By Majirata Latela
Lesotho’s wool and mohair worth millions of Maloti are allegedly stuck in South Africa, as that country’s fibre is not allowed into any market abroad due to restrictions imposed when it suffered an outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) that initially occurred in November 2019 and January 2020.
Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro, his minister of agriculture have had a meeting where they were trying to resolve the matter so that the 16 000 bales of wool stuck in warehouses in South Africa can be allowed entry into China. China is the biggest market for Lesotho’s wool.
However, six weeks after the said meeting which was held on June 4 2020 the matter is still not yet resolved despite a task force that was formed to come up with a solution to the matter; it comprised of ministry of agriculture principal secretary and three officers, three representatives from the Lesotho National Wool and Mohair Growers Association (LNWMGA), Development for Peace Education , Transformation Resource Centre , Lesotho Council of Non-Governmental Associations, ministry of foreign affairs, minister of small business, minister of trade and industry.
On Tuesday this week the Chinese Embassy, LNWMGA and the ministry of agriculture held a meeting where the stakeholders pleaded China to allow Lesotho’s wool to enter their country.
Farmers in January this year resumed exporting their wool and mohair through South African broker, BKB (Pty) Ltd, after which trucks were seen in numbers taking the commodity to the company’s warehouse in Port Elizabeth.
This followed the passing of the Agricultural Marketing (Wool and Mohair Licensing) (Amendment) Regulation 2019 No 68 in the national assembly and the release of the Act in a government gazette of November 29 2019.
According to a report on Lesotho’s wool affected by FMD outbreak in South Africa in March 2020, a total of 16,000 bales of wool is stuck in at the warehouse in SA waiting to be auctioned and exported.
“During 2019 shearing season Lesotho farmers started exporting their wool and mohair to Port Elizabeth once Lesotho Government implemented Agricultural Marketing (Wool and Mohair licensing) (Amendment) Regulations 2019; LN 97, which resulted in need for issuance of permits to international markets especially China, that is where it emerged that Lesotho veterinarians were unable to issue such permits because Lesotho FMD status was free without vaccination in contrast with South African status which is FMD infected,” reads the report compiled by two high-ranking ministry of agriculture’s department of livestock services officials.
The report, which was seen by this publication, further states that upon realising that Lesotho’s wool is stuck in SA even though the country is FMD free, the then Minister of Agriculture, Litšoane Litšoane sent a delegation to have a look into the matter.
The team was headed by Dr Gerard Relebohile Mahloane – director general of veterinary services – and Dr Marosi Molomo director of epidemiology.
The team toured BKB‘s warehouse where Lesotho’s wool is stored located at Uitenhage, outside Port Elizabeth and BKB main warehouse where Lesotho’s wool was stored as well.
They further had meetings with the South African counterparts (BKB and OVK) and discussed how best they can go about certification by Lesotho Veterinarians considering that both countries have different FMD status.
“However, there was a consensus that; “negotiating with China for Lesotho Veterinarians being allowed to sign permits on the premise that Lesotho wool would have been subjected to the same conditions of deactivating FMD Virus, it was agreed that this option was dangerous as it risked Lesotho losing its current wool status already in RSA and South Africa again losing the renegotiated export conditions because China will revoke such concessions given to South Africa. South African buyers made it clear that they were not interested in Lesotho negotiating with China because that meant basically negotiating to fix something that was never broken in the first place, that it can be a lengthy process.
“Another option which would allow Lesotho’s wool into the market was for Another was for BKB to operate from Lesotho as Lesotho has direct access to Chinese markets, BKB vehemently rejected this proposal saying that it was not going to be economically viable as they need over M400, 000.00 to put wool preparation infrastructure.”
On the other hand, the OVK Group OVK Group explained that they handle very little amounts of Lesotho wool, which they mainly export to Europe, they attested that current FMD outbreak do not affect them as they do not have large amounts of Lesotho wool, however they indicated that whenever they need veterinarians’ services to certify their wool to international markets they will gladly sponsor the trip to Port Elizabeth.
In an interview with theReporter the chairperson of Thabang Shearing Shed in Mokhotlong and member of LNWMGA Khotsang Moshoeshoe confirmed that they indeed were part of the Wednesday meeting between Chinese Embassy and other stakeholders but they are in the process of reporting to a ministerial task team who will later address the media about what was discussed and the results of the meeting.
“Even though the ministry says China is the one that does not allow our fibre into their country, that is not true because China has never had an issue with Lesotho, the only thing that is happening now is that our veterinarians are trying to sabotage us, they do not want to sign off our wool as FMD free.
“Our government does not want us to prosper, they do not understand that our fibre is not a natural resource which they can take charge of, this a privately owned business where we are the ones who decide what to do; their is just to offer their service.
“China, as their biggest market, has not showed any signs of fear that our wool cannot be sold in SA because that country has restrictions following the FMD outbreak. The sale of mohair which just happened yesterday in SA went smoothly as there were no documents requiring veterinary services from our country.”
For his part, the minister of agriculture and food security, Tefo Mapesela, stressed that it is not true that they are sabotaging the wool and mohair farmers.
“What will we gain by sabotaging them? Those farmers have made their bed and therefore they should lie on it; they decided to take their fibre to SA even though they knew that SA is under restriction after the FMD outbreak. They knew what they were doing, now they want to blame us.
“China has its own terms when it comes to FMD and who are we to make them change those regulations just because our farmers did not want decided to listen but instead chose to politicise their business without looking at the bigger picture?
“They decided to take their wool to BKB and now they want to blame us. No, we won’t allow that. My ministry does not deal with the sale of wool and mohair, we only chip in to sign documents and to control diseases,” Mapesela emphasised.
He further revealed that shearing sheds that did not take their wool to SA have sold their wool and mohair to China and other markets without a hitch.
By sending its wool to FMD-infected South Africa without any protection or isolation, Lesotho basically downgrades its Lesotho wool from FMD-free to FMD-infected wool from an infected country.
According to SADC experts, this arrangement has resulted in Lesotho wool being branded as originating from South Africa and since SA is infected, Lesotho wool in SA is ‘infected’.
“If Lesotho wool moves under ‘transit’ conditions, where the product is sealed and protected all the way from exposure to FMD in SA, including storage in FMD-free bonded warehouses or storage in SA harbours, then it goes to China (and elsewhere) as Lesotho FMD-FREE wool.”