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MPs in rare unity to save wool and mohair farmers

RELEBOHILE KHOALE

Parliament has united to investigate the unpopular wool and mohair sale ‘localisation’ policy in a last-ditch effort to save wool and mohair farming—the major source of livelihood for Lesotho’s  rural communities.

In a show of unity rarely seen in Lesotho’s diverse National Assembly, Members of Parliament (MPs) on 10 June voted for a motion establishing an ad-hoc Parliamentary Committee to look into the policy and the country’s wool-and-mohair industry as a whole following an outcry by the affected farmers. The farmers are unhappy they can no longer independently export their wool and mohair the way they have been doing over the years, but should now sell their produce locally to a Chinese broker, courtesy of the new policy which came into effect in August 2018.

While divided over a proposed motion for a vote-of-no- confidence in Prime Minister Thomas Thabane and his coalition government, the MPs however, united to make sure the wool and mohair industry does not collapse.

The formation of the ad-hoc committee followed remarks by Deputy Prime Minister Monyane Moleleki on 6 June, during which he stressed the dire need for intervention by parliament to rescue wool and mohair farmers whose livelihoods are now under threat due to the sale policy.

The committee comprises MPs Likopo Mahase, Ntlhoi Motsamai, Selibe Mochoboroane, Teboho Sekata, Kimetso Mathaba, Thulo Mahlakeng, Limpho Tau, Vincent Malebo, ‘Mapulumo hlao, Thuso Litjobo and Thabang Kholumo, Motlohi Maliehe, Mohapi Mohapinyane, Tšeliso Kalake, Kose Makoa, Tlokotsi ‘Manyoko and ‘Marapelang Malefane.

Moleleki, who was speaking on the eve of the indefinite adjournment of the sittings of the august house, urged the MPs to resolve the issue and long-running squabble between the farmers and the Chinese broker, Stone Shi.

When moving the motion for creating the ad-hoc committee, Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) leader, Mothetjoa Metsing, expressed gratitude that both the opposition and government had joined hands to work in unity for the sake of the farmers.

He noted Moleleki’s proposal that the issue should be debated before the winter break lest it degenerates into violence.

An amendment of the Agricultural Marketing (Wool and Mohair Licensing (Amendment) Regulations of 2018 initiated by Thabane’s government prohibited a longstanding relationship between Lesotho farmers and South African brokers, especially BKB.

The farmers would shear their wool and through the Lesotho National Wool and Mohair Growers Association (LNWMGA) and independent traders, sell their produce at free market auctions in South Africa. They would then receive full payment approximately three months.

But according to the new regulations, “a holder of an export licence shall not export wool and mohair unless it is prepared, brokered, and auctioned in Lesotho”—much to the anger of the farmers as this put an end to their familiar free enterprise.

What also left the farmers fuming was that independent Basotho traders like Dr Mohlalefi Moteane, who paid cash to farmers and shouldered the risk of the value of the wool on their own, were also stopped by the regulation.

In the meantime, the Maseru Dawning Trading (PTY) LTD, a company owned by Shi and operating the Thaba-Bosiu Wool Centre, was the only company granted a license to broker and auction wool and mohair in Lesotho.

Stone Shi

Shi’s business, since being handed the wool and mohair industry amid court battles and protests by farmers, has reportedly left the once self-sufficient farmers destitute due to delayed payments, and a  payment system that farmers have condemned and called a rip-off.

Attempts by farmers to have the courts intervene and nullify this policy have been unsuccessful after the Court of Appeal ruled that the unpopular regulations were within the bounds of the law.

But now with the establishment of the ad-hoc parliamentary committee, the aggrieved farmers might still have their livelihoods saved.

According to Metsing, the main objective of the ad-hoc committee is to investigate the wool and mohair regulations and  then discuss the way forward.

Prime Minister Thabane was the first to stand and second the motion.

Thabane told the house he only had five sheep and following the investigation, he was going to buy more and join the wool farmers.

Meanwhile, amid the alleged failure by Shi to deliver on his promises to farmers that they would get more returns for their wool and mohair, the Thaba-Bosiu Wool Centre’s spokesperson Manama Letsie, has said they had paid about M150 million to more than 20 000 famers. There are more than 40 000 wool and mohair farmers in Lesotho, according to the LNWMGA.

In a recent media brief, Letsie claimed about 75 percent of farmers have been paid to date.

Letsie also said the Centre had sold about 30 000 bales of both wool and mohair to international buyers in China, India, Italy, South Africa and other countries.

For his part, a member of the ad-hoc committee, Qalo Constituency legislator, Thabang Kholumo, called for an amendment of the unpopular regulations as they had left farmers frustrated.

Kholumo also said the ad-hoc committee would dig deep into the whole operation of Shi as Lesotho’s sole broker.

“We (ad-hoc committee) have to compare the sales of Thaba-Bosiu Wool Centre and those of BKB and their convenience. Then after that, we will examine whether these regulations have been beneficial or not,” said Kholumo in an interview.

Kholumo added the ad-hoc committee should also gather different farmers’ opinions on the issue to help decide the way forward.

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