LESOTHO spends estimated M69 million on bottled water imports annually, the Ministry of Small Business has said.
The situation is largely caused by the local water bottlers’ lack of standardisation mechanisms and infrastructure which has resulted in the local retailers importing their water.
However, the Ministry of Trade says it is eager to overturn this situation through the development of a water standard to strengthen local production.
Trade Minister Tefo Mapesela on Monday met water bottling companies for a dialogue to deliberate on pertinent issues affecting the industry.
The meeting, which was held at the Ministry’s boardroom in Maseru to discuss among other issues, the lack of operational standardisation mechanisms for the water bottling industry.
Speaking on the sidelines of the meeting, director of marketing in the Ministry of Small Business, Lekhooe Makhate, said the money spent on importing bottled water could boost the local bottling industry. He said this would also increase opportunities for job creation.
“We estimate that Lesotho imports bottled water valued at M69 million per year. However, we are yet to find out how much is produced locally,” Mr Makhate said adding the water imports play a part in eroding the country’s economy.
Addressing the meeting, Mr Mapesela expressed concern that despite the country’s abundant water sources, local entrepreneurs have still not taken full advantage of the available local and foreign markets.
The minister invited water bottlers in the ongoing process of adopting an international standard for production of water to ensure the health of consumers is guaranteed.
Mr Mapesela said there was also a need to strengthen value chains in the water bottling industry to ensure maximum impact on the country’s economy.
“We need to ensure that water bottles, caps and stickers are manufactured in the country so that as we can create more jobs,” Mr Mapesela said.
The project manager of the Private Sector Competitiveness and Economic Diversification Project (PSCEDP), Chaba Mokuku, said the African Development Bank (AfDB) is assisting the government to develop a business model for the Lesotho Standards Institution.
He said the AfDB’s Economic Diversification Support Project (EDSP) is also assisting the government to come up with a strategic plan and a time-bound implementation roadmap for the proposed Institution.
The EDSP is housed under the PSCEDP.
Mr Mokuku said the government has resolved to adopt an international standard (Global GAP) which was adopted to certify local production of fruits in Mahobong in the absence of a functional LSI.
“The adoption of an international water standard is an interim decision that has been taken while the LSI is still being developed,” he said. He added that it was dangerous to consume water that has not been certified for safe consumption.
He said the process of certifying producers through the ministry, would assess the chemical composition of the water and the production systems to ensure the quality of the finished product.
Meanwhile, the chairperson of Water Bottling Federation of Lesotho (WBFL) Ntsie Maphathe says he believes the developments will unlock markets for local producers to support the water sector is long overdue.
“We have been calling for water standards for a long time and we appreciate that finally something is being done by the Ministry of Trade,” said Mr Maphathe.
“We believe it is time for the country to take advantage and develop resources where we have a comparative advantage.”
He said if water bottling is handled well, it has the potential to improve Lesotho’s international trade profile.
“The advantage that the standard would give to local producers is that we will be able to compete with other countries in the market. We will have a better opportunity to export bottled water,” Mr Maphathe said.
“Lesotho has a good chance to do well in the export market largely because our water has a number of minerals and nutrients that are essential for good health. Our water is also relatively cleaner owing to the altitude of our country.
“We want to see Lesotho developing a reputation as a renowned producer of high quality bottled water,” Mr Maphathe.
However, the industry faces deterrent challenges among them the long and tedious process producers have to follow to secure a water source.
“For one to get permission to obtain a spring or place to erect a borehole, one has to visit the ministry of water affairs and the Department of environment in the Ministry of Culture and Environment. One also has to visit the Ministry of Health.
For her part, ‘Mammakong Mokoma, from Phuleng Natural Still Water company based in Leribe said they are still unable to break into the formal retail market.
She said often multinational retailers refer then to managers based in South Africa. When they are entertained by local managers they are still asked whether they conform to any production standards.
She said the industry also requires fully functional testing laboratories since to avoid the current scenario where they have to take their samples to Bloemfontein for testing.