‘Our peo­ple must not lose hope’

Lesotho Times - - Big Interview -

LE­SOTHO is grap­pling with its worst drought in four decades, prompt­ing Prime Min­is­ter Pakalitha Mo­sisili to de­clare a state-of-emer­gency for de­vel­op­ment part­ners to lend a help­ing hand.

the Disas­ter Man­age­ment au­thor­ity es­ti­mates that more than 650 000 peo­ple would need food sup­port this year be­cause of a sharp de­cline in agri­cul­tural yields.

In this wide-rang­ing in­ter­view, agri­cul­ture and Food Se­cu­rity Deputy Min­is­ter, ‘Mamosa Mo­lapo ( pic­tured), tells Le­sotho Times ( LT) reporter, Retha­bile Pitso, how the El Niño-in­duced drought has im­pacted on the na­tion. El Niño is a pe­ri­odic cli­matic phe­nom­e­non char­ac­terised by in­ad­e­quate rain in some parts of the world and floods in oth­ers. El Niño used to oc­cur in vary­ing de­grees of sever­ity af­ter ev­ery five years, but has be­come more fre­quent since the 1990s.

LT: Let’s start with the farm­ing out­look for 2016 in light of the pre­vail­ing drought…how much has the in­ad­e­quate rain­fall af­fected the coun­try’s agri­cul­tural sec­tor?

Mo­lapo: We have a bit of a chal­lenge in 2016 due to El Niño, which pre­vented us from car­ry­ing out full sum­mer farm­ing ac­tiv­i­ties. and again, we are not sure if the drought is go­ing to end in March as pro­jected but if it doesn’t, the prob­lem will per­sist. With the lit­tle rain we have ex­pe­ri­enced re­cently, I think we might be able to pro­duce in win­ter. We are fore­see­ing suc­cess­ful win­ter crop­ping pro­vided El Niño does not per­sist. But we are also aware that not all the grains can be pro­duced in win­ter but only crops such as peas and wheat and also an­i­mal feed. So if we can con­cen­trate on those, we would be able to get some­thing at the end of the win­ter crop­ping sea­son.

Dur­ing the se­cond half of the year, we are go­ing to be wel­com­ing sum­mer crop­ping around au­gust, and this would be mainly in the high­lands. then in Oc­to­ber, we would be start­ing in the low­lands. So we are hop­ing this year, we won’t be fac­ing th­ese drought chal­lenges we cur­rently have so that the sum­mer crop­ping can go on smoothly and the farm­ers would be able to pro­duce the full range of crops, namely maize, sorghum, beans and wheat. With agri­cul­ture, the cy­cle never re­ally changes. What we can change are the strate­gies and ap­proaches but with the con­fu­sion we now have re­gard­ing El Niño, we don’t know what to ex­pect.

LT: Is govern­ment look­ing at help­ing farm­ers mit­i­gate the chal­lenges of low pro­duc­tion due to the ad­verse weather con­di­tions?

Mo­lapo: Govern­ment has al­ways pro­vided sub­si­dies to our farm­ers; there has al­ways been sub­sidy on cul­ti­va­tion, fer­tiliser and seed.

LT: The de­clin­ing crop pro­duc­tion has sparked fears that food prices are go­ing to in­crease and the peo­ple are go­ing to suf­fer even more. The in­crease has al­ready started, and ex­perts have warned that the sit­u­a­tion can only get worse. Is govern­ment go­ing to in­ter­vene and en­sure ba­sic com­modi­ties such as maize­meal and bread re­main af­ford­able for or­di­nary cit­i­zens?

Mo­lapo: It is true that we are head­ing to­wards food-price in­creases. In fact, from last month, we have noted a dras­tic in­crease in food prices. the in­for­ma­tion I have gath­ered, for ex­am­ple, shows that the price of lucerne has in­creased from M300 to M800 a bale. this means the price has in­creased by al­most 300 per­cent. a tonne of yel­low maize used to be bought for M1 226 but now it’s over M3000, which is again more than 200 per­cent in­crease. What this means is for the mill (le­sotho Flour Mills) to im­port maize, since we do not rely on maize pro­duced in­side the coun­try, they have to in­crease the price of their prod­ucts.

