TRADE: Wool And Mohair Farmers Up In Arms

0
229

By Anthony Schreiner
Lesotho wool and mohair farmers are outraged at a government decision that bars them
from exporting their produce to South African brokers despite a High court ruling
nullifying the newly enacted Agriculture Marketing (Wool and Mohair Licensing)
(Amendment) Regulations, 2018 which award the sole monopoly to handle exports to
the Thaba-Bosiu-based Lesotho Wool Centre.
Instead of working towards issuing permits, stringent conditions have been placed to
make it difficult for farmers to access exports permits. Wool and mohair are among
Lesotho’s most important industries, with an annual turnover of more than R800 million.
Many poor rural Basotho depend on it.
Farmers say they are now expected to produce an import permit from the South African
department of agriculture, forestry and fisheries for every consignment, whereas before
the 2018 Regulations came into effect  they could export numerous consignments using
a master permit from the same South African Department.
“I am being told to get a import permit from South Africa for every consignment even
though I have a valid master permit from that country. This is just another government
tactic to make things difficult and keep the already struggling farmers on their knees”
veterinary surgeon and shearing sheds owner Mohlalefi Moteane, said.
Farmers are also being told that they need to get a veterinary doctor to go up to the
wool and mohair storing sheds to certify the quality of the product.
They have been advised that “because a local wool and mohair trading company has
lodged a case to force the ministry of agriculture to issue exports permits, the ministry
cannot issue these until the case has been heard at the beginning of next month”,
spokesperson of the Lesotho Wool and Mohair Growers Association (LMWGA)”,
Khotsang Moshoeshoe said.
A week after Justice Justice Mokhesi nullified the new regulations, farmers thronged the
agriculture ministry to obtain export permits but came back empty handed after being
told that the government had applied for a stay of execution while awaiting its appeal
case to be heard.
“The government has applied for a stay of execution and until the courts have granted
or denied it our hands are tied we cannot issue any permits”, Principal Veterinary
surgeon in the Ministry of Agriculture, Rethabile Mahloane, said.  

According to farmers and traders the agriculture ministry staff could not issue any
permits as they have been threatened with sacking by some ministers in the wool and
mohair cabinet sub -committee.
“We are told they are afraid of losing their jobs if they issue export permits” said David
Telford Managing Director Mahloenyeng Trading an independent wool and mohair
trader.
Numerous court cases have been lodged by farmers since the government introduced
the Regulations in 2018. They argued that the regulations which banned the exportation
of wool and mohair without a brokerage licence were an unfavourable means to create
a monopoly for a Chinese man running the Thaba Bosiu wool centre.
The wool centre property is a joint venture between farmers and influential Chinese
mogul Stone Shi’s Maseru Dawning Company.
The farmers have always argued that their agreement with the Chinese businessman
was only for a property development not for him to auction wool and mohair yet the
government was granting him authority to do so.
Even so, according to Shi, the initial agreement was to build the centre and then auction
wool and mohair locally. Farmers own 75 per cent of the facility and Maseru Dawning
owns the remaining 25 per cent.
Shi says he was shocked that after completion of the facility farmers distanced
themselves and wanted nothing to do with him leaving him stranded and vulnerable in a
foreign land hence he asked help from the embassy of China in Lesotho which later
introduced him to the government.
Former Trade minister Tefo Mapesela, Agriculture minister, Mahala Molapo Home
Affairs Deputy Minister Machesetsa Mofomobe and Small Businesses minister Phori
initiated an outreach campaign to sensitize farmers about localizing wool and mohair
auctioning and abiding by the new regulations.
Through these campaigns they announced that farmers went into the agreement with
the Chinese man and were now trying to sideline him when the property was completed.
“They are the ones who brought the Chinese businessman here. We did not know him
and had no business with him. Yet now they want to make it seem as if it is government
who brought the man here when they are responsible for bringing him themselves” they
said.
Although district consultations were held to sensitize farmers about the new regulations
and the benefits of localizing the industry farmers contest that they were not consulted.
“We were not consulted. If we were we would have advised accordingly and made
government see the dangers of enacting the regulations for the industry” said a member
of the Lesotho Wool and Mohair Growers Association, Rantelane Shea.

Farmers wrote to regional bodies like SADC asking for assistance; petitioned Prime
minister Tom Thabane and had enlisted the international media in a quest to stop the
government from enacting the regulations but in vain.
Moshoeshoe was arrested reportedly on charges of sedition and incitement for rallying
resistance among growers to oppose government from forcefully closing sheds when
farmers were busy shearing their sheep and refusing to take their wool and mohair to
the Thaba Bosiu wool centre.
And although courts have made judgments with the last one denying the government a
stay of execution after declaring the Regulation null and void, it seems there will not be
a ceasefire in the wool and mohair fight between the government and the farmers.
The minister of small businesses Phori and  leader of the wool and mohair cabinet sub-
committee has vowed that come hell or high water farmers wool will not leave Lesotho’s
boundaries to be auctioned by South African brokers like it was for the last over forty
years.
He had stressed that localizing the auction of wool on mohair would benefit of the
farmers as it cuts transportation and farmers will no longer have to incur hefty costs to
get their wool and mohair to South African brokers in Port Elizabeth, Phori argues.
He said the regulations would create local jobs and lower the unemployment rate
especially amongst the youth as well as help government generate revenue through
taxes.
Phori argued that farmers would accrue great benefits by taking their wool and mohair
to the Thaba Bosiu wool centre run by a Chinese man Shi, thus saving thousands of
Basotho farmers from being cheated by South African brokers especially BKB which
most Basotho farmers preferred.
“Basotho have been cheated for years by this broker, deducting numerous amounts of
money leaving Basotho with peanuts. This broker even deducted tax which he was not
supposed to deducted,” Phori said.
Eventually farmers gave in and took their wool to the centre as instructed by the
government and the centre had its first online auction on the 13th of November last
year. A new challenge arose with farmers crying over late payments that were not even
full payments. Up to date thousands of farmers across the country are still awaiting
payments for their last year’s wool and mohair even though the mohair shearing has
started again.
Wool Centre spokesperson, Manama Letsie blamed late payments to late deliveries of
wool and mohair to the centre, late submission of account numbers by farmers and
payment system issues by the Standard Lesotho bank which most farmers use.
He explained that the funds received by farmers deemed paltry were not full payments
but payments for what the centre has sold off the farmers’ total quantity of wool or
mohair. MA