MASERU — The Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security is engaged in commercialisation of agriculture to reduce rural poverty and enhance sustainable economic growth. The ministry under the Smallholder Agriculture Development Project (SADP) aims to suppwort smallholder farmers to exploit agricultural opportunities and increase productivity, as well as diversify into market-oriented agriculture.
SADP Competitive Grants Officer, Retšelisitsoe Pheko, said the project is being implemented over six years (from 2012 – 2018) in four selected districts (Botha Bothe, Leribe, Berea and Mafeteng). “Since Lesotho is predominantly mountainous, with the mountain zone covering approximately more than 50 percent of the total arable land, the four districts are typically rich with black soils or sandy loams in the valleys where major agricultural activities occur,” Pheko said.
“The SADP support a range of sub projects identified by potential beneficiaries that will address commercialisation of smallholder agriculture and contribute towards sustainable smallholder productivity,” added Pheko. “The project comprises three components being, commercialisation of smallholder agriculture, sustainably improving smallholder productivity, and programme management,” Pheko said further.
SADP is seeking to address government growth strategies like national strategic development plan and also millennium development goals one, being to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger and goal seven, being to ensure environmental sustainability. “The main target group under the component would be small and medium agro-based businesses, farmer associations and cooperatives that have a potential to expand their market-related activities or improve their profitability, which would in turn improve market opportunities for smallholder farmers,” Pheko said.
The funding of the project amounts to US$23.5 million (about M239 million). Pheko said both World Bank and International Fund for Agriculture Development supported the project with US$10 million (about M102 million) each, and government of Lesotho with US$3.5 million (about M35.5 million). It is expected that by the end of 2018 the project would have achieved the increased agricultural market opportunities and productivity while the quality of market-oriented crops and livestock would be enhanced among smallholder farmers.
The first objective is to support Lesotho’s emerging agricultural businesses to contribute to increased commercialisation of the agriculture sector. The second objective is to support small-scale farmers in their efforts to produce marketable commodities, improve their ability to respond to market requirements, and help motivate semi-subsistence producers to move towards increased commercialisation in line with natural resources management considerations. wPheko said in competitive grants they target registered businessmen with trader’s licences, cooperatives and groups of farmers.
Pheko further asserted that the grant is divided into two segments being small which amounts to US$1 000 (about M10 161) to US$5 000 and larger grants ranging between US$5 000 to US$25 000. “In small category SADP provides eighty percent of the total budget of the project while the owner forks out the remaining twenty percent,” Pheko continued. Sixty percent is financed by SADP and forty percent in the larger category Pheko added.
“Smoothening relationships with local councils and chiefs will be also fundamental,” said Pheko. SADP agricultural investment development planning officer Lehlohonolo Mpholle said his office is charged with providing the community with technical training to improve production in line with market requirements.
“We offer commercial training, to better consider demand, costs and benefits when making production decisions in order to become more effective market participants,” Mpholle said. Speaking about the progress of the SADP, Mpholle said in round one which was a piloting phase, four sub-centres of agricultural resource centres have 13 groups that are already in business. “In Botha-Bothe at Ha Rasekila two irrigation vegetable production projects were established and also two each at Leribe and Tsikoane. Wool and mohair projects and one poultry (hatchery) project were also established at Leribe and Tsikoane,” he said.
While in Berea, Teyateyaneng there were four irrigation vegetable production projects, one diary production and one piggery and in Mafeteng, Ha Seeiso had one piggery share of the project. Highlighting the challenges they met so far, the SADP panel of officers said their reliability on South Africans suppliers in machinery procurement was hampering progress.
There was also poor community participation in the initial stages of the pilot project while “availability and coordination of relevant stakeholders was an uphill mountain to climb”. However, to curb the foresaid challenges they will engage the communities with training and study tours across the world to facilitate the learning of the concept of commercial agriculture, they both Pheko and Mpholle said.
Meanwhile, Lillo Sefothane of Ha Khaba in Leribe district who is engaged in poultry farming confirmed to Sunday Express that it is easy for them now to rear broilers and layers as they have a hatchery. “With the help of SADP we now have the hatchery which we could not afford to buy on our own.”
Moshapa Lekhula of Rampai (Motete area) in Botha-Bothe also affirmed that SADP is an important catalyst for rural economic development and also a vehicle for capacity building, skills transfer and poverty alleviation. Jubilant about SADP, Lekuhla said: “Marketing support, genetic improvement of communal flocks through the introduction of quality rams and training and mentorship will help in the development of our wool production.”
As if he had not said enough about SADP, Lekhula was thrilled to say: “This project is the main driver behind the integrated wool sheep development programme within the communal areas of the Rampai and is aimed at the genetic improvement of woollen sheep in communal areas to contribute towards increased income”.
The genetic potential of sheep with regards to reproduction, growth and quality as well as the quantity of wool is viewed as an essential element of a larger holistic approach towards increased production of woollen sheep in these areas. The project is expected to cover 90 sub centres in the fight to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger.