A neigh­bour in­deed!

Lesotho Times - - Big Interview -

When Le­sotho de­clared a food cri­sis in 2012, the South African gov­ern­ment im­me­di­ately pledged sup­port worth $20 mil­lion (M231 mil­lion).

how­ever, lit­tle had gov­ern­ment known this de­ci­sion would not only bring hope to food-in­se­cure house­holds in Le­sotho but also change the lives of strug­gling small­holder farm­ers in South Africa.

Fol­low­ing last week’s de­liv­ery of 700 met­ric-tonnes of maize-meal — the last con­sign­ment in the foodas­sis­tance pro­gramme which be­gan in 2013 — South Africa’s high Com­mis­sioner to Le­sotho, Rev­erend har­ris Mbulelo Ma­jeke, told the Le­sotho Times ( LT) how this ini­tia­tive had been such an eye-opener to his gov­ern­ment.

LT: What prompted South Africa to re­spond so swiftly when Le­sotho ap­pealed to the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity for as­sis­tance in the face of a se­vere food short­age?

Ma­jeke: The geo­graph­i­cal po­si­tion of Le­sotho and South Africa places this coun­try high on the de­vel­op­ment agenda of South Africa.

Clearly, the prin­ci­ples of good neigh­bourli­ness dic­tate that you can­not be con­tent when your neigh­bour is in need; you are bound to help.

As good neigh­bours, South Africa an­swered the call for help, and was happy to do so. South Africa is se­ri­ous about help­ing Le­sotho re­duce poverty.

Although Le­sotho is a sov­er­eign state, the two coun­tries are one peo­ple in terms of our shared his­tory, cul­ture, re­la­tions and many other as­pects.

The suf­fer­ing of Le­sotho ci­ti­zens di­rectly af­fects the peo­ple of South Africa.

LT: But what im­me­di­ately came to your mind when you heard about the food cri­sis?

Ma­jeke: hunger is the num­ber one en­emy to hu­man de­vel­op­ment, so­cial well­be­ing and peace. When I heard there was a food cri­sis here, I was deeply con­cerned about what could hap­pen if help was not im­me­di­ately forth­com­ing.

I thought of women and chil­dren be­cause I know they hold the fu­ture of this coun­try. I also imag­ined the plight of food-in­se­cure peo­ple liv­ing with HIV.

hu­man suf­fer­ing re­sult­ing from the food cri­sis is what prompted the South African high Com­mis­sion and the Gov­ern­ment of South Africa to reach out to Le­sotho.

LT: When help fi­nally came, what was the role of the High Com­mis­sion and what has been the im­me­di­ate im­pact of the sup­port?

Ma­jeke: Our role has been chiefly to mon­i­tor progress and en­sure the smooth-run­ning of the project.

Given that re­spon­si­bil­ity, we have vis­ited sev­eral schools and clin­ics, to­gether with of­fi­cials from the Min­istry of ed­u­ca­tion and Train­ing and United na­tions World Food Pro­gramme (WFP).

We saw the need and chal­lenges faced by some food-in­se­cure com­mu­ni­ties in some parts of Le­sotho, and in par­tic­u­lar, dis­tricts such as Mafeteng, Thaba-tseka and Mo­hale’s hoek.

If there had not been im­me­di­ate in­ter­ven­tion, the con­di­tions of some nurs­ing moth­ers and chil­dren in such dis­tricts would have been worse.

This con­tri­bu­tion has helped al­le­vi­ate some of the food and nu­tri­tion chal­lenges these com­mu­ni­ties were fac­ing.

It is good to know that fol­low­ing a con­sis­tent sup­ply of food to schools, many chil­dren look for­ward to at­tend­ing classes be­cause they will learn and also have nu­tri­tious food to eat.

At least 250 000 pre and pri­mary school chil­dren and 13 000 preg­nant and breast-feed­ing moth­ers, have ben­e­fit­ted from this ini­tia­tive.

For me, that is a no­ble act of sav- ing lives and giv­ing hope, es­pe­cially to or­phans and other vul­ner­a­ble chil­dren.

LT: The last maize-meal con­sign­ment of 700 tonnes was de­liv­ered to the Food Man­age­ment Unit in Maseru last Thurs­day. Is your gov­ern­ment sat­is­fied with the way the project was man­aged since it started in 2013?

