Headstrong herders worsen  Liseleng’s land degradation



THABA-TSEKA – While the world is working towards addressing the impact of climate change that includes rehabilitation of the depleted environment, herd-boys in Lesotho are setting back the country’s efforts to rehabilitate its range and wetlands. Liseleng Ha Thene, a community within the Thaba-Tseka district is one such area whose population is in distress over the stubbornness of its herd boys who, despite incessant calls to desist from activities endangering the environment, continue to do as they please.

Once blessed with abundant water and green-pastured mountains, the community has now been hit by severe land degradation with its water sources slowly drying up.

Mokheche Mafeta, area chief at Liseleng told this reporter in an interview that herd boys in the area have become an unruly nuisance. Mafeta said in that region they have made efforts towards protecting wetlands and rangelands by fencing and restricting animals on the selected sites. He, however, said the efforts have over the years proved futile as herd boys graze their animals wherever they wish and even become violent when challenged to stop the practice.

He said, if they are not invading the wetlands with their animals or overgrazing they burn the grasslands and to many people in rural Lesotho burning grass is a tradition and a rite of spring based on largely unfounded myths that the practice improves  new grass crop. Mafeta said they have tried in vain to educate the herders about the dangers and risks of these practices and their relation to climate change as well as the importance of looking after their environment but their efforts and words of advice fall on deaf ears.

“These children are unruly. They do things they know exactly  are not allowed. What is even worse is that they fight whoever tries to take action against their behavior. He said as a result, water sources are drying up and sooner the same animals they own will die of thirst and hunger,” he noted. He said compared to 10 years ago, water sources have depleted drastically and it is only a matter of time before they dry up completely. These concerns are echoed by Liseleng Grazing Association chairman, Tšebeletso Monehela, who says their herd boys are not familiar with the impact of climate change.

Some of them not even believe that it is a reality. He said they seem to be minimally aware of changing weather patterns including severe rains and drought but do not relate that to climate change.  Monehela said despite that the herd boys still do not take it upon themselves to rehabilitate the degraded lands due to heavy rains and drought or at least respect others’ efforts to do so.

Monehela noted that the herders need capacitation on the protection of the environment and on the climate change topic, including how they can protect themselves during severe weather conditions which normally find them in the open at animal posts most of the time. He said the burning of grass is an ancient practice that herd boys believe does no harm to the environment but, instead,  enhances the growth of grass. Monehela said because of these unhealthy practices of overgrazing and burning of grass, their wool and mohair production has been deteriorating over the years, and that if no action is taken, livestock farmers will be thrown out of business.

“If we continue like this, 10 years down the line our water source would have dried up. There will be no grass as well and this means that without water and grass our animals will not survive,” he said.

Monehela said most rural communities in Lesotho depend on livestock farming as their main source of income and, without the livestock, families will be stranded. He said lack of laws protecting the environment worsens their situation.

To address the challenges faced by the Liseleng and other rural communities across the country, Improving Adaptive Capacity of Vulnerable and Food Insecure Populations in Lesotho (AICOV) is going around the country capacitating herd boys on climate change, with the aim of ensuring that they adapt and become resilient to the impacts of climate change while also looking after their environment for sustainability. Herd boys are identified as one of the groups that are vulnerable to climate change due to the nature of their work.

Adressing herders on climate change in Liseleng, IACOV communications officer, Rorisang Kurubally, said the IACOV project is three-pronged. Component One focuses on strengthening government capacity to generate climate information and promote its use to forecast risks of climate shocks, mobilise early actions, and co-develop tailored and locally relevant climate services for communities.  “Component Two concentrates on raising awareness of communities, women, youth, people living with HIV and other vulnerable groups on the impacts of climate change, the importance of adaptation, and the use of climate information for seasonal planning and climate risk management.

“Component Three focuses on empowering communities to understand community-based planning processes that facilitate implementation of appropriate resilience building and adaptation interventions that generate sustainable assets ensuring income diversification and market access,” she said.

Deputy chairperson in the National Climate Change Committee (NCCC), Molefi Phaqane, capacitated herd boys on the issues of climate change adaptation and resilience. He also spoke about how they can best protect themselves and their environment against the impacts of climate change.

Phaqane encouraged herd boys to stop invading rangelands and wet lands articulating consequences that the community may face in case water sources dry up and the land gets degraded. “It is your land and no one can take better care of it than you. Burning grass, overgrazing and invading water sources will one day see the whole community without water and food as soil will be swept by water. Your animals will not survive as well,” Phaqane warned.

