough.

But this takes dedication and commitment.

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