Degradation reduces land to a hollow legacy



MASERU – Although the land that her forefathers fought for and left as her legacy is now barren owing to the severe ongoing drought, the idea of losing it without a fight leaves a hollow feeling in ’Mampoi Letsie’s gut.

As the area chief of Maphutseng in Mohale’s Hoek district, it is her inherent duty to ensure that her subjects have adequate land to build their homes, farm and bury their dead.

But those basic land needs will soon be a thing of the past given the sky-rocketing rate at which the land is degrading.

Land degradation is a process in which the value of the biophysical environment is affected by a combination of human-induced processes acting upon the land.

It is viewed as any change or disturbance to the land perceived to be deleterious or undesirable.

Natural hazards are excluded as a cause, however, human activities can indirectly affect phenomena such as floods and bush fires.

This is considered to be an important topic of this era because of the implications land degradation has on food production and food security and the environment, among others attendant factors.

It is estimated that up to 40 percent of the world’s agricultural land is seriously degraded.

The rural settlement of Maphutseng, located about 90km south of Maseru, faces a huge threat of losing arable land to soil erosion.

The inhabitants of the area, who are largely unemployed, face severe hunger and great water shortages exacerbated by climate change.

Chief Letsie says the afflictions of her subjects began five years ago and, since then, the community has been struggling to farm the land that normally feeds it.

Most of the nearby fields and grazing land has since been swallowed up by gaping gorges that keep expanding every year.

Families consistently lose land for building their homes and the tenacious drought has also forced most struggling farmers to abandon their fields, leaving most of the community both homeless and facing acute starvation.

The signs that the village is in dire need of food aid and other forms of humanitarian assistance are all there for anyone to see.

Letsie largely blames land degradation in her slowly crumbling village on herd boys who deliberately violate grazing regulations and destroy natural water sources by overgrazing, grazing on protected wetlands, in addition to burning land.

“Herd boys pose a serious challenge in that they openly undermine my authority, perhaps because I am a woman and they feel they cannot obey my orders.

“But their rowdy conduct causes our community tremendous harm because it is the source of soil erosion and kills the vital water sources.

“My efforts to rein them in have been in vain because they continue wreaking havoc.

“What is most disappointing is the fact that I receive little or no support from the community to get these herders to behave. Even their parents or employers are not helping the situation in any way,” she adds.

She says instead of helping to fill the ravines that have defiled the village, residents have decided to simply build their homes along the expanding gorges.

“In the past we used to have projects that dealt with issues of fighting this land degradation and restoring the water sources. Villagers who worked on such projects were paid with food parcels but as soon as the benefactors of the project stopped the food parcels, people downed their tools and never returned to work. They thereafter watched as their land was being washed away.”

The last heavy rains she says also swept away their footbridge and water tanks, leaving the community in great distress.

The chief is now worried that even the nearby schools might soon be swallowed up in the next heavy rains unless something is done urgently to address the problem.

She says through the climate change adaption project that is soon to be implemented in the village, there is hope things will get better.

She appeals to potential donors and project co-ordinators to include herders in their programmes and teach them about their role in conservative agriculture and the importance of preserving wetlands, water as well as the environment.

In a bid to rescue the community of Maphutseng out of their quagmire, both the ministries of forestry, range and soil conservation as well as education through the assistance of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) have launched the climate change adaptation manual for schools in Mohale’s Hoek.

The manual was developed for capacity building and is integrated into the school curriculum to teach children ways to adapt and survive under climate change, while also working towards regaining their lost environment.

Speaking at the launch last week, ’Mamomohau Mohlotsane from the National Curriculum Development Centre (NCDC) articulated that climate change affects all and should therefore be mentioned in every subject to ensure that learners understand the importance of looking after their environment for their benefit and that of future generations.

Mohlotsane said climate change has erased the country’s history and continues to damage the environment which, if not taken care of, will leave people hungry and stranded with nowhere to live.

She added that the new integrated curriculum already addresses challenges people face due to climate change.

The climate adaptation manual will ensure people practice conservative farming while looking after their pastures and wetlands to avoid land degradation and burning out of water sources, she added.

