WAMPP Organizes Lesotho’s First Merino Rams and Ewes Auction

On the 16th January 2020, Basotho smallholder producers of wool and mohair experienced a rare pleasure: a Merino rams auction on their own soil! Although Lesotho established Breeding Centres in Quthing and Mokhotlong decades ago, sustainability had forever eluded these establishments, with the consequence that Basotho have, for years, had to look beyond the country’s borders in order to buy Merino rams or Angora bucks. Needless to say, this came with the added burden of permits – not to mention the additional costs of transport and taxes to name some. One then begins to understand why the auction held on the 16th January was a historic event in Lesotho’s Wool calendar. This single event shone a bright ray of hope to Basotho farmers, that perhaps, they too can enjoy the benefits that can accrue from ease and affordability of securing superior gene-quality Merino Rams.

Lesotho launched the Wool and Mohair Promotion Project (WAMPP) in June 2016. With several financiers, including the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the OPEC Fund for International Development (OFID), the government of Lesotho and the Lesotho National Wool and Mohair Growers’ Association (LNWMGA), the project aims to improve the quality and quantity of wool and mohair produced in the country – thus improving the quality of life of small-stock farmers whose livelihoods largely depend on these ruminants. A National Breeding Programme is being implemented under the project. This multi-faceted endeavour entails: 1) Revival of two breeding centres (one in Quthing and the other in Mokhotlong) as a key step in the formation of a National Elite Flock; 2) the identification and certification of private commercial breeding farms or ram breeders. These will act as multiplying farms for the supply of superior rams and bucks to smallholder farmers. 3) A Culling and Exchange Programme – which will provide an incentive for farmers to reduce their herds by exchanging four of their inferior quality animals for one male superior gene-quality animal(ram or buck).

The Quthing Sheep Stud (or breeding centre) was transferred to the LNWMGA in 2018 under a 20 year sub-lease agreement. In this way, the government of Lesotho has given full control of the operation of the centre to farmers. The Mokhotlong Breeding Centre was passed to the same association under a similar arrangement in 2019. Parent stock was procured for the two centres in addition to procurement of agricultural machinery and equipment to enable production of fodder at the studs. It is against this background that the first auction of rams lambed in Quthing was held.

The event was a tremendous success, with a total of 132 animals sold under the hammer. Of these, 58 were stud rams and 75 were ewes. The highest priced ram sold, went for just under M16,000(M15,900). The average selling price was M5500. What does this mean for the industry? As mentioned earlier, a direct benefit to farmers is the ease at which they can now access good genetics – which ultimately will lead to improvement of their flocks. A more long-term, national advantage is that more farmers will have better quality animals – thus improving national production. Currently, the national average yield per animal in wool production is approximately 3kg – whereas our South African numbers boast of a national average yield of between 5kg – 7 kg. Lesotho therefore has to cover some ground in order to be a significant global wool producer.

Speaking at the auction, the Project Director, Retšelisitsoe Khoalenyane, assured farmers that this was but the beginning of better thing to come, where farmers could expect, not only ease of procuring rams, but also animals feeds and forage seeds(and training on fodder production and ration-formulation)as well as veterinary drugs. In the same vein, IFAD’s Country Director, Dr Philipp Baumgartner, congratulated Basotho for this milestone and also explained that better access to improved genetics meant that Basotho farmers could improve profits through decreased costs and better returns from improved fibre.

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