MASERU – The coalition government placed agriculture as one of its highest policy priority areas with more funds budgeted for agricultural projects in the 2014/2015 financial year.
Finance Minister Dr Leketekete Ketso said as a measure to reverse the persisting decline in agricultural production, government had earmarked M166 million for agricultural subsidies in the 2014/2015 budget in parliament on Thursday.
In total, the agriculture ministry’s capital budget is valued at M209 091 001 million a significant increase from M193 650 000 million allocated in the 2013/2014 budget.
The agriculture ministry’s budget is also backed by some funds from the trade ministry’s capital budget which specifically directed to agricultural production plants (dairy plant refurbishment M2 million, wool and mohair scouring plant M5 million, silos and storage facilities M3 million and slaughter house M6 million).
Ketso said since taking office, the Prime Minister Thomas Thabane-led coalition government engaged a turnaround strategy in agriculture with government injecting a subsidy for summer cropping season in the 2012/2013 which resulted in total grain production of 154 000 metric tonnes compared to previous years’ average of 42 000 metric tonnes.
“In the 2013/14, we continue to intensify support to the farmers. We are yet to receive full reports for this year, but forecasts predict that the yield could even be higher than the previous year’s 154 000 metric tonnes,” Ketso said.
He said the results from the past cropping seasons since increasing agricultural subsidies means that the policy intervention aimed at improving food security and therefore reducing hunger are yielding positive results.
Ketso said another major focus would be on development and support of commercial agriculture, focusing on measures to increase agricultural productivity, improve and facilitate productive technology in agriculture including diversification into high value cash crops.
“Agricultural production in Lesotho has thus far been constrained by lack of diversification, modernisation and marketing.
“Government’s strategy is to improve agricultural supply chains as well as marketing infrastructure,” Ketso said.
Ketso said while the focus has in the past been on crop production, the 2014/15 subsidies would be extended to other subsectors to support diversification.
“In addition, M11 million is proposed to support irrigated agriculture and procurement of agricultural machinery.
“Livestock production will be supported through the construction of wool and mohair shearing sheds and support for smallholder agriculture development,” Ketso said.
The Minister of Agriculture Litšoane Litšoane, speaking to the Sunday Express after the budget speech in Parliament, said Lesotho is still hard-hit by hunger and needs to reach a point where there local food reserves are stocked.
“We will keep subsidising agriculture until we have developed our local farmers and again until we have local food reserves that have all the grain crops we need,” he said.
Litšoane said his ministry would also be focusing on irrigated crop production and the rehabilitation of projects like the Masianokeng irrigation project.
“He (Ketso) talked also about high value cash crops, and here we are going to be focusing still on crops like wheat and beans as we still import more 91 percent of our yearly wheat and beans needs,” Litšoane said.
He said the ministry also intends to support livestock production with more focus on improving the quality of wool and mohair.
He said the construction of a wool and mohair scouring plant in the Butha-Buthe district was one of the signs that the coalition government was dedicated to adding value to livestock farmers’ products.
“When wool is sold in its raw state without having been cleaned, its value is reduced and we want our farmers to have their wool cleaned locally. We actually found the Butha-Buthe district to be the best place to place the plant as it’s close to Mokhotlong district that has the highest population of wool producing sheep,” Litšoane said.
He also said government would also be revamping existing veterinary clinics to ensure all animal products are of high quality.
“We have also seen that Basotho still believe that dipping is the best way of vaccinating animals as opposed to usage of injections hence why we are also going to be reviving some of the old dipping areas so that we get rid of diseases like anthrax,” Litšoane said.
Litšoane said an indicator that there was more commitment to agriculture was the fact that the Trade and Industry Ministry’s capital budget consists mostly of projects meant to augment agricultural production.