The Mountain Kingdom of Lesotho is a place of stark beauty; deep canyons, majestic highlands, vertiginous hillsides, alpine grasslands, sun and sky. Although no bigger than Belgium, it is a critical watershed, giving rise to the headwaters – the ‘white gold’ – that feed two of the major river systems of southern Africa, the Senqu (Orange) and uThukela.
But, living in this mountainland comes with more than its fair share of rigours, and small-scale farmers like Mrs Maitumeleng Mabaleka struggle to survive. Land degradation and climate change have upended traditional agricultural practices for her and many others like her who struggle to make a living or grow enough food to feed their children and build a better future.
“I have been selected to be a lead farmer in my village to help other households with some advice on vegetable production and food preservation. I have become an agent of change.” - Maitumeleng Mabaleka, community leader.
The risks posed by climate change can mean the difference between life and death, prosperity and poverty.
Drought, rising temperatures, and an increase in extreme weather, are pushing people to migrate, and triggering new conflicts. It is a roadblock to the country achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and reach their Nationally Determined Contributions to the Paris Agreement.
With the support of the (UNDP) and funding from the Global Environment Facility (GEF), the Government of Lesotho is building innovative incentive programmes its Reducing Vulnerability from Climate Change (RVCC) project.
These incentives allowing farmers to rehabilitate and protect their environment and foster climate-resilient agricultural that will transform the way they plant crops, raise livestock and manage their natural resources.
A story of hope
A community leader, Maitumeleng Mabaleka was provided a simple shade net and drip irrigation for her household garden. With the improved production on her half hectare household farm, she has increased her annual income by US$2,000 by selling fresh produce and preserved vegetables from her half hectare household farm.
“In the past, my vegetable production was low due to drought and sometimes insects, but now I am able to harvest water from my roof and water my garden in an efficient manner using drip irrigation – relatively new technology.” - Maitumeleng Mabaleka
The surplus has been a boon for the family. Her husband, who is retired, looks younger and healthier every day with all the farm-fresh food on the table. To protect against future shocks – everything from the next big drought to a catastrophic pandemic like COVID-19 – Maitumeleng preserves some of her surplus with bottling and solar dryers provided through the project.
Lesotho's afro-alpine ecosystems are as fragile as they are beautiful. Land and water resources are deteriorating because of prolonged droughts. Ecosystems are being pushed to their limits by over-cultivation, overgrazing, and over-harvesting, as communities are forced to adopt coping measures that push the land beyond its capacity. And the people of Lesotho, the Basotho, are suffering.
This creates a vicious cycle that drives climate change and increases of deeply-rooted poverty. Recent droughts induced by El Niño are pushing even more Basotho into poverty and hunger, with one out of three people facing acute levels of food insecurity and more than half of the country living below the poverty line.
The incentive packages introduced through the RVCC project encourage voluntary land rehabilitation. These packages started with drought-tolerant seeds, agricultural equipment, and improved livestock breeds. In exchange farmers are rehabilitating and resting rangelands, they’ve improved water-harvesting capacity and other sustainable land management.
The project is in the process of including cash transfers as well as fuel-efficient stoves, solar power-packs and solar cookers.
The project has trained local leaders such as Chief Shoaepane on how to sustainably manage rangelands and wetlands.
“As an area Chief it was becoming difficult to govern these days because the neighbouring communities were fighting over access to better rangelands. Another major challenge was indiscriminate burning of rangelands by herders, which is now gradually ending because we are closely working with the government officials in raising awareness about management of our resources. Now that we participate in quarterly community-leader meetings and capacity building opportunities, we work closely with livestock owners and herders and encourage our communities to practice rotational grazing and other sustainable land management practices.” - Chief Shoaepane
According to the Chief, these improved practices have seen a return of wildlife to the area, and are sowing the seeds for a more peaceful and productive society.
“Our children will get to know some of the remaining wildlife in the country following the extinction of some species. There has been a reduction of violent clashes concerning village boundaries and grazing rights.” – Chief Shoaepane
Mr Bataung Mafereka is an agricultural genius. Before the project came, his tiny 5,000-sq-metre lot produced just US $800 a year in vegetables and was often damaged by frost and hail.
With a new shade net and other tools, he earned US$1,667 in just five months growing tomatoes and he has hired four workers to support the new enterprise. With year-round growing capacity, he and his team will switch to maize and beans later in the year to earn more money.
“I have been empowered by this project to produce throughout the year. This gives me competitive advantage over other regional farmers who do not have the type of infrastructure and skills that I now have acquired. Most of the youth in my village were forced to leave and look for employment in the cities, but I will stay here with my family to improve my village and prove that farming can solve our economic problems.” – Bataung Mafereka
Female producers has been a key to the project’s success—more than 75 percent of those who take part in the project are women.
With the world bee populations under threat, some enterprising producers are turning to beekeeping.
Mrs Mamorena Seqao has been beekeeping for a few years now, but with better equipment and five new hives, she now makes US$1,600 per year from her organic honey, beeswax candles and propolis, which is used in health supplements.
She sells mostly in neighbouring South Africa—a true transformation from a local producer to an international businesswoman on the rise in a field traditionally dominated by men.
“South Africans like Lesotho products as they are produced organically. This year I got so many orders for my propolis that I had to buy from other local farmers and resell it to my customers.” - Mamorena Seqao
The RVCC project is implemented by Lesotho’s Ministry of Forestry, Range and Soil Conservation with support of UNDP and finance from the Least Developed Countries Fund. Learn more at www.ls.undp.org.