Holy Cross High School principal, Sister Paulina Selelekoane, whose school have been practicing conservative agriculture and teaching children about climate change and adaptation said the school is no longer a safe learning environment for the learner because of a nearby gorge.

She, however, showed that since they started implementing climate change adaption techniques, pupils perform better in geography.

Napo Rakotsoane, area councilor, decried the fact that the village has lost its initial beauty due to the numerous ravines that began cutting across their land five years ago.

Rakotsoane said the few projects that were implemented a few years ago to redress the land degradation problem had all been in vain.

The GEF project titled “Reducing vulnerability from climate change in foothills and lowlands and lower Senqu river basin’’ was implemented to mainstream climate risk considerations into land rehabilitation programmes of Lesotho for improved ecosystem resilience and reduced vulnerability of livelihoods to climate shocks.

Reducing Vulnerability from Climate Change (RVCC) project coordinator Lebone Molahlehi said with the help of the forestry ministry, they have been looking after forests, rangelands and soil and water conservation in Mohale’s Hoek.

Molahlehi said the project was, however, only piloted in three community councils of Khoelenya, Lithipeng and Thaba Mokhele.

According to him, climate change challenges are always discussed at high levels while children and youth who are part of the community are left behind.

This, he said, is why both the ministries of forestry and education with the aid of UNDP decided to integrate issues concerning climate change in the school curricula from primary schools so that learners from lower grades could be more aware of climate change and its effects.

Molahlehi added that the aim of the project is to teach communities nearby to understand more about climate change, its effect and causes and how to survive it.

He said they held several workshops in various villages to teach the villagers about climate change and the importance of looking after rangelands and conserving water and soil.

Malintle Kheleli, manager of schools in Lesotho under Geography and Environmental Movement (GEM), said climate education is taught in schools from lower grades.

The learners are taught how to survive the ravages of climate change and schools that offer climate change studies in their curriculum are more environmental management friendly and perform better since environmental studies is integrated with other subjects.

Kheleli said they plan to expand countrywide, adding they have already covered 27 schools in Mohale’s Hoek.

Principal Secretary in the ministry of education, Neo Liphoto, noted that current land management practices resulted in soil erosion and reduced soil fertility.

Liphoto said the widespread degradation of the environment and wetlands contributes to challenges of rural poverty, vulnerability and food insecurity.

Therefore, he added, there is need for Lesotho to put a sustainable mechanism in place in order to help rural communities and Basotho at large to survive and overcome the uncertainties.

He said school communities are no exception in challenges brought by global climate change therefore youth awareness on climate change and its impact must be prioritized, not only in schools but also in villages.

“This is necessary as the youth are among the marginalised groups in society who, if nothing is done, shall bear harsh consequences of global climate change. Therefore, excluding them from the global climate change awareness campaigns and the disaster-risk reduction process will do them no good,” Liphoto said.

The latest Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) results indicate that more than 320 000 people – almost 20 percent of the country’s population – will require lifesaving humanitarian assistance over the lean season, a situation that is further exacerbated by ongoing dry weather that is resulting in late and irregular planting, poor pastures and limited access to water.

In his budget speech, minister of finance, Dr Moeketsi Majoro, revealed that Lesotho experiences extreme poverty and hunger, high rates of unemployment and a huge food import bill, while it is endowed with rich soils that can feed all Basotho.

Majoro said as a result, the government has taken a decision to promote and invest heavily in commercial farming as a strategy to address food security and unemployment.

He added the government will expand commercial farming and horticulture for the local and export markets to optimise the use of productive agricultural land and will support formalisation of land titles and scale up an existing model that promotes consolidation of small holdings into commercial anchor farms for production of high value vegetables.

According to him, these anchor farms will evolve to serve as mentors and aggregators to support and create a reliable market for emerging farmers by sourcing produce from their small, satellite farms.

He further articulated that the model could ultimately mature to incorporate some elements of an out-grower scheme where the anchor farm provides agricultural inputs to a network of small farmers in addition to mentorship.

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