Un­for­tu­nately for them, they have only in­creased prices by 35 per­cent, which does not com­pare with what they have to pay to bring maize into le­sotho. this means even­tu­ally, the mill could close down if they do not match the mar­ket price in­crease. We are aware of this and try­ing to bring some in­ter­ven­tions.

LT: How soon can you in­ter­vene be­cause al­ready, the sit­u­a­tion is leav­ing many fam­i­lies with­out ad­e­quate nutri­tion? Mo­lapo: We re­cently adopted a new strat­egy al­though we are to­wards the end of the fi­nan­cial year. We have now put in place a Disas­ter Man­age­ment Com­mit­tee (DMC) that is look­ing at re­sponse plans for all cases which have re­sulted from El Niño. How­ever, we can­not re­spond to the prob­lems im­me­di­ately be­cause we need to go through pro­cesses such as meet­ings with de­vel­op­ment part­ners, who are here to as­sist govern­ment with the much-needed funds.

LT: The Prime Min­is­ter re­cently an­nounced that M10 mil­lion would go to­wards the agri­cul­tural sec­tor. How is this money go­ing to be utilised?

Mo­lapo: First of all, the M10 mil­lion is not go­ing to be suf­fi­cient as it is ex­pected to ben­e­fit the whole agri­cul­tural sec­tor, which in­cludes the Min­istry of Forestry. It has to be di­vided be­tween the two min­istries. Forestry al­ready has to use the money to con­struct dams while agri­cul­ture, on the other hand, makes pro­vi­sion for food sup­ply. and th­ese are only short-term in­ter­ven­tions which are com­pelling us to con­cen­trate on food, wa­ter and dis­eases.

LT: But how dire is the sit­u­a­tion on the ground due to this drought?

Mo­lapo: agri­cul­ture is fac­ing a lot of chal­lenges be­cause we are deal­ing with many is­sues, in­volv­ing both hu­mans and an­i­mals. Right now, we have live­stock dy­ing be­cause pas­tures are no more. the an­i­mals are feed­ing on soil in their at­tempt to grab the lit­tle grass they can find, and as a re­sult, they get sick. Some are get­ting an­thrax and this is al­ready im­pact­ing on the lives of peo­ple who may eat meat from such in­fected live­stock. an­thrax symp­toms do not show phys­i­cally as a cow may die all of a sud­den. But the symp­toms can later show in the peo­ple, who eat meat from such an an­i­mal.

We have had to fo­cus on elim­i­nat­ing the an­thrax first. We started an an­thrax im­mu­ni­sa­tion pro­gramme in Oc­to­ber last year and later shifted fo­cus to sca­bies. and just when we thought we were done, there was an­other out­break of an­thrax. We don’t know whether we will ever be able to com­pletely erad­i­cate an­thrax be­cause for as long as there is in­ad­e­quate pas­ture, the dis­ease will per­sist. and for us to pre­vent peo­ple from con­tract­ing the dis­ease, we have to en­sure the live­stock is not in­fected.

LT: How far has Le­sotho gone as far as com­mer­cial­iz­ing its agri­cul­ture is con­cerned?

Mo­lapo: Even though we have set a goal to move to­wards com­mer­cial­i­sa­tion, the cur­rent pro­duc­tion sit­u­a­tion is not en­abling. We have so many arable fields that are ly­ing fal­low. the rea­son is peo­ple are not able to pro­duce and cul­ti­vate. If we start talk­ing com­mer­cial, we have to get our peo­ple to start small. and if we can make sure that peo­ple are at least pro­duc­ing even on a small scale, then we would have the po­ten­tial for peo­ple to pro­duce com­mer­cially. We are still so far away from com­mer­cial farm­ing.

again, look­ing into an on­go­ing pro­ject that seeks to com­bat mal­nu­tri­tion, the find­ings are that our peo­ple choose to rely on sup­ple­ments than cul­ti­vat­ing sim­ple plots at their own homes. this made me re­alise that peo­ple have to change their at­ti­tude to­wards agri­cul­ture. In my opin­ion, it is good to sub­sidise but what I see is a lot of de­pen­dency grow­ing in our peo­ple. But how are they go­ing to live when they no longer re­ceive th­ese sub­si­dies?

