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Fresh bid to revive livestock market

Lekhooe Makhate, Director of Marketing in the Ministry of Small Business

April 27, 2020 4 min read

4 min read

For many livestock farmers, the past two years have been the most difficult mainly due to three factors: outbreak of foot and mouth disease that saw the banning of sale of live cattle for slaughter in and around Maseru and other major towns like Maputsoe.

The South African government also banned the import of live animals from countries like Lesotho making it impossible to thousands of Basotho who sell their animals in South Africa. Another problem is the persistent drought that has been bedevilling the sub-Saharan Africa for the past five years - many farmers in Lesotho lost large number of  animals due to unusually long spells of drought resulting in wells and dams - primary source of drinking water for animals in Lesotho - drying up coupled with scorched grassland.

Thousands of farmers were faced with the insurmountable task of feeding their weak livestock. The drought saw animal feeds prices skyrocketing – a bale of grass that sells at M500 on good day jumping to M1000 - a 100% increase.

Poor market for live animals in Lesotho is one of the longstanding obstacles that make Lesotho look like an amateur compared to its peers in the SADC region like Botswana and Namibia that have fully-fledged beef industry. Despite the Ministry of Trade’s Legal Notice number 4 of 1974, clearly paving the way for how and who should buy Basotho livestock, the market for livestock in Lesotho is still poorly regulated.

According to Lekhooe Makhate, Director of Marketing in the Ministry of Small Business, there used to be a comprehensive calendar detailing sale and auctions of animals, especially cattle. However, with many of the marketing officers retiring, the frequency of the sale of animals decreased dramatically. As a result, the Ministry of Small Business has embarked on a mission to resuscitate auction of animals.

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“We have capacitated district marketing officers to independently run the auctions on their own. In the past, auctions were a responsibility of few people who most of the times were not based in the districts.”, adds Makhate.

He added that they are pushing for amendments on some of their laws to allow private companies to operate legally as auctioneers and licensed buyers of livestock as is the case in the auctioning of wool and mohair that saw five locally-based companies being granted licences to auction wool and mohair.

One of the reasons for the renewed interest by the Ministry to revive auctions is because many Basotho livestock farmers have been ripped off by bogus buyers who have taken farmers’ animals on credit promising them that they will pay their animals from South Africa.

According to Hlabathe Theko, a resident of Ha Ralejoe in Machache, Nazareth area the intervention by the Ministry could not have come at the right time, “Our animals have been stolen in broad daylight from us by people who claimed they were helping us. I know of two farmers around here whose three cows were taken on credit by a buyer who promised to come back after a month but up to this day they have not received even a single cent and the buyers are nowhere to be found. A full calendar year has passed.” Theko argues that their livestock are their mobile banks and that the intervention is long overdue.

While the Ministry of Small Business is busy levelling the playing field, another serious issue pertain to the quality of meat of locally produced animals. Many Basotho farmers rear their animals during draught thus compromising the quality of meat as well as that of skins. This reduces the bargaining power of many Basotho farmers when they have to negotiate for a fair price for their animals. Grade A meat is still predominantly imported from South Africa despite Lesotho having enough animals to be self-sufficient in red meat production. This means that the noble intention of creating market for Basotho livestock may bear limited fruits.

The auctions attract many buyers including those from South Africa. Thus the next big challenge that has to be overcome in order to revolutionize livestock market in Lesotho is to change the way Basotho rear their animals. Feedlots should be given priority - at the moment there are no fully fledged feedlots. Having fully fledged feedlots will spur new opportunities in the beef production value chain.

Shortage of stock permits is another hurdle that many farmers have to deal with: for most of 2019 stock permits were not available at the offices of all area chiefs around the country. Despite the outcry from farmers, the permits were not issued and this necessitated upsurge in stock theft as people had an excuse to sell animals illegally without permits. This seriously affected the sale of animals and thus affecting directly livelihoods of most farmers. Porous borders of Lesotho also directly  affect Basotho livestock farmers as thousands of cattle, goats and sheep are stolen and disappear into thin air in slaughterhouses in some towns of South Africa.

There are lots of legal reforms and resources that need to be promulgated in order to ensure uninhibited growth of the livestock market and that will ensure creation of the much needed jobs. Active involvement of the police in the livestock auctions is commendable.

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