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Bongiwe Zihlangu

MASERU — The Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security bungled the block farming programme, the ombudsman has said in a damning report.

Sekara Mafisa’s report says the ministry abruptly changed polices, failed to properly screen candidates for the scheme and did not thoroughly supervise the programme.

Mafisa issued the report after some farmers had complained about the ministry’s management of the scheme.

The farmers complained that the ministry had not paid them for the equipment they hired out to other farmers under the programme.

The report says the ministry did not have clear criteria to vet the potential beneficiaries of the programme.

Because the screening was fraught with inconsistencies some farmers who had neither equipment nor the expertise ended up getting loans which they later failed to repay, it says.

The failure to repay the loans left the scheme in disarray, the report says.

Since the inception of the programme in the 2006/2007 cropping season, the report claims, the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security has shifted from the screening criteria.

“(The ministry) has failed to vigorously and faithfully apply the screening criteria,” the report says.

It adds that there were instances where farmers lied about the machinery they possessed “when they registered their equipment” to qualify for the loans.

“Their position only emerged only when claims of operation were filed whereby farmers made claims for categories of equipment they had not registered,” the report says.

The report takes a swipe at ministry for failing to “give guidance as to how credit worthiness and capabilities were to be determined”.

“The savingram does not give the addressees the measuring rod by which to gauge the presence or absence of the said requirements so that they could determine their individual positions,” it reads.

The report again blasts the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security for failing to make “an inspection of the property/machinery the registered farmer said he had”.

“Had these efforts been made, (the ministry) would have obviated the disappointments and frustrations farmers experienced,” claims the report.

“This omission constituted a neglect of duty on the part of (the ministry).”

The agriculture ministry should have made a joint effort to carry out awareness campaigns among field owners (block farmers) who still needed to fully come to grips with “the implications of block farming on them”, the report adds.

“Field owners should fully understand the risks taken by farmers by participating in block farming,” it says.

This in essence, the reports suggests, means that difficulties encountered by farmers were due to failure by the ministry to “offer training to farmers admitted into the programme”.

It justifies its position by maintaining that a good number of participants lacked the requisite understanding of block farming as it was a “fairly new concept in Lesotho”.

It also criticises public gatherings held by the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security to introduce the programme as insufficient as they could not be “a substitute for proper training”.

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