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Govt, wool and mohair farmers on a collision course

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Bereng Mpaki

THE government is on a collision course with wool and mohair farmers.

This after it resolved that the farmers must shoulder the transport and subsistence costs of government veterinary doctors travelling to South Africa to inspect and certify their produce before it can be exported to international buyers.

In line with its latest resolutions, the government wants the farmers to cough up total of M529 200 for the 2020 trading season.

Agriculture and Food Security principal secretary (PS) Nchakha Makara makes the demands in a 28 August 2020 letter to the Lesotho National Wool and Mohair Growers Association (LNWMGA); the South African Wool and Mohair Buyers Association (SAWAMBA) and South Africa-based brokers, BKB.

The government and the farmers have previously clashed after the former banned farmers from selling their produce from outside Lesotho and through the brokers of their choice.

Prior to the introduction of the regulations in 2018, the farmers had always sold their produce through BKB in Port Elizabeth.

Under the 2018 regulations, the wool and mohair now had to be sold locally through the Lesotho Wool Centre (LWC) in Thaba Bosiu.

The farmers fiercely resisted the regulations, accusing the government of seeking to enrich Chinese-born investor, Stone Shi, at their expense. Mr Shi’s Maseru Dawning Trading Company controls the LWC. He was also accused of delaying the farmers’ payments and paying them much less than BKB after selling their produce on their behalf.

The regulations were eventually amended last year to allow the farmers to sell their produce from anywhere through their preferred brokers.

But the farmers and the government are on a collision course due to the latest demands by the state that anyone who wants to sell their produce from South Africa must foot the bill for the veterinarians.

The veterinarians have to travel to South Africa to inspect and issue certificates specifying the quality and origin of the produce. This cannot be done locally for wool and mohair exported from South Africa because it should only be done when the produce has been sold by the broker and its final destination is known.

Government has previously shouldered the costs but it now says it cannot continue paying huge costs when the farmers have the choice of using locally-based brokers to sell their produce.

In his letter to LNWMGA, SAWAMBA and BKB, Mr Makara said farmers who choose to trade their produce outside the country when such services are locally available should bear the travel and subsistence costs of its veterinarians.

He said veterinarians are required to make at least 15 trips to Port Elizabeth per trading season, with each trip costing M32 280 for two nights. He said the total cost of the trips per season is M529 200.

“This practice of veterinarians going to Port Elizabeth comes at the huge cost to the government,” states in his letter.

“As such, veterinary officers and their drivers need daily subsistence allowances for their upkeep while outside the country performing official duties.

“Since the government of Lesotho has levelled the playing field for Basotho wool and mohair farmers to sell their produce wherever they wish, this means that they have to bear costs of veterinary services such as inspection of wool and mohair within the country and outside the country.

“Considering the above, the government, through the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security, has resolved that all those who wish to continue sending their wool to South Africa, mainly Port Elizabeth, who will need services of the government veterinarians to certify their wool to international markets, should take full responsibility of paying for the transport, meals and accommodation costs for veterinarians and their drivers.”

LNWMGA spokesperson Khotsang Moshoeshoe described the move as “a ploy by the government to frustrate the farmers and deny them the freedom to trade their produce from wherever they want”.

“They want to force farmers to trade their fibre locally. It is unfortunate because the farmers’ earnings will be significantly reduced by this cost.

“The government has always borne the veterinarians’ costs and we (LNWMGA) would only contribute when there was a shortfall.

“When a government official is out on an official duty, his expenses are paid for by the government. For instance, government officials often travel to neighbouring countries to address issues of migrant workers.

“Their expenses are paid by the government and not the migrants. Why would the government change its policy when it comes to us?

“We need to engage the government to reconsider this matter because we believe it is an unauthorised change of government policy. We do not have a problem with contributing part of the expenses and not the whole cost which has been calculated in United States dollars,” Mr Moshoeshoe said.

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