For over a year, Lesotho farmers were unable to move their wool and mohair beyond its borders. This was because of a controversial Agricultural Marketing (Wool and Mohair Licensing) Regulations passed in 2018. Due to the regulation, only Lesotho Wool Center (LWC) could auction the product. This was a huge blow for a country that produces a fifth of the world’s supply. However, Lesotho wool and mohair exports have resumed following an amendment of that law.
One of the major shareholders in LWC is a Chinese businessman called Stone Shi. Thus, many farmers in Lesotho criticize the law as a way of enforcing Chinese monopoly in the industry. However, the government seems to have bowed to pressure from the farmers. Recently, the national assembly passed the Agricultural Marketing (Wool and Mohair Licensing) (Amendment) Regulation 2019 No 68.
With the amendment of the regulation, Lesotho farmers can now export their wool and mohair. Both farmers and Lesotho wool and mohair export brokerages praised the amendment. A trader and owner of one of the brokerages, Dr. Mohlalefi Moteane, said,
“As a nation, we should doff our hats to the determination and relentless resistance shown by the farmers to corruption. Let us remember that Port Elizabeth is the international market for wool and mohair and therefore it has always been their preferred destination where they can have good returns. They (BKB) have known this trade since the 1800s.”
Tougher Battles Likely Await Farmers
Shortly after the passing of the original regulation in 2018, Lesotho wool and mohair export farmers went to court. In May 2019, they won the case at the High Court. However, the government appealed the judgment. Consequently, the High Court ruling was overturned. The new amendment is a huge relief to some of the farmers who were already in despair. However, the government insists that wool and mohair should be auctioned in the country rather than shipping it to South Africa.
Also, the passing of the new law has not stopped farmers from harassment. Recently, Khotsang Moshoeshoe, a prominent Lesotho National Wool and Mohair Growers Association (LNWMGA) member was arrested. Moshoeshoe was accused of misappropriating M13 million meant for dipping fees by LNWMGA members. Many including Dr. Moteane believe there is a political undertone to his arrest. According to Dr. Moteane,
“This money was well accounted for and the farmers’ association was doing a good job. We are then surprised to hear that M13 million is said to be misappropriated by some executive committee members at the farmers’ association. This is just one of the ways by government to frustrate the efforts of the farmers.”
The Benefit of Lesotho Wool and Mohair Export to South Africa Over Local Auction
Following the passing of the 2018 law, many brokerage firms had to lay off their workers. Also, about 48,000 farmers who depend on Lesotho wool and mohair export were without earning for over a year. One of the companies that was badly hit was Maluti Wool and Mohair Center. Reacting to the amendment, David Telford, the company’s MD said,
“We are trying to get some money back into the system and get the wheels turning. The industry was on its knees. We have also suffered, but not as much as the farmers who could not put food on the table.”
South Africa’s BKB controls the wool and mohair market in the region. In fact, it is the second-largest supplier of the product in the world. Combining South Africa and Lesotho wool and mohair export creates a larger market that is more attractive to international buyers. Thus, inasmuch as auctioning the products in Lesotho may increase government earning, the country’s small market is less likely to attract international attention.