Villagers take official to task over farming woes

MASERU — The chief economic planner for the Ministry of Agriculture came under attack from members of the community parliament over the government’s failure to deliver agricultural services.

The community parliament is an informal grouping of rural people organised by the Development for Peace Education (DPE), a civic group based in Maseru.

It seeks to monitor the implementation of government policies and projects. 

This year the focus of the community parliament, which has been running for three years, was on the criteria used by the government to draw the national budget.

’Mathoriso Molumeli appeared before the “parliament” on behalf of her bosses, Minister Lesole Mokoma and his assistant Ramootsi Lehata who were attending a cabinet meeting at the Government Complex.

There was no explanation why the ministry’s principal secretary did not attend the two-day session held at the AME Hall.

The villagers who are mostly from rural areas where farming is the main source of livelihood told Molumeli that they were not happy that the government was not providing basic services to boost agricultural production in their areas.

About 80 percent of Lesotho’s population lives on agriculture.

The first to raise concerns was a member from Kanana DO9 local government council, which is the entire constituency of Seqonoka, who demanded to know why the ministry was not keen on establishing irrigation projects in the constituency.

’Matefelo Ntoi  wanted the ministry to prove that by 2020 Lesotho will be able to provide food for local consumption and export as enshrined in the National Vision 2020.

“What is the ministry doing to help the Kanana DO9 in Berea and Khoelenyane F4 in Mohale’s Hoek to get agricultural machines in order to secure food in abundance?” Ntoi asked.

“How will we feed orphans, the sick and the elderly who cannot fend for themselves due to either old age or illnesses?”

Ntoi demanded Molumeli to tell the community parliament why an irrigation project called ’Mankukile Irrigation Scheme in Linokong was discontinued and the ministry took away the irrigation machines in 2006.

The ’Mankukile Irrigation Scheme was a project established in 2004 by owners of fields on the bank of Mohorare River in Linokong to boost the production of cash crops.

She said the government provided them with the irrigation machine which did not work for long because its batteries were stolen. Ntoi said the ministry then took back the machine in 2006 and left the farmers desperate.

She said Kanana, which is surrounded by three big rivers, has the potential of becoming a major cash crop producer.

Teboho Masenkane from Maphutseng in Mohale’s Hoek said he was worried that there were no drugs in most veterinary clinics.

“Sometimes taking your animal to the vet is a sheer waste of time because even if doctors are there, there will be no medicines,” Masenkane said.

“We need people who will provide services, not people with skills but who can’t help because of lack of equipment and medicine,” he said.

The same concerns were raised by the Seforong community who take their flocks to Thaba-Tseka veterinary hospital.

Chief Mpiti Letsie from Seforong said without shearing studs the future of wool and mohair farming was hanging in the balance.

Letsie said it was high time that the government considers building a shearing stud in Seforong and Koebunyane “where there is a great need.”

“Sheep and goats rearing is a principal way of life for my people and without shearing sheep and goats the local economy will plummet,” Letsie said.

“Do your utmost to ensure that our people are provided with these basic services.”

Molumeli  told the villagers that the ministry’s capital budget for the 2010/2011 financial year is M56 million which is distributed to many areas around the country for projects.

She said M15 million was from international donors while the government of Lesotho provided M36 million.

She said irrigation was one of the main activities that was being targeted.

On why ’Mankukile Irrigation Scheme was discontinued she advised the Kanana representatives to go to the departments of crops and machinery to inquire.

“This question can be better answered by the departments of crops and machinery,” Molumeli said.

She however said more focus was on the production and storage of potato seeds.

“There are opportunities that we can even export the potato seed as other countries have seen that we produce the right quality,” Molumeli said.

“The store we have now is small and we are aiming to build another,” she said.

The rural communities, according to many who aired their concerns in the community parliament, were not concerned about the cash crops but grains.

“What do you say about production of grains?” said one voice from the MPs.

“Our community’s economic wellbeing revolves around the production of grains,” said another.

Molumeli said some of the money will be used to rehabilitate the Lesotho Agricultural College (LAC) and farmers’ training centres countrywide.

She said the LAC deteriorated when it was part of the National University of Lesotho and when it gained autonomy again it was in bad shape that it needed rehabilitation.

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