He further encouraged the herd boys to form grazing associations so that they can be able to police their environment. Phaqane also encouraged the herd boys to practice rotational grazing, avoid burning grass and cutting trees and, instead, plant trees and grass to trap soil during heavy rains.

He also encouraged them to reduce their livestock to avoid putting pressure on their land and consider venturing into merino sheep breeding for more production of quality wool, further articulating the importance of taking into consideration every day weather forecasts to avoid casualties caused by severe unexpected weather conditions like snow. Thabo Thene is one of the herd boys reportedly rebellious to caution against bad land use practices. Speaking to this reporter, Thene said some of the things they are expected to observe and avoid are a challenge to them.

He said as herd boys who have been herding for over a decade, they have been burning grass so that new green grass can regrow and it has only been lately that they were told to stop. He said it is not about being rebellious but a challenge when it comes to behavioral change. Thene said sometimes, grass catches fire when they are making a fire to warm their hands during cold days in the open.

“Sometimes it is never intentional. But again, we are told to stop cutting trees, how are we going to survive because we use the same trees to make fire, here we cook and warm ourselves with fire,” he noted. The absence of responsive land legislation threatens the effective and successful rehabilitation of Lesotho’s degraded land.

To date the country still uses the old Land Husbandry Act of 1969, a piece of legislation described as obsolete and unable to respond to the challenges the country faces due to climate change. As a result, the country continues to experience extreme land degradation, especially in the southern parts and, despite rehabilitation efforts, the impact outweighs the hard work put in.

The country lacks all-encompassing national legislation directed to land degradation and the reality is that communities abuse and disrespect land and resources since no law can hold them accountable for their actions.

In 2021, the Ministry of Forestry, Range and Soil Conservation drafted the Range Resources Management Bill, 2021, which when enacted will repeal the outdated Land Husbandry Act of 1969. The Bill will, among others, address issues surrounding protection and rehabilitation of range and wet lands.

When enacted, the new law is expected to empower the present government and development partners’ efforts to rehabilitate the country’s land that has depleted due to climate change and land mismanagement. The Bill also aims to promote sustainable use of range land resources, conserve biodiversity and maintain the ecosystem.

The former Minister of Forestry, Range and Soil Conservation, Motlohi Maliehe, observed with concern that the absence of the land legislation has seen herd boys in the rural parts of the country starting uncontrolled fires while communities practice unsustainable farming and exploit resources through illegal harvesting.

“The enactment of the Range Resources Management Bill of 2021 is also expected to promote and empower the wool and mohair industry in the country. “After it turns into law, the new legislation will, among others, also promote sustainable use of range land resources for the benefit of communities in a manner that would preserve the ecological character of an area and conserve biodiversity to maintain ecosystems,” he stated.

Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Environment, ’Mabataung Khalane, told this reporter in a separate interview that the Bill is currently before the Senate for interrogation. “The Bill is currently before the Senate committees. We just had a meeting with them a few weeks ago. From the Senate it will then be send to parliament and after that it will be send to the King for Royal Assent,” she said.

She said the Bill will further protect rangelands against malpractices such as unsustainable grazing, encroachment and exploitation or illegal harvesting of range resources. “Through the Act, rangelands will be monitored and any other actions detrimental to rangeland health would also be dealt with. Protection of rangelands means the wool and mohair industry, already one of the leading commodity exports in Lesotho, will produce even more quality fibre as the rangelands provide primary feeding for wool and mohair producers,” she said.

A May 2022 survey of the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), in collaboration with the government of Lesotho, declares soil erosion as the direct driver of Lesotho’s wetland degradation.

According to latest results from the Earth Observation data field survey conducted by the The storymap presenting the results of data gathered in October and November 2021, eroded soils were detected across more than 30 percent of the surveyed wetlands. Overgrazing of the rangelands as well as climate change have increased erosion of soil in the country.

Other factors affecting Lesotho’s wetland degradation include; overgrazing and trampling by animals detected across seven percent, and encroachment by other land uses was detected at five percent. The data also indicated that 13 percent of surveyed wetlands were affected by encroachment of bushes.

FAO, within Lesotho’s larger Integrated Catchment Management Programme umbrella, working jointly with the Ministries of Forestry Range and Soil Conservation, and Ministry of Water, is implementing a project ‘Land Cover Data for Integrated Catchment Management (ICM) in Lesotho.’ Under the project, FAO aims to develop the new Lesotho Land Cover Database and Atlas, and monitor the status of wetlands, rangelands, dongas (gullies) and irrigated crops in priority sub-catchments areas.

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