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Army, LNDC defy critics, collaborate in fruit cannery

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Limpho Sello

MASERU — It’s been described as a strange business deal. Some have said the army has no business in commerce. Others have accused the army of snatching business opportunities from civilians.
But that criticism has not stopped the Lesotho National Development Corporation (LNDC) and the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) from going ahead with their joint venture into agro-business.
On Thursday LNDC boss Joshua Setipa and commander LDF Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli toured the Basotho Fruit and Vegetable Cannery in Masianokeng.
This follows a Memorandum of Understanding that the army and the development corporation signed on May 17.
The plan is to boost production at the cannery.
LNDC and LDF have agreed to find arable land in Lesotho’s prime agricultural areas and help communities to grow cash crops.
The Basotho Fruits and Vegetable Cannery has the capacity to produce 500 tins of canned fruits daily.
In the 1970s and 1980s the cannery produced asparagus that was exported to Europe.
In early 2000s the then trade minister Mpho Malie tried to revive it with a plan to produce peaches countrywide and can them for exportation to other Sadc countries and European markets but failed.
The LDF, according to the LNDC quality controller ’Maphooko Phooko, will use its manpower to produce fruits and vegetables that the cannery will use.
Phooko said the LNDC and LDF will establish partnerships with communities that will provide land for growing fruits and vegetables.
The communities will also be engaged in the growing and harvesting as a way of imparting skills to the people.
Currently the cannery produces canned beans and asparagus.
The LDF will also help with the maintenance of equipment at the cannery.
“We are planning to work with the community to provide us with peaches and again the LDF will have to step in with the transport,” Phooko said.
“We want to engage Basotho and to be part of this as much as possible,” she said.
During the tour the cannery was not in operation and Phooko said this was because it is offseason.
Fumane Maema, the managing Director of Basotho Fruit and Vegetable Cannery, said their products, especially asparagus, are being exported as far as Germany.
Phooko said at full capacity the cannery produces about six tonnes of asparagus and 10 tonnes of peaches per day.
Setipa has described the joint venture with LDF as a “breakthrough not only for the country, but for us as the LNDC, as we encourage investments in agro-processing”.
“The deterioration in agricultural production and inputs, particularly for the cannery needs a special approach, hence the engagement of the armed forces,” Setipa said in May. “This relationship will certainly assist raise the production and capacity levels of the cannery”.
The cannery produces canned organic peaches, apricots and asparagus for the European, South African and Lesotho markets.
It also produces fruit nectars/juices and canned vegetable salad.
Work on the project is expected to start in September. The army will be responsible for plantations and production of asparagus, beans and other crops that can be processed by the cannery.
LDF officially engaged in agricultural production in 2005.
Under the deal LNDC will provide arable land, funding, seeds and other farming implements while the LDF will provide manpower.

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