Lesotho as one of the developing countries has seen the worst of food insufficiency which has been running over a lengthy period brought upon by the climatic change and environmental behaviour.
Other challenges mounting to the already poor productivity of commercial and subsistence farming in the sector include but not limited to limited size of arable land, unfavourable farm structures with average land holding of about 1.0 ha per family, out-dated farm technologies and farm management practices, limited technical expertise, sub-optimal use of inputs, inadequate irrigation and drainage system, weak rural infrastructure, and limited access to credit and investment capital, as well as climate change as per the explanation of the World Food Program (WFP) in a two-day Marketing Linkages forum that was staged this week at Avani Lesotho.
According to WFP Lesotho Representative and Country Director Aurore Rusiga, approximately 1.5 billion people are engaged in smallholder agriculture initiatives across the world including 75% of the worldâ€™s poorest people whose food, income, and livelihood prospects depend on agriculture.
â€œDespite their important role as food producers and rural stewards, the commercial prospects for millions of poor smallholders remain challenging. Income opportunities have improved since the long period of depressed commodity prices, from the 1980s until the mid-2000s; as commodity prices have recovered, the agricultural sector has shown signs of revitalization. Several global agencies have also renewed their investments in agriculture due to the realization that enterprise continues to be the best hope of improving the livelihood prospects for millions of rural families.
â€œIt is through this collaboration that the farmers were gathered to bring both producers and buyers to network and learn from each other about the market requirements and the supply side needs, offers and areas where the supplies are available.
The Market Linkage was held to equip the smallholder farmers with skills and also to link them with buyers as well as school feeding programmes in a context of the Government improvements to the business environment support for the â€œlocal purchasing,â€ a preference to buy locally produced goods and services over those produced outside the country which will drive the agriculture sector development, and economic returns and may benefit from the African Continental Free Trade Area.
â€œAgriculture plays a significant role in Lesothoâ€™s economy. Over 70 per cent of the countryâ€™s population lives in rural areas and depends, directly or indirectly, on agriculture for employment and livelihood. The sector has the highest potential to increase food security, reduce rural poverty, and generates both on-and off-farm employment opportunities, as well contribute to the sustainability of economic growth and resilience for the country,â€ she said.
â€œHowever, Lesothoâ€™s agricultural sector suffers from low levels of productivity and commercialization which has made the country heavily dependent on food imports to meet domestic consumption needs.
â€œThe Lesotho National Strategic Development Plan (NSDP II) has Agriculture as one of the key areas for the development and growth of the countryâ€™s economy with the type of agriculture practiced being subsistence with minimal commercial farming, across ten districts of Lesotho,â€ she continued.
â€œDespite 70 per cent of the rural population engaged in some form of agricultural activity, the sector contributes less than 10 per cent to the national gross domestic product (GDP). Most of the rural population is engaged in subsistence farming: rain-fed, undiversified farming (primarily cereal production) also hindered by extensive livestock grazing.â€
She further stated that while the agriculture sector continues to face deficient performance due to many factors including climatic shocks, there are still pockets of high production which needs to get to the markets.
The School feeding programme through the National School Feeding Policy (2015), advocates for local procurement of food commodities for use in schools.
â€œTo ensure that this becomes a reality; caterers, national management agents and any other service providers are expected to buy food commodities locally and thus contribute to the economic growth of the country and sustainability of local markets,â€ she said.
â€œBuying food commodities locally gives the farmers an opportunity to access the local markets which catalyses value chain development and results in increased productivity and production hence increased household incomes and food security. In support of the governmentâ€™s efforts to ensure that farmersâ€™ surplus produce access structured markets, WFP, through the Adaptation funded project entitled, â€œImproving adaptive capacity of food insecure and vulnerable populations in Lesothoâ€ will support governmentâ€™s efforts to ensure that farmersâ€™ surplus produce access structured markets. The project promotes productive assets creation and supports the vulnerable households to reduce food and nutrition insecurity through construction of household and community assets.â€
She said, â€œWFP, through this project, will work with the extension services of the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security to improve agricultural productivity for sustained food and nutrition security and diversified livelihoods. To promote sustainability, households will be supported through market linkages with the private sector and institutional buyers for their surplus production to benefit from remunerative prices.
â€œThe overall objective of this market linkages forum is to improve the marketing of horticultural and other agricultural produce including small stock like poultry while promoting strategies for increasing food and nutrition security,â€ she said.
Meanwhile, according to Thuto NtÅ¡ekhe Mokhehle from theMinistry of Education and Training, there are opportunities to supply any of the above at least 4 days per week with beans, peas and lentils with approximately 1,692.7 tons/1,692,720kg of pulses to feed 313,461 learners per annum.
â€œThere are also opportunities to supply maize meal through Millers where Farmers would sell their maize to Millers of approximately 6,770,700kg/67,707.7 tons per annum to feed learners with papa and porridge. To invest in the production of sunflower, and processing into cooking oil for a wider market as well as school feeding with approximately 564,300Kg /564.3tonnesper annum to feed 313,461 learners.
She continuedthat a supply of vegetables; moroho, leafy vegetables such as cabbage, spinach, rape and mustard every week with at least once a week is also in demand with 501.5tons/501,520kgto feed 313,461 learners per annum, as well as about 12,538,440 eggs/417,948 trays to feed 313,461 learners per annum.