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Agric minister outlines strategy




Former Agric Deputy Minister Mahala Molapo, left, share some talk with Forestry Minister Kabelo Mafura after the budget speech presentation on Friday
Former Agric Deputy Minister Mahala Molapo, left, share some talk with Forestry Minister Kabelo Mafura after the budget speech presentation on Friday

…as ministry is allocated M224.3 million for 2015/16

Billy Ntaote

Former Agriculture Minister, Litšoane Litšoane, has expressed concern that the 2015/2016 national budget appears to focus more on promoting commercial agriculture than subsistence farming which he said was the bedrock for ordinary Basotho.

Mr Litšoane, who is also the Bela-Bela Member of Parliament (MP), was speaking to the Sunday Express following Friday’s presentation of the budget by Finance Minister Dr Mamphono Khaketla.

The All Basotho Convention (ABC) MP argued government was neglecting subsistence farming despite its importance to Basotho, and concentrating on commercial farming which only benefitted a few and the elite.

However, during her budget allocation to various ministries, Dr Khaketla told parliament that agriculture played a crucial role in Lesotho’s economy, as well as the lives of ordinary Basotho.

“Agriculture does not only provide food and raw materials but also employs a very large proportion of our nation. We will continue to strengthen agricultural development through supporting subsistence and commercial farming. Government proposes M224.3 million for agriculture for the 2015/2016 Fiscal Year, of which M120 million is for the summer cropping programme,” said Dr Khaketla.

The finance minister also said the agricultural sector was projected to grow by 2.4 percent between the financial years 2014/15 and 2017/18.

Dr Khaketla continued: “The authorities will gradually deal with the sector’s problems, such as small and fragmented landscapes, seed and fertilizer, irrigation, soil erosion, output marketing, storage facilities and transport, and the need to implement reforms that will propel our farmers from subsistence to commercial agriculture.

“The Ministry of Agriculture has contributed to this initiative by increasing the area planted through a summer cropping project financed by the Government of Lesotho.

“As a result, the area planted is expected to positively influence yield since it is projected to rise by 7.5 percent per annum, covering about 50 percent of arable land in the medium term.

“The medium term forecasts also show that the mining sector will be influenced by the ongoing increase in global demand and depreciation of the local currency against the US dollar, which will cause an average rise of 8.8 percent  per annum in the sector between 2014/15 and 2017/18.”

However, in the 2014/2015 national budget, then finance Minister, Dr Leketekete Ketso allocated M209.1 million for agriculture.

Dr Ketso had also budgeted M11 million to support irrigated agriculture and the procurement of farming implements while livestock-production was supported through the construction of wool and mohair shearing sheds. There was also support for smallholder agriculture development.

For her part, the current Agriculture and Food Security Minister, ‘Mapalesa Mothokho told the Sunday Express her ministry was planning to focus more on the ‘Intensive Crop Production Programme’ allocated M120 million on Friday.

Ms Mothokho added her ministry would have particular focus on maize, sorghum, wheat, bean, and pea-production, through the summer cropping programme.

She also said the Intensive Crop Production Programme would include vegetable-production and increasing irrigation farming.

“We cannot say we are going to look at one aspect only as we need to have a holistic approach that would ensure we achieve the nutritional needs of our people.

“We need to ensure that our society eats a balanced diet, hence the inclusion of vegetable-production. We are also going to include livestock-farming in this programme funding as we realise the need to improve the quality of meat and dairy products,” said Ms Mothokho.

She also told the Sunday Express that her ministry would be undertaking an “interesting wool and mohair improvement programme” for the 2015/2016 financial year.

The wool and mohair development programme, she added, was “one of the most interesting programmes” the ministry would be working on.

“The Minister of Finance would be going to sign for funds for that project next week in Rome, Italy, and that project has a lot of job opportunities.

“In her speech, the Finance Minister said agriculture employs a large number of people which is true as it is not just about food-production but also job-creation. The project is going to  kick-start in three months’ time from next week after the signing of agreements with donors in Italy.

“We are going to see a large number of wool and mohair shearing sheds being refurbished. And again, these funds would be utilised for the upkeep and development of our grazing pastures.

“The funds would also be used for the development of our sheep and goats quality, which is why I cannot say we are looking at one aspect in agricultural development as a government,” said Minister Mothokho.

Her ministry’s goals, she added, was to employ “a holistic approach” to agriculture and food security by “combining grain-production with livestock-production and the nutritional needs of our people”.

She added: “Our policy focus is mostly on the Intensive Crop Production Programme which targets the most fertile land in the country and investing government funds in those fields.

“We will invest taxpayers’ monies in those fertile, selected few lands so that we can get the largest returns, which in this case, is grain-production.

“We are not necessarily preferring one district or area to the other, but simply trying to get the most out of the scarce resources we have as a ministry hence the selection of the most fertile land for this Intensive Crop Production Programmes.”

However, ex-agriculture minister Litšoane said Dr Khaketla’s budget was largely representative of the wishes of the past government led by Dr Thomas Thabane, but had made some “sharp changes in certain aspects”.

“When looking at the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security, there seems to be a huge change from the budget we had drafted when we were still in office (from June 2012 to March 2015). The funds which have been allocated don’t seem to be enough to meet the demands of the people at grassroots level.

“There is a huge shortage of agricultural implements and ensuring subsistence farmers have access to subsidies so that they continue to have food security, and this cannot be covered by this budget,” said Mr Litšoane.

“If a human being has a certain disease, medication would not be of much benefit to them as the drugs require patients to have a balanced diet. We were already advocating for an increase in the production of fruits through orchard-development across the country to increase access to fruits for Basotho.

“But looking at this budget, I’m really concerned that the funds are lower than we expected and this means the country would be regressing from the higher levels of food security we had attained during our administration,” said Litšoane.

“However, we are yet to scrutinise this budget fully but from what we heard in her speech, the money allocated to agriculture is not enough.

“We also fail to understand the significance of this M50 increment on old-age pensions, as these are elderly people who are now guardians of orphaned children and mostly use that money , which is now M550 per month, to care for their parentless grandchildren.

“What would these elderly people use to fund their subsistence farming projects when they are given a paltry M50 increment? They should have the means to ensure  their grandchildren have the most basic needs, which is three square meals a day,” said Mr Litšoane.

“What we have realised, as the opposition, is that the government’s intention is to concentrate more on commercial agriculture. But where is this going to be practised since Lesotho’s land tenure system is based on subsistence and not commercial farming?

“I doubt people would willingly agree to have their fields used for commercial agriculture as it needs larger pieces of land.”

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