LT: The Land Ad­min­is­tra­tion Au­thor­ity (LAA) has raised con­cern about peo­ple who own arable fields but are re­luc­tant to reg­is­ter them for com­mer­cial pur­poses. How has the min­istry in­ter­vened in such cir­cum­stances?

Mo­lapo: Our land ten­ure sys­tem has to change. We are not even able to at­tract in­vestors be­cause our peo­ple be­come hos­tile when it comes to such is­sues. Many farm-own­ers are still re­sis­tant to en­ter into agree­ments with po­ten­tial in­vestors. In some cases they agree, but along the way, they change their minds yet pro­duc­tion would be in progress. and such be­hav­iour is not good for in­vest­ment.

then we have the Block Farm­ing pro­ject which is now called the In­ten­sive Crop­ping Sys­tem and is on­go­ing in dif­fer­ent parts of the coun­try. the agree­ment is that the landown­ers do not in­cur any costs of pro­duc­tion, which are borne by govern­ment. Come har­vest time, the farm-owner gets 40 per­cent of the pro­duce whilst govern­ment takes 60 per­cent. But when it’s al­most har­vest time, there are peo­ple who will go and set that block on fire.

We have had about three cases of big blocks of fields be­ing burnt this way. It is un­for­tu­nate that we have not been able to es­tab­lish how the fire would have started, but this goes to show the kind of hos­til­ity we en­counter. We don’t know whether it is peo­ple sab­o­tag­ing oth­ers be­cause of jeal­ousy; we do not know whether it’s political sab­o­tage or what. What is even more chal­leng­ing is that when govern­ment tries to ad­dress the is­sue, ri­ots fol­low.

Now we are opt­ing to ten­der the projects for com­mu­ni­ties them­selves to be in charge of all op­er­a­tions. We hope by do­ing so, peo­ple would be more re­spon­si­ble and be pro­tec­tive of the projects as there would be this sense of own­er­ship.

LT: But how does the govern­ment help those very pas­sion­ate about farm­ing, apart from giv­ing them sub­si­dies? There are peo­ple out there who would want to go into farm­ing full­time and large-scale but don’t have the ex­per­tise and fund­ing to do so. Does govern­ment have spe­cial plans for such peo­ple?

Mo­lapo: the Small­holder agri­cul­tural De­vel­op­ment Pro­ject (SADP) has been put in place to as­sist farm­ers go com­mer­cial. that pro­ject pro­vides for their train­ing so that they can work to­gether and pro­duce in large quan­ti­ties. It is a train­ing-plus as­sis­tance and sup­port pro­gramme. last year, we pro­vided 265 farm­ers with grants and have con­tin­ued to mon­i­tor their progress. We teach them to man­age the funds, their work and en­cour­age them to keep records. We are equip­ping them for the fu­ture when they would have to deal with the banks at the end of the pro­ject.

LT: In con­clu­sion, what mes­sage would you want to send to the na­tion?

Mo­lapo: Our peo­ple must not lose hope; it is not too late to start farm­ing. the drought ex­pe­ri­ence has taught us some lessons such as farm­ing on a small scale so that we al­ways have some­thing to fall back on in case of dis­as­ters. It may not be enough but it is al­ways bet­ter to have a lit­tle some­thing. We have learnt that while await­ing in­ter­ven­tion, we should have some re­sources in place be­cause in­ter­ven­tions do not come im­me­di­ately. I also hope that our peo­ple would con­sider pro­duc­ing an­i­mal fod­der on a much larger scale. Fod­der is as crit­i­cal as any other crop be­cause with­out it, our live­stock would die.

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