Rural Self-help Development Association (RSDA) with the objective of supporting smallholder farmers to improve their living conditions and their influence through mobilising their social capital and dialogue with private sector and the Government of Lesotho, is collaborating with farmers in the districts of Leribe, Berea, Maseru, Mafeteng and Mohale’s Hoek through district farmers forums. The initiative is financially supported by the Denmark Lesotho Network (DLN).
The objective of the District Farmers Forums is to transform the mind set of smallholder farmers about commercial agriculture in their respective districts through building on their social capital (trust, confidence) which will enable farmers to have honest communication and work with private sector and Government of Lesotho to follow through commitments pledged in the CAADP Compact. The District Farmers Forum has great potential and may be a breakthrough towards active dialogue among farmers and their stakeholders. The farming community in the five Districts have recognized the opportunities associated with re-energizing smallholder commercial agriculture in their respective districts.
This collaboration with farmers is to support the National Agriculture Investment Plan (NAIP) draft document of the Kingdom of Lesotho program of which its objective is to help farmers to increase production and productivity and to graduate from subsistence farming to semi-commercial status. This would be achieved through the use of appropriate technologies and strengthening agriculture as a business while at the same time helping other actors in the agricultural value chain to increase their incomes. The program would improve the enabling environment, contribute to reducing poverty and ensure sustainable food security for the Basotho both at household and national levels by improving production, productivity, diversification and commercializing food production and developing high potential value chains and good functioning markets, improved access to rural finance and infrastructure.
Over the years, farmers have been challenged by a number of bottlenecks that have restricted them to produce maximally: These include:
- Low productivity and poor quality agricultural production
- Government policies that are not inclusive and not farmer friendly
- Weak farmer networks and associations that cannot demand and monitor Government programs
- Poor understanding and knowledge of market and market linkages
Therefore, farmers in these districts have taken the huge responsibility of communicating, raising awareness and understanding among fellow farmers to unite for peer-to-peer support, to increase productivity of agriculture commodities and coordinate marketing of their produce.
A Farmers Forum is a meeting place for likeminded farmers associations: each district coming together to share challenges, experiences and lessons. Coming together to find synergies, collective action and one voice for the farmers to explore opportunities which the Lesotho’s smallholder agriculture can play a much greater role in creating jobs to increase disposable income and sustain household food security.
These forums exist for:
- Peer to peer support, exchanges to share skills and technologies, collective action-bulk buying and marketing of products
- Collective voice and action in engaging with government for policy, laws and capital
- Collective voice and action in engaging with business for inputs, finance and output market
- Organizational support to farmers groups/associations for creating sustainable entities for good governance – membership drive, accountability and transparency
The Farmers Forum is represented by various farmers groups and associations based on commodities produced in the district. For example, poultry, grain, piggery, horticulture, wool and mohair, forestry, etc. This has been facilitated with assistance from the District Agricultural Offices of the districts mentioned.
The theory of change underpinning this engagement is that government as a primary duty bearer has a significant role it plays in increasing agriculture production through infrastructure development, proper planning, policy formulation and execution, but particularly through resource allocations for the agricultural development targeting the Lesotho farmers where over 80% are small holder farmers. Therefore, for the smallholder farmers there is need to have their voices to positively engage and influence the government for changes in the lives of small holders’ farmers. To have a unified voice for policy change and effective resource allocation and utilization, there is a need for farmers need to come together to have a platform that facilitates the engagement so to amplify their united voices on a range of issues affecting agriculture value chain from production, processing and marketing. The effective engagement can only be realized once farmers understand how government operate especially understanding the policy formulation and execution (resource allocation), particularly their ability to engage and track the budgeting process and monitoring it. This takes efforts to capacitate farmers to be able to engage the government and other stakeholders meaningfully hence why RSDA had organized the three-day workshops to train each forum on governance and social accountability.
The process of farmers engagement with the duty bearers is expected to be participatory in nature where issues are taken up right from grass root to the district then to the national level to inform the CAADP processes.
Photo at top of the page: Leribe District Famers Forum