‘Meat import ban requires inclusivity’

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Bereng Mpaki

ECONOMIC revolution movement, Home of Aggressive Entrepreneurs of Lesotho (HAE) says while it hails the government’s move to ban importation of some agricultural produce, there is need to include stakeholders in the processes.

In March this year, the Ministry of Small Business Development announced the partial ban of importation of red meat to reserve the market for local producers. The arrangement only allowed the importation of products that were unavailable in the country.

In May this year, a similar ban eggs was announced by the ministry although it is yet to be implemented.

Speaking to the Lesotho Times this week, HAE leader Ntsane Pheko said the while they agree with the policy, they still questioned its implementation.

“It is a principle that we wholly agree with since we believe that at times it can be necessary to restrict imports in order to stimulate local production,” Mr Pheko said.

“This is a national issue which ought to have involved all relevant stakeholders such that they understand why such a move has to be made.”

He said there was inadequate engagement with stakeholders like butchers and livestock farmers to ensure that they buy into the initiative.

He also queried that the embargo on red meat importation has created a monopoly for the national abattoir which is operated by Meraka Lesotho. Meraka Lesotho is a private company that is linked to Prime Minister Thomas Thabane’s trade advisor, Xie Yan.

Earlier this year, HAE Lesotho ran an on-line petition calling for a ban of cabbage, spinach and potato imports in a bid to foster development of the local production.

The petition, which went on to garner support of over 1000 signatories noted that it was a disgrace that the country still cannot produce adequate food for its people.

“The economy is weak, unemployment is rife and the agricultural sector is down on its knees. Our country therefore needs nothing but radical economic policies.

“It is a good initiative but since it now creates a monopoly, it leaves us with unanswered questions as to whether or not Basotho at large are going to benefit. It should not just benefit a few people,” Mr Pheko said.

Meanwhile, Meraka managing director Mosito Khethisa says the red meat import ban has worked wonders for the abattoir which has barely survived over the years due to competition from imported meat.

Mr Khethisa said without the restriction, it was useless to operate an abattoir which was not getting the support it need from meat wholesalers who preferred to import meat.

“Business has improved drastically for the abattoir and it continues to pick up,” Mr Khethisa said.

He said since the imposition of the ban, the abattoir has bought 219 cattle and 85 sheep from livestock farmers from around the country valued at M1,2 million. Some of the livestock are currently in the feedlot that they have established to fatten them before slaughter.

The abattoir that used to slaughter about 60 cattle per week now slaughters about 170 cattle weekly.

The company however, faces high overheads, which can only be offset by an increase in capacity since most of them are fixed.

He said he was hopeful that they would soon reach full capacity and increase their workforce from 80 people. The workforce was initially 45 before the ban.

The facility has capacity to slaughter 500 cows per week and 300 sheep per day.

Since the ban was imposed, the abattoir has also seen its customer base grow significantly.

The abattoir also now operates a feedlot facility, where animals are fattened before being slaughtered.

“At the moment we have close to 150 cattle in the feedlot. We are collecting as many animals as we can from the people which we keep in the feedlot.”

The animals are brought to the abattoir every Wednesday where they are weighed to determine the selling price.

Some farmers have complained about their animals being undervalued. But Mr Khethisa said over 95 percent of the farmers are happy with the prices while those who are not satisfied are free to opt out.

He said there were also challenges with farmers who prefer to have their meat cut down to smaller pieces which has increased their cost as they are only supposed to deal with carcasses.

Mr Khethisa also indicated that they have faced resistance from some wholesalers who still do not want to purchase meet from them.

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