Wool farmers plead poverty

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Bereng Mpaki

MANY wool and mohair farmers who sold their produce through the Lesotho Wool Centre’s (LWC) say they have been reduced to destitution by the centre’s continued delays in paying them.

Some of the farmers say they have been forced to slaughter their livestock for food while they await the proceeds from the sale of their fabric.

The situation has become so dire that some of the farmers have now resorted to selling off their animals at giveaway prices just to survive.

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 and to date, many farmers remain unpaid.

The farmers, for the first time sold their fabric from within the country through the 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. They also 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.

Tumelo Hlongwane, a farmer from Mantšonyane in Thaba-Tseka said payment delays have had a serious negative impact on farmers’ lives.

Mr Hlongwane said many farmers in the district were yet to receive payments from the wool centre.

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

“It is hard for many farmers who are not employed to put food on the table in the absence of those wool proceeds. Some have school going children who are unable to go to school at the moment due to lack of resources.”

He further said that farmers are also unable to pay their herd boys, which means they are also suffering the same hunger problem in the grazing posts.

Likotsi Monyeke, a farmer from Ha Mateka in Berea said while selling their livestock is a way out, it will eventually reduce the amount of fabric they will be able to sell in the future.

He also lamented that the farmers are now harvesting meat instead of wool and mohair.

“These are the animals that we have depended on for sustenance for many years. The operators of the wool centre have played us for fools making promises which they have failed to keep.

“We are afraid that harvesting meat instead of fabric will leave us poorer so the district committee of the LNWMGA is going to meet this week to see how this problem can be solved,” Mr Monyeke said.

The Christian Council of Lesotho (CCL) has also weighed in on the plight of farmers.

“We are concerned by this endless wool and mohair saga. It is our appeal as the CCL that farmers and other stakeholders engage in earnest talks on this matter to find a lasting solution in order to address the hunger that the farmers face,” the CCL said in a statement this week.

The chairperson of the Lesotho National Wool and Mohair Growers Association (LNWMGA), Mokoenihi Thinyane, recently told Senate’s legislation committee that the slow rate at which farmers are being paid by the LWC has landed farmers in crisis.

He said before implementing the new regulations, the government should have started with a pilot project to sell the fabric from Lesotho before implementing it country-wide.

“I have never come across such a monumental crisis. March was normally the last month for farmers to receive their last payments. We are in this serious hunger crisis because the government interrupted our plans and failed to see things our way.

“This is something that needed to be piloted first at a smaller scale before being rolled out to the rest of the country,” Mr Mokuenihi said.

He said the payment delays have affected about 243 000 people who are part of the value chain across the country including farmers and their families, herd boys, wool shed workers and staff at the LNWMGA head offices among others.

BKB’s wool and mohair general manager Isak Staats recently pleaded with the authorities to allow farmers to export wool to South Africa as they faced hunger crisis. Speaking before the Senate legislation committee, the situation of farmers was beyond was bad.

“I cannot emphasize this point enough, but you have a situation whereby farmers are sitting at home with no food to eat and being forced to feed on their livestock due to hunger,” he said.

Mr Staats further indicated that the delay in selling the Lesotho mohair could dent the country’s reputation in the global market, which could be lost forever.

Efforts to get a comment from the LWC were fruitless this week as Mr Shi said he would be ready to comment on Friday. The Minister of Small Business, Cooperatives and Marketing,  Chalane Phori also said he would only comment when he returns from South Africa on Friday.

 

 

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