THE temporary suspension of operations by food restaurant chain, KFC Lesotho, after running out of imported chickens has cast the spotlight on the capacity — or lack thereof — of the country’s agricultural sector.
All seven of KFC Lesotho’s outlets had to close for most of last week with the situation only normalising on Friday after the importation of the chickens from South Africa.
One of the directors at KFC Lesotho, ‘Mabakhatla Majara attributed the challenges to delays in obtaining an import permit from the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security.
KFC Lesotho like most retail outlets, relies on importing poultry from the neighbouring country to sustain its operations.
Import permits for agricultural products have to be renewed on a monthly basis and KFC Lesotho imports all of its chickens every week or even twice a week depending on demand.
Ms Majara said although they would have wanted to buy from local suppliers, KFC Lesotho was forced to import from South Africa because local farmers lacked the capacity. She would however, not say how much they required on a weekly basis to sustain operations.
“We have had some local farmers coming forward with business proposals to supply us with chicken but that did not work out because they did not have the capacity to supply the quantities we need,” Ms Majara said.
“That said, obtaining chicken locally would be very helpful to us as it would save us from the headache of having to import.”
KCF Lesotho employs 210 workers in the country at its seven branches in Maseru (four), Mafeteng, Maputsoe and Butha Buthe.
However, Basotho Poultry Farmers’ Association (BAPOFA) representative Pereko Lentsoenyane told the Sunday Express that local farmers were actually looking for market opportunities, adding they certainly had the capacity to meet KFC Lesotho’s demands on consistent basis.
“We are a network of chicken farmers found in at least eight of the country’s 10 districts.
“I may not have the exact figures but I can tell you in Butha Buthe alone we have over 400 smallholder chicken farmers affiliated to us. So, I believe we have the capacity to meet whatever quantity KFC Lesotho may need given our extensive network of farmers,” Mr Lentsoenyane said.
Mr Lentsoenyane who is also BAPOFA’s Butha Buthe district chairman, said the association was in the process of opening a state-of-the-art chicken abattoir in the district which was been established through the support of Smallholder Agricultural Development Project (SADP) of the World Bank as well as Harmony Gold Mining.
He said the abattoir, which has the capacity to service 2000 birds per day, complete with cold storages, would also conform to international standards to ensure that the chickens can be sold on the formal market.
“Construction of the facility is complete and we are currently working out the modalities of commencing operations so that by July we are up and running.”
He said their vision was to control at least 40 percent of the market, thereby reducing the quantities being imported into the country.
Letlatsa Kalaila, a rising independent chicken producer, told the Sunday Express that he was ready to supply KFC Lesotho with his brand, Ndu Fresh Chickens.
Ndu Fresh Chickens slaughters 4500 birds per day. Its two farms rear over 15 000 birds at any given time, with additional live chickens sourced from other smaller farmers.
“I would love to supply chickens to KFC Lesotho. All I need is to know the specifications under which they want their chickens reared and how to prepare them for packaging,” Mr Kalaila said.