Ma­jeke: The mis­sion has been closely mon­i­tor­ing the progress of the project since 2013. In­deed, there is noth­ing we can point out and say this or that was not prop­erly man­aged.

I be­lieve a good de­ci­sion was made to choose WFP to run the project. Af­ter all, WFP has been in this busi­ness for many years, and that says a lot about their ex­pe­ri­ence and tech­ni­cal ex­per­tise.

From what we are see­ing, we are sat­is­fied by the suc­cess­ful man­age­ment of the project.

The project is end­ing in July this year and we are happy that the gov­ern­ment of Le­sotho has shown com­mit­ment to con­tinue sup­port­ing the school-feed­ing pro­gramme, which is the larger area we are sup­port­ing.

We are also happy to have been part of such a no­ble ini­tia­tive that sought to save lives, im­prove the well-be­ing of Ba­sotho and make sure that both women and chil­dren, de­spite the food cri­sis, con­tin­ued hav­ing nu­tri­tious food at the right time.

This project has also strength­ened our part­ner­ship with WFP, which man­aged the project to­gether with the gov­ern­ments of Le­sotho and South Africa.

LT: What would you say made this mis­sion dif­fer­ent from other re­lief projects that the gov­ern­ment of South Africa has been in­volved in?

Ma­jeke: The gov­ern­ment of South Africa also de­cided to in­volve small­holder farm­ers who were strug­gling for mar­kets in South Africa.

The project cre­ated train­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties for our small­hold­er­farm­ers on is­sues of post-har­vest han­dling and stor­age, food safety and qual­ity con­trol.

This project thrived on cre­at­ing new part­ner­ships within the val­uechain.

It man­aged to con­nect small­holder-farm­ers with the ex­per­tise they needed to be­come suc­cess­ful in agribusi­ness and the mar­ket.

We also feel tar­get­ing ben­e­fi­cia­ries was well thought-out be­cause in a food cri­sis, it is mainly women and chil­dren who suf­fer the most.

LT: So the project’s ob­jec­tive was also to im­prove the agri­cul­tural pro­duc­tion of small­holder-farm­ers in South Africa?

Ma­jeke: The Gov­ern­ment of South Africa and WFP agreed that 40 per­cent of the ce­re­als needed to sup­port Le­sotho would be pur­chased from the small­holder-farm­ers.

To-date, WFP has pur­chased more than 4 300 met­ric-tonnes of maize and su­gar beans, all worth M21 mil­lion, from the small­hold­er­farm­ers.

We un­der­stand that this was the first time that WFP bought com­modi­ties for its re­gional op­er­a­tions from small­holder-farm­ers in South Africa. WFP also bought some 16 000 met­ric-tonnes of com­modi­ties from com­mer­cial traders in South Africa.

In ac­tual fact, this was a bril­liant idea since most of the fund­ing pledged was not nec­es­sar­ily a trans­fer of money from South Africa to Le­sotho – it was not giv­ing money to help al­le­vi­ate a food cri­sis and then walk away.

This was money that was also spent on strug­gling small­hold­er­farm­ers in South Africa, who had the re­spon­si­bil­ity to pro­duce food for our neigh­bours.

LT: Based on the di­verse scope of this ini­tia­tive, what les­sons can South Africa share with Le­sotho?

Ma­jeke: The project man­aged to spread ben­e­fits and re­sources to a wider and dif­fer­ent groups of stake­hold­ers.

On the South African side, we man­aged to develop our small­holder-farm­ers who needed sup­port to grow and ac­cess com­pet­i­tive mar­kets.

We also no­ticed that small­hold­er­farm­ers had a lot of po­ten­tial and that, with sup­port through­out the pro­duc­tion process, they can be­come an im­por­tant com­po­nent of the econ­omy and cre­ate em­ploy­ment.

With ad­e­quate sup­port, they man­aged to pro­duce good qual­ity ce­re­als. This made us re­alise that we should also con­sider small­hold­er­farm­ers in our own school-feed­ing pro­gramme in South Africa and other na­tional pro­grammes.

By help­ing our neigh­bour, we also helped our­selves be­cause we then re­alised our farm­ers’ po­ten­tial.

The les­sons are es­pe­cially im­por­tant for Le­sotho be­cause the gov­ern­ment is in the process of in­tro­duc­ing pur­chas­ing food lo­cally for school-feed­ing.

