Wool farmers snub Sello
MOKHOTLONG wool and mohair farmers this week boycotted a meeting with Minister of Small Business Development, Cooperatives and Marketing, Keketso Sello.
The snub could be another twist to the love-hate relationship between the government and the farmers dating back to 2018 when the government introduced a law barring the selling of local fabric in South Africa.
Mr Sello was in Mokhotlong as part of his nationwide tour to engage wool and mohair farmers in a consultative dialogue process that is meant to inform government policies on wool and mohair trade.
The farmers and the government have been at loggerheads since the introduction of the Agricultural Marketing (Wool and Mohair Licensing) Regulations 2018. The new law forced farmers to sell their fabric locally instead of their preferred South Africa where they had been shipping it for over 40 years.
At the time, the Lesotho Wool Centre (LWC) was the only licensed broker in the country.
The farmers fiercely resisted the regulations, saying they were never consulted prior to their development and accused the government of seeking to enrich Stone Shi, an investor of Chinese origin, at their expense.
Mr Shi’s Maseru Dawning Trading Company operates the LWC. The broker 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 to allow the farmers to sell their produce from anywhere through their preferred brokers.
But last Thursday, Mr Sello, who was accompanied by Minister of Agriculture and Food Security, Tefo Mapesela, arrived in Mokhotlong to an empty hall where the dialogue was to take place.
Arriving aboard a Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) helicopter, the minister was heavily guarded by armed army officers.
But he was visibly disappointed to address only a dozen farmers. He was eventually forced to abandon the meeting after waiting for over an hour for more farmers to arrive but that was in vain.
Mr Sello warned the farmers that boycotting his meetings would not stop the government from developing laws that regulate the industry.
“I am not satisfied with the farmers’ attendance because I know that they were invited to the meeting,” Mr Sello said.
“But farmers should be aware that nothing will stop the government from developing laws that it believes can improve the industry when farmers do not come to make their views known.”
He said the poor turnout was also observed at the Leribe meeting (1 and 2 October 2020) while the Butha-Buthe (24 and 25 September) meeting was satisfactorily attended.
Mr Sello said they would continue consulting the farmers for the sake of developing the industry.
“It is important for us to conduct the consultations with the farmers to avoid a situation where farmers will later complain about enactment of laws that do not serve their interests. We have already experienced it in the past.”
Asked why they did not attend the minister’s meeting, Lesotho National Wool and Mohair Growers’ (LNWMGA) spokesperson, Khotsang Moshoeshoe accused the government of pursuing a hidden agenda which they did not want to be party to.
The Mokhotlong based farmer alleged that the minister was targeting marketing groups, which are made up of farmers who are not members of the LNWMGA to form a new national association.
“As far as we are concerned, the invitation was extended to the marketing groups and not members of the national association. We know their agenda,” Mr Moshoshoe said.
He said the government was hell bent on seeing farmers trading their fibre with local brokers. Mr Moshoeshoe said the government is fighting a losing battle and the only way out for it is to surrender and stop interfering in the operations of the industry.
“I do not see things going well for industry as long as the government continues interfering in the affairs of this industry.”
He said localisation of the wool and mohair industry was originally the farmers’ idea that was hijacked by the government.
“The localisation was initiated by the farmers and not the government. The establishment of the LWC was part of the farmers’ plan, and we will not agree to the government hijacking our initiative and then implement it in a way that makes us suffer,” Mr Moshoeshoe said.