By Thandiwe Kubere

MASERU – African Women Farmers Allies Lesotho (AWFA) through different stakeholders across different countries held the 1st Inter-Regional Agriculture symposium (IRAS) where farmers shared skills, their different experiences in the Agribusiness field as well as the right way to overcome challenges.

The pivotal event in the realm of agriculture, with the intention of taking agriculture in Africa to the next level through women, was made possible with the support of the National Agricultural Research and Development Institute (NARDI) of Botswana and the Botswana Enterprise Development and Export Promotion Agency (BEDCO). This was part of their continual efforts in bringing all stakeholders across the continent who are in the agricultural sector. With NARDI’s expertise and BEDCO’s dedication to enterprise development, the symposium gained a solid foundation of knowledge and resources. Their contributions greatly enhanced the symposium’s impact and effectiveness in addressing crucial issues related to agriculture and the empowerment of smallholder farmers. The collaboration between these organizations exemplified the power of partnerships in driving positive change within the agricultural landscape.Farmers were also advised against flooding the market with same product.

Lamp Serge representative and symposium organizer ‘Maorabile Litelu, said IRAS 2023 is one of the initiatives set to bring farmers together so that they help each other grow in the agri-business.  She highlighted farmers encounter a number of challenges including those of exclusion. Some of the challenges which have come to their realization is that banks are quick to fund commercial farmers yet they only cater for international markets, but when local farmers seek loans, they do not make the cut, giving the impression that local farmers are not good enough. Another challenge is that insurance companies only take interest in covering vehicles and property but leave out the farms. Therefore, this was to call out companies to also pay attention to agriculture as it has great potential of improving the country’s economic state.

Concerning on how to improve production in the country, farmers were encouraged to work together and figure out ways of helping each other blossom in their different expertise. Moreover, they were encouraged to pay tax, which most often shy away from, as this would assist the government in meeting them halfway in cases of emergencies.

 IRAS 2023 concluded with two days of insightful farm tours, providing participants with a first-hand look at innovative agricultural practices. The tours included visits to diverse farms, showcasing a wide range of agricultural activities including; Organo Pharma Snail Farm, where attendees had the opportunity to explore the farm, where they learned about snail rearing for the production of snail-based cosmetic products. This visit highlighted the potential of alternative agricultural ventures beyond traditional crops. They also went to the Sheep Wool Farm where they also took a tour around sheep wool farm, emphasizing the significance of livestock farming in the agricultural landscape. Participants gained insights into wool production and its role in both local economies and global markets. Moreover they went to a Fish Farm which showcased aquaculture practices, emphasizing the importance of sustainable fish production for food security. Participants learned about modern techniques and technologies employed in fish farming.

Local farmers in Lesotho were also advised to make great use of technology as this will help them figure out ways in which their products can reach the global market. It would also be helpful if the government could assist in getting technology-savvy equipment used in Kenya to test the fertility of soil, which precisely predicts weather conditions and help in preparation and saving of crops. They were also urged to use huge farms and good equipment to process crops so that they can be exported to areas where they are not available.

Giving her appreciation, the Deputy Speaker Hon. Ts’epang Ts’ita Mosena acknowledged those who showed up and encouraged women to always keep their heads up. Regarding participation and inclusion, she urged farmers to approach member of parliaments because they inform legislations which affect them. “What is Lesotho saying about farmers, as farmers, how are you communicating with your MPs? They need to be approachable and be able to interact with their communities so do not shy away from approaching them and give them ideas which are beneficial because they might know certain thing but they are not specialists. Try to influence the decisions they make in parliament.

Additionally, during the symposium, a 5-year strategy was unveiled, signifying a long-term commitment to advancing agriculture in the region. While the location for the next IRAS event was not disclosed, this strategy suggests that IRAS will continue to serve as a platform for regional collaboration and knowledge sharing, with the potential for different African countries to host future events.