The government is set to revive irrigation schemes in the country as part of its drive to boost food production, the Deputy Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security Hlalele Hlalele, has said.
In an exclusive interview with Metro, Hlalele said the government started with the Masianokeng Agricultural Project where it injected M10 million to get the project off the ground, adding the structures to get the project up and running have been installed.
“This is now in the last stage,” he said, adding that the government is just putting some finishing touches to the project which is exclusively meant for intensive production of various vegetables.
Hlalele said his ministry is going to hire a security company that will guard the whole project to stop any pilferage that has been experienced in the past.
He said the government will also establish a trust fund into which farmers will make some contributions to ensure the sustainability of the project, further revealing his ministry simply wants to lay the ground for the farmers to eventually take over.
“The government is not interested in running the project but just to help farmers to get acclimatised with the project. The government will in the future leave the projects in the hands of the farmers,” Hlalele said.
In the current 2019/2020 fiscal year, the government is also going to revive two irrigation schemes in Butha-Buthe district at ‘Malere and Ha Rasekila.
However, he was not in a position to disclose how much the government is going to spend on the two projects.
The government is also planning to revisit other irrigation schemes such as Ts’a-li-tlama in Mafeteng and Sebapala in Quthing in future, he added, noting Lesotho’s agriculture is rain-fed and unrelenting drought is a major factor contributing to poor harvests in the country.
This, he said, shouldn’t be the case for a country blessed with ample water sources.
There were bumper harvests in the past when the irrigation schemes were in the hands of foreigners and Lesotho was able to produce enough vegetables for her people but when they left, the schemes started failing and shut down.
Ts’a-li-tlama irrigation project in Mafeteng was able to adequately provide the district’s residents and even supply part of Mohale’s Hoek with enough vegetables during its heyday, he recalled.
The resuscitation of the irrigation projects could put an end to the embarrassing practice of importing almost every basic food item, including vegetables, from South Africa.
A study shows that Lesotho’s farmers are only able to produce 10% of what the market needs with the rest coming from South Africa.
Hlalele noted there were some likely challenges in their bid to encourage farmers to till their lands to produce food including the issue of farmers being approached by foreign investors who want to plant cannabis on their land instead of food crops.
Lesotho was the first country in Africa to formally legalise the growth and commercialization of medical cannabis, which is a good thing, but policy makers should not lose sight of the need to reserve enough arable land for food crops, he noted.
“This is one of the challenges that we are also going to grapple with in its complexities,” he said.
The government has already granted a number of international companies licenses to grow, distribute and to export marijuana–based products.
Hlalele said the government was planning to sell all the agricultural inputs such as the tractors, combine harvesters to the farmers to enable them to become major players in food production.
He appealed to farmers to make use of the Department of Research within his ministry.
Hlalele said if farmers wanted to import seeds, they should approach the Department of Research in his ministry for advice to control diseases that are likely to be found in the seeds.
“You should always visit my ministry to get a go-ahead for the seeds that you could import,” he said.
He said there are supervisors throughout the country who are deployed in the resource and sub-resource centres to assist farmers with all the advice they need.
In a different event, when he
was addressing farmers at two-day Farmers’ Trade Fair held at Hlotse in Leribe
on Tuesday, Hlalele urged youth to engage in agriculture for economic
development of the country.
“The government is faced with high unemployment rate especially for the youth who should overcome it by taking part in agriculture at a higher level. It is important that they use what is available, which is soil and those who do not have it should hire fields from other community members. It is time the youth invest their energy into agriculture,” he stated.
He urged them to use internet for advertising of their products, saying they will be easily identified by traders and consumers. He said apart from the trade fair organized by the ministry, they should also hold the trade fairs at least once every month as part of promoting their products.
Echoing the same sentiments, Small Agriculture Development Project (SADP) Project Manager Rets’elisitsoe Pheko said SADP encourages agri-business by providing farmers with appropriate equipment to help them carry out their tasks.
He indicated that the farmers should strive to produce quality and fresh products, saying the need for agricultural products will not perish as long as there are still people on earth.
Speaking at the same occasion, the farmers’ representative Daniel Chakela said they were working hard in making sure that vegetables such as cabbage and green pepper in the local market are only produced in the country.