By Kefiloe Kajane
The Lesotho National Farmers Union says farmers have the will to engage in farming and supply of food commodities to the markets but have to navigate through an assortment of challenges.
According to LENAFU programmes manager Khotso Lepheane, the farming community faces difficulty in accessing markets probably due to poor quality of the produce, low production volumes and erratic supply to the markets.
In his address during the national marketing linkages forum hosted by the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) in Maseru this week, Lepheane said the forum was intended to improve adaptive capacity of vulnerable and food insecure population in Lesotho.
The forum was attended by farmers and traders, who shared ideas on how to could help each other to improve farmers’ markets in Lesotho.
He further indicated that while farmers are always free and independent to do their farming activities, they should not work as individuals. He said the agricultural business environment requires farmers to work together as players in agriculture, noting that they operate in a complex and dynamic environment.
“Access to finance is key to ensuring profitability and sustainability to smallholders’ activities. It enables smallholder farmers to invest in the necessary infrastructure, equipment and cash flow that will help them produce, purchase, store, process and better market their products.”
“Effective research and extension is critical and also an important element to promoting framers access to market. It helps farmers overcome the challenges affecting production and consistency on the supply of food commodities to the markets.
“Access to inputs is also discouraged by the high costs of farming inputs and forces farmers to opt for low quality inputs with low or poor returns. Information and technology are also of great importance in the farming sector, but some of use obsolete technology which is no longer beneficial,” Lepheane said.
He noted farmers are mainly smallholders and are not very organised when it comes to marketing of their produce that failed to govern the value chain.
He further said that while farmers blame traders for offering very low prices for their produce, traders also blame farmers for not providing adequate produce with the right specifications.
Speaking on behalf of WFP and its experience on access to market activities, Ntebaleng Thetsane, said smallholder’s farmers usually engage in WFP’s food assistance initiatives either as beneficiaries of food assistance or food suppliers.
She also said that through its interventions, WFP demonstrated that an assured market for farmers produce, improves farmers’ livelihoods and their role in local food systems through inclusive agricultural and economic development that are key to achieving food security.
“We provide smallholder farmers with stable demand through assured and patient buyers, such as WFP, local and national school feeding programmes and private companies. This encourages them to invest in their production by improving the quality and quantity of their produce. Government and private buyers are supported in adapting their buying practices to meet the needs and capacities of smallholder farmers.
“We however saw some challenges faced by smallholder’s farmers through our assessment. These include limited produce surplus which required aggregation systems like working as cooperatives/organizations/associations for collective marketing, better bargaining power, and higher quality produce. The ability to aggregate helps farmers aggregate better volumes that can earn a larger share of the market price, while focus is on enabling farmers to produce more, higher quality and nutritious crops. There is need to support smallholders by providing them with basic storage facilities and strengthening post-harvest handling skills to increase the marketable surplus and to ensure easy access by the private sector,” she said.
The WFP’s representative and country director Aurore Rusiga stated that agriculture plays a significant role in Lesotho’s economy. Over 70 percent of the country’s population lives in rural areas and depends, directly or indirectly, on agriculture for employment and livelihood.
She indicated the sector has the highest potential to increase food security, reduce rural poverty and generate both on- and off-farm employment opportunities while contributing to the sustainability of economic growth and resilience for the country.
However, she warned that Lesotho’s agricultural sector suffers from low levels of productivity and commercialisation which has made the country heavily dependent on food imports to meet domestic consumption needs.
“The Lesotho National Strategic Development Plan (NSDP II) names agriculture as one of the key areas for the development and growth of the country’s economy with the type of agriculture practiced being subsistence with minimal commercial farming, across 10 districts of Lesotho,” Rusiga said.
Ministry of education school feeding team training officer Thuto Ntṧekhe-Mokhele said there were market opportunities in the school feeding schemes for farmers.
She said approximately 1,692.7 tons of pulses are needed to feed 313,461 learners per annum. She explained that schools are a good market for farmers.
“Farmers just need to have the capacity for such market. It is a market that is not seasonal; as long as schools are open a child needs to eat,” she said.
The director of marketing at the ministry of agriculture and food security Lekhooa Makhate pointed out that the ultimate goal was attainment of national goals of employment creation, food security and poverty alleviation.
“While market linkages involve the process of identifying, evaluating, developing and promoting of agricultural commodities into the markets, connecting farmers to markets still poses a challenge. Farming enterprises continue to experience post-harvest losses although some development initiatives such as EIF and SADP have provided interventions to enhance productivity.
“Progress in recent market linkage initiatives include the Marakeng App, an initiative designed in such a way that buyers and farming enterprises connect remotely to complete business transactions. It is supported by UNDP.”
About 1507 farmers have been linked to the markets countrywide.
“Farmers have generated an income estimated at M3,848,178. The buyer-seller platforms have seen an estimate of 119 horticultural farmers have been linked to about 14 traders. In addition, Matelile Farmers Association has disposed of about 9,101 bags of potatoes to both formal and informal markets. Farmers have generated an income estimated at M421,775,” he said.