Wool centre apologises to farmers

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Bereng Mpaki

THE Lesotho Wool Centre (LWC) has apologised to wool and mohair farmers for delaying their payments for their produce which was has been sold at centre since it began operations last November.

The centre also pleaded for patience while it works to address the “teething challenges” that have resulted in the payment delays.

The farmers endured a dry festive period after failing to receive payments for selling their fabric through the LWC.

The furious farmers blasted the centre for failing to fulfill their promise of paying them before Christmas day. To date, many farmers remain unpaid.

The farmers, for the first time sold their fabric from within the country through LWC after Lesotho held its first-ever local auction of wool and mohair in November last year.

For the past 44 years, Basotho farmers had been selling their fabric in South Africa through brokers BKB until the promulgation of the Wool and Mohair Regulations of 2018.

The regulations which were gazetted on 4 May 2018 forbid anyone from trading in wool and mohair without a licence from the Ministry of Small Business, Cooperatives and Marketing and they stipulate that all the transactions should be done from Lesotho.

The controversial regulations have been bitterly opposed by many local farmers who feel that they not only deprive them of higher earnings in South Africa but also that they were enacted to benefit Chinese businessman, Stone Shi. The LWC, which auctions the wool and mohair on behalf of the farmers, is a joint venture between the Lesotho National Wool and Mohair Growers Association (LNWMGA) and Mr Shi’s Maseru Dawning Trading Company.

The LNWMGA holds 75 percent shares while Maseru Dawning holds the remaining 25 percent in the LWC.

One of the farmers Tumelo Hlongwane of Mantšonyane in the Thaba Tseka district, said he was yet to receive payment from the LWC and this had negatively affected his capacity to provide for his family.

“It has been a very challenging time for some of us as we depend on wool proceeds for sustenance,” Mr Hlongwane recently told the Lesotho Times.

“It is hard for some farmers who are not employed to put food on the table in the absence of the proceeds from the sales of our wool. Some of us have children who are unable to go to school due to lack of school fees.”

On its part, the LWC has committed to overcoming the challenges and paying all the farmers their dues “up to the last cent”.

LWC spokesperson Manama Letsie, recently told journalists that payments to farmers are being processed every day. He said the LWC had sold 5000 bales of wool and mohair worth M200 million since the centre commenced operations last November.

He however, conceded that they had only paid 1 748 farmers out of 10 000 who sent their wool to the centre. The wool and mohair farmers are approximately 37 000.

“What we would like to say to the farmers is that we will pay them their monies to the last cent and we will pay them better anyone has ever done.

“We are very sorry to inconvenience them by taking a long time to pay them but we are working to address those issues,” Mr Letsie said, adding, “we process new payments every day and we have just paid 300 more farmers”.

He blamed the conventional banking system for the delays in making the payments, only 300 farmers could be paid per day.

Mr Letsie said they were in the process of moving to the online banking system which would allow them to pay more farmers payments at once.

“Until we change the banking system, we cannot be as fast as we would want in paying a larger group of farmers. However, we are in the process of changing to an online system and our staff have already undergone training on how to operate the new system.

“We hope to start paying farmers using the new system this week,” he said.

He also appealed to all farmers to provide them with their banking details, saying the failure by some to provide these had resulted in the failure to pay them.

And yesterday Mr Letsie said they had also updated a cabinet sub-committee on wool and mohair which summoned LWC management this week.

“The cabinet sub- committee wanted clarity on what is going on regarding delay in payment of farmers.

“We explained to them that we are experiencing some challenges which are causing delays but nevertheless we continue to pay farmers. In the end they understood what we told them and they seemed content, although they have directed us to ensure that more farmers’ payments are processed at a go; something which we are already working on.

“They also directed us to expedite remitting of the collected dipping levy to the government since it is about time to dipping season for livestock right now,” Mr Letsie said.

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