MASERU — Lebese Lekholoane, Smallholder Agriculture Development Project (SADP) Manager, this week said productivity and output of smallholder commercial farming activities in the project areas of Butha-Buthe, Leribe, Berea and Mafeteng have increased.
In an interview with Lekholoane on Monday, he said the project has stimulated interest in commercial agriculture among farming cooperatives, farmer groups, agribusinesses and farmer associations.
Since the launch of the project on July 4 last year, 30 grants have been awarded under the project’s Competitive Grants Programme.
Agro-businesses, which include those into the production of poultry and pig rearing, wool and mohair and food processing and packaging are among those that have so far benefitted from the project.
“The project had paid out approximately M4.2 million to farming groups and agro-businesses.
“These were efforts meant to promote commercialised agricultural activities, which would see farmers being able to improve their productivity and also penetrate rewarding markets in the four districts of operation”, he said.
He explained the selection of the four project districts was based on their accessibility, market conditions and their high potential in producing a variety of crops and livestock.
“The districts also contain good arable soils suitable for productive agricultural investment projects,” Lekholoane said.
The six-year project is collectively funded to the tune of US$24.3 million (about M200 million) by the government of Lesotho, the World Bank and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).
Its main objective is to increase and improve marketed output among project beneficiaries.
“We would also like to ensure that by the end of the project more smallholder farmers would have attained the capacity to run their enterprises on a more sustainable, commercial and competitive manner.
“The project also seeks to increase agriculture market opportunities in the four districts.”
The project has five components, which are the Competitive Grants programme, Market Linkages, Agricultural Investment Plans (AIP), Technology Packages and Project Management, which looks at procurement, finance, monitoring and evaluation.
SADP has so far completed all operational manuals on all the mentioned sub-project components.
Lekholoane explained that under the Agricultural Investment Plans (AIP), a total of 32 projects were designed in the four districts.
“The AIPs help farmers to identify production problems and initiate interventions,” Lekholoane said.
He explained so far, four AIPs consisting of 28 sub projects were ready for implementation in Ha Rasekila in Butha-Buthe, Tsikoane in Leribe, Teyateyaneng in Berea and Ha Seeiso in Mafeteng.
The estimated cost of the implementation is M1.6 million and this would cover three sub components: productive investment, natural resources management and capacity building.
Under the Market Linkages component Lekholoane said the project has provided marketing training to marketing officers and agriculture extension services officers in the four targeted districts.
He said the capacity building would help improve business operations by providing technical skills to farmers, agro-industries and other beneficiaries.
“In addition, we held nine round table meetings with the private sector as a way of linking productive sectors with markets.”
The project this year established a technical working group to advise on the appointment of service providers in the implementation of contracts to be awarded to non-governmental organisations and the private sector.
“We are finalising logistics on three contracts that are to be awarded.
“The organisations are going to train farmers in new farming technologies, some of which can bulletproof their operations against effects of climate change”, Lekholoane said.
On the other hand, the project upgraded its financial management system established in 2012.
“We are in the process of implementing the upgraded systems to help in the disbursements of funds to communities and private businesses,” Lekholoane said.
However, he said despite successes the project was facing challenges in the areas of coordination, provision of services and goods and incapacity in some areas within the sector.
“The major challenge has been that of inability to timely obtain project funds from the World Bank and IFAD.
“This has resulted in low expenditure rates.
“The problems are even compounded by the procedures required for in-putting data in the financial management system within the Lesotho Government.
“The AIP process has also been lengthy due to its interactive and participative nature.”