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Empower people to produce own food

IN politics rhetoric is not necessarily a bad thing.
When skilfully used it can help a politician win votes and endear himself to the people.
But there comes a time when the oratory should be backed up with actions and results. Promises eventually have to be fulfilled.
This government has reached a stage when it needs to transform rhetoric into action.
Nowhere is this transformation more urgent than in the battle against poverty and hunger.
During the election campaign last year the political parties that eventually formed the coalition government made grand promises.
They said they will boost food production by reviving the struggling agricultural sector.
They also promised that no one will go to bed on an empty stomach if they were elected into office.
Well, it’s been more than a year since they came to power yet thousands of Basotho are still starving.
Thousands are still food insecure and might starve if they don’t get assistance. Hunger stalks people in both urban and rural areas. Poverty is still rampant.
To its credit, the government seems to have started focusing on improving the agriculture sector.
On Friday Thabane launched Hlaselang Tlala Basotho cooperative, a project aimed at reviving the Mejametalana farm in Lithabaneng.
Six urban constituencies are part of the cooperative.
The army recently signed an agro-business deal with the Lesotho National Development Corporation.
Under the project the army will produce fruits and vegetables which will be canned by the Basotho Fruits and Vegetable Cannery.
Communities will benefit by providing fruits and vegetables to the cannery and also leasing their land to the army.
Like the Hlaselang Tlala Basotho cooperative the cannery project will help in the fight against hunger.
But these efforts are far from adequate.
If cooperatives and military involvement in agriculture are all the government has in its strategy against hunger then more trouble lies ahead.
The army, no matter how hardworking and disciplined it is, will not be a potent weapon in the battle against hunger.
Agriculture is not their core business and it will never be.
Cooperatives are effective but they have limitations.
Getting them to work requires proper management and discipline, not only from those at the top but the people who are supposed to do the job as well.
There are hundreds of cooperatives in Lesotho but very few are working well.
The rest are either tottering on the brink of collapse or are now existing only in name.
The reasons for their failure are almost the same: poor financial management, lack of management skills and lack of commitment from their members.
It takes time to get cooperatives off the ground and tremendous effort to sustain them.
Cooperatives should therefore be a long-term solution to the problem of hunger in Lesotho.
The short-term solution, we believe, is to empower the people to produce their own food.
Many hardworking households cannot afford fertilisers, seeds and draught power.
With the farming season only a few weeks away, the government needs to start getting inputs to the villages.
There will be abuse, of course, but that should not dissuade the government from trying.
Apart from getting the inputs to the farmers the government must also dispatch agriculture experts to the villages to teach people new farming methods.
A lot of our farmers have been doing the wrong things over and over again.
Crops that require above-average rainfall are still being planted in drought-prone areas.
With a little help in terms of knowledge and inputs most of our people might be able to beat hunger.
The government also needs to work hard to change the mentality amongst our people that only a good harvest of maize will protect society against hunger.
In this era of unpredictable rain patterns it might be prudent to encourage people to concentrate their efforts on market gardening and animal husbandry.

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