I was 26 when I travelled beyond the BOLESWA countries for the first time. Of course, I live in Lesotho, so I had definitely been to South Africa a lot of times. In any case I was still in Southern Africa, but I was nonetheless excited. I had arrived at my destination at night and immediately went to bed.
The friend I was staying with had morning errands and had instructed me to make myself comfortable. Upon waking up, I decided on a bowl of cereal and thus went to the fridge for some milk. Imagine my surprise when I found no milk, it took me more than a few seconds to realise that there was indeed milk in that fridge just not Clover or any South African brand.
I had grown so accustomed to the food that I eat in Lesotho being produced in South Africa that I could not fathom that another Southern African state could be producing its own food. So, I challenged myself to a little game, for the duration of my stay I would eat and drink nothing produced outside of that country, and with the exception of gum and restaurant food I succeeded. I was not at all deprived because I generally found what I needed, even good wine.
It has been more than a few years since that incident, and I have settled back into my normal life here in Lesotho. The whole country is still very much dependent on our neighbour for something as vital as food. During the first lockdown before I saw the announcement that trucks would still be coming in, I was for a good moment worried about what we were going to eat, that without South Africa feeding us we would very well starve despite us being a nation of able bodied people with arable land.
My mother tells me of times gone by when we produced enough maize that we could feed ourselves and even have some left over to export. I have not verified these claims mainly because I want them to be true, but I don’t want them to be true because then I will have to wonder what went wrong. How are we failing to produce something so important as food?
Is it a question of resources, lack of support from the government or because we do no support our farmers? What will happen the day that God forbid our neighbours experience some sort of scarcity and they must hoard their supply for their own people? For example, if COVID-19 had gotten really bad to the point that food service workers had to stop work and South Africa could not export, what was to become of us?
In any case it does no good to sit and worry and I must admit that in recent years, Basotho, especially the younger generation has endeavoured to produce food but their success has been limited at best. Now while it is all good and well to complain about what the government is not doing can we confidently say that ourselves, the ordinary Mosotho is doing enough to support these emerging producers or do we regularly forgo their products in favour of more established foreign imported foods?
I am not one to deny that some of these products are subpar and could stand a little improvement but so were more established brands we now see. I am also not so much starry eyed as to say we should buy products not on merit but simply because they are local but if we do not inject money in the form of sales into locally produced food they will never grow and get better and we will be forever dependent on imports.
The reality is that the average Mosotho views buying locally produced food as an act of grace towards the supplier. We have the innate belief that the product is not up to standard and we are settling for less and of course this is sometimes true. The biggest tragedy is that we fail to realise that we are not being merciful simply to the producer but to ourselves as well. To quote an old adage “show me a nation that cannot feed itself and I will show you a nation in chaos”
The choice to buy local should never be made solely on being benevolent towards the local producer but it must definitely at all times be selfish. The selfishness of understanding that growing local products benefits us as well, whether by creating employment and opportunities, bettering the quality of offerings and definitely that in the event of a zombie apocalypse we would still indeed be able to get hold of food.