But also of im­por­tance was our re­al­i­sa­tion that it takes a great deal of time to put ev­ery­thing to­gether, bring all stake­hold­ers to­gether, build the ca­pac­ity of farm­ers and cre­ate ef­fec­tive value-chains.

LT: If it was up to you as the High Com­mis­sioner, what would be the next area of co­op­er­a­tion be­tween Le­sotho and South Africa?

Ma­jeke: What im­me­di­ately comes to my mind is the need to ex­plore ways to build the ca­pac­ity of farm­ers in Le­sotho.

I be­lieve agri­cul­ture should be the bedrock of African economies be­cause our prob­lem is hunger which makes us poorer and cre­ates a se­ries of other so­cio-eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal chal­lenges.

The area of col­lab­o­ra­tion would be sup­port­ing farm­ers to pro­duce more, im­prove the qual­ity of their pro­duce, en­sure they pro­duce con­sis­tently, are re­li­able sup­pli­ers and link them to com­pet­i­tive mar­kets.

We should aim to sup­port and develop small­holder-farm­ers who can fi­nance their own farm­ing ac­tiv­i­ties.

With such em­pow­er­ment comes eco­nomic in­de­pen­dence and be­com­ing well-po­si­tioned to ne­go­ti­ate good prices.

We should also closely col­lab­o­rate with Le­sotho in ar­eas of build­ing com­mu­ni­ties’ re­silience to weather-re­lated dis­as­ters in or­der to im­prove food-se­cu­rity.

When South Africa is hun­gry, for in­stance, that af­fects Le­sotho as well be­cause we de­pend on one another in many ar­eas. It should also be noted that given the limited arable land in Le­sotho, the coun­try can­not pros­per in iso­la­tion.

how­ever, on a pos­i­tive note, Le­sotho is blessed with abun­dant wa­ter and beau­ti­ful moun­tains.

With proper plan­ning, these at­tri- butes can be op­ti­mally utilised for bet­ter and di­verse food pro­duc­tion.

LT: What do you see as the big­gest threat to agri­cul­tural de­vel­op­ment in south­ern Africa?

Ma­jeke: ex­treme cli­matic con­di­tions re­main a big threat to agri­cul­ture on our con­ti­nent. Over the years, we have seen many droughts and just re­cently, floods in Malawi, Mozam­bique and Zim­babwe.

That should worry ev­ery se­ri­ous gov­ern­ment in the re­gion. It is only through build­ing com­mu­ni­ties’ re­silience to weather-shocks and col­lec­tively work­ing to­wards mit­i­gat­ing the ef­fects of cli­mate-change that we can have a way out of food and nu­tri­tion in­se­cu­rity as well as poverty in south­ern Africa.

We can con­duct many train­ing work­shops and come up with high­sound­ing strate­gies and vi­sions, but if we are not smart enough to in­vest in re­silience pro­grammes, many peo­ple will still regress deeper into hunger and con­tinue to pass-on the poverty to fu­ture gen­er­a­tions.

That is to say we have to act, and act fast. If, for ex­am­ple, we rely only on rain to pro­duce food, what then hap­pens to the crop if it does not rain or if there is too much rain?

LT: Your ex­pla­na­tion clearly shows that South Africa and Le­sotho need each other. What then can help im­prove co­op­er­a­tion be­tween the two coun­tries?

Ma­jeke: Le­sotho and South Africa should come up with an In­te­grated eco­nomic De­vel­op­ment Strat­egy to plan to­gether in ar­eas of eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment.

Le­sotho has a lot to con­trib­ute, eco­nom­i­cally be­cause of its rich wa­ter re­sources, its huge po­ten­tial in the pro­duc­tion of wool, mo­hair, skins and hides from the goats and sheep bred through­out the coun­try.

Through the in­te­grated strat­egy, for ex­am­ple, some South African car-man­u­fac­tur­ing com­pa­nies can start mak­ing seats in Le­sotho us­ing lo­cal hides and wool.

There are many other ex­am­ples like how South Africa can tap into Le­sotho’s promis­ing hor­ti­cul­tural sec­tor and also buy the coun­try’s beau­ti­ful and abun­dant sand­stone to con­struct houses in our coun­try.

SOME of the 700 met­ric-tonnes of maize-meal be­ing de­liv­ered in Le­sotho last week.

South Africa’s high Com­mis­sioner to Le­sotho Rev­erend har­ris Mbulelo Ma­jeke

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