Farmers to go hungry again

As climate change induced heavy rains pattern recur

 

MATHATISI SEBUSI

MASERU – Around September 2022, most farmers across the country were still not able to go to fields to plough for next years’ harvest owing to extreme drought, however reports from Lesotho Meteoroidal Services (LMS) that the country will receive rain starting October brought hope to families that solely rely on farming for survival, hope that they will be able to produce food for their families that will last a year to the least. Two months down the line, the community instead of rejoicing, is in distress and their anguish increases with each passing day. They indeed received the rain they longed for but odds are against them.

The heavy rains have instead of igniting the farming spirit in them, left them frustrated and their hope of being able to put food on the table of their families diminished. Those that managed to plough, cannot sow as their soil is engulfed by excessive water, while those that managed to put seeds in are witnessing as their seeds are swept away by heavy rains and some getting rotten. The farming community in Lesobeng, Thaba-Tseka, is afraid that history will repeat itself this year and they will find themselves at the mercy of handouts yet again.

Last year, the community could not produce any food owing to severe rainfalls as a result they since have been at the mercy of handouts. Area chief at Lesobeng Ha Lephoi, Lebitso Lephoi, told Public Eye that his community is stranded and do not know what do. He said the community is also in fear that they will not be able to produce any food just like the past year where they experienced a lot of rain. “We managed to plough but some of us were not able to put in seeds due to every day rain we have been experiencing since October. Those that managed to sow are also discouraged as their seeds are either rotting or being swept away by water. It was only yesterday that we saw sunlight, we are not even able to go to fields due to the muddiness,” Lephoi noted.

He stated that without farming, the community has no other way of survival and will definitely be at the mercy of handouts, articulating that apart from farming their source of income is through poverty alleviation projects which rarely come, and without them and farming, they foresee a tough year ahead.The farming community has been told to embrace itself following weather forecast report by Lesotho meteorological services that the country is expecting same rainfall as last year. Senior Meteorologist at Lesotho Meteorological Services, Kabelo Lebohang, in an interview with Public Eye noted that from November to March next year, the country will be experiencing normal to above normal rain falls. He said the statement that was released in October on the weather predictions has been updated and indeed more rains are yet to come.

Principal Secretary at the Ministry of Agriculture, Food Security and Nutrition Advocate, ‘Mole Kumalo, warned farmers that too much rainfall is expected to affect crop production negatively. He said consistent rainfall can prevent farmers from undertaking field operations further stating that if it rains continuously activities like ploughing, disking, planting, weeding cannot continue. “This means in such cases, a lot of land may lay fallow as a result of disruption from heavy rainfall. This will eventually affect crop production and productivity.

“Consistent rainfall also can affect crop performance. Too much rainfall causes water logging in most areas and this is unsuitable for crop growth. Crops get stunted and will either not bear any grain or will produce poor quality crops. Seeds may fail to germinate because of too much soil water content which hinders normal seed development,” he said. He further articulated that too much rainfall causes leaching and erosion of nutrients from the soil, stating that   this leaves the very little nutrients for optimum crop development and the result is poor plant development that will yield little or no fruit.

Kumalo noted that pest management becomes impossible during times of too much rainfall, he said physical as well as chemical weed control cannot be done if the rain does not stop, as a result, weed competition, therefore, becomes too much for the crop and can lead to crop failure. “Disease incidence, especially fungal diseases increase during times of too much moisture. All these issues are anticipated because of the predicted weather conditions. The government of Lesotho through the ministry of agriculture therefore advises farmers to implement measures that can help them to escape the adverse climatic conditions like early planting to escape periods of heavy rainfall.”

He said if crops develop and establish before start of heavy rainfalls, they can effectively withstand the rains and reach maturity with optimum production. Kumalo said early planting of all summer crops should be done starting September to December. Cereal crops planting cut-off date is December 15. For legumes and tubers planting should end by January 15. He further encouraged farmers to plant varieties that are moisture tolerant to withstand water logging and short season varieties with early maturity period; adding that planting early also means plant protection measures can be employed without effects from rains.

“Farmers are advised to select high lying areas that are not prone to waterlogging, select fields that are not close to the river banks or in valleys to avoid flooding. They are also advised to scaling up viable approaches such as conservation agriculture that efficiently use all soil fertility enhancers, including inorganic and organic fertilizers,” he said. He also encouraged utilization of the integrated soil fertility management approach – kraal manure and composting; mulching, mixed cropping and intensify the growing of horticulture crops under green house and protected areas with shade nets to minimize the loss of crops during heavy rains.

He said in trying to assist farmers, ministry of agriculture subsidized agricultural inputs and ensured that farmers accessed them on time for early planting, further articulating that the government offered 80 percent subsidy on fertilizer prices and 70 percent on seed and pesticides to ensure affordability of agricultural inputs even during times of soaring input prices. He said the type of seeds that were made available through the subsidy programme include maize, beans, peas, wheat, sorghum, fodder and vegetable seeds.

He said because of the predicted weather conditions, it is anticipated that production will be low this year due to effects of heavy rains outlined above and informed that ministry of agriculture will address the anticipated food shortage by continuing to make agricultural inputs easily available and accessible though the subsidy program to assist farmers increase area under crop production.

He said farmers will be capacitated to improve their crop productivity so that there can be more production per unit area. He said the capacitation will be done through regular trainings on choice of varieties and crops suitable for each locality, calibration of platers and sprayers for optimum plant population and weed control and use of organic fertilizer for sustainable crop production. During deliverance of his inauguration speech, Prime Minister Ntsokoane Matekane said it is critical that the country invests in climate change resilience to address risks climate change imposes to the country’s economic growth efforts.

Matekane articulated that Lesotho is highly exposed to climate change hazards, including droughts, floods, storms, strong winds, heavy rainfall and severe snow. He said floods from extreme rainfall in the country that occur frequently impact the population, economic activity and the environment, further stating that the extreme weather conditions pose extensive risk to water infrastructure and service delivery. “Climate change will further stress our water reserves, which as you know, is one of Lesotho’s most valuable resources contributing no less than eight to 10 percent to our GDP,” he noted.

He said climate change will destabilize farming systems, decrease agricultural productivity and raise level of food insecurity for thousands of Basotho who rely on subsistence farming for survival. Matekane said the quality of water generated in Lesotho’s wetlands will decline overtime, ultimately impacting the volume of water Lesotho has for domestic consumption and for export further articulating that land degradation, soil erosion and bad land management practices worsens the situation.

According to Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) country briefs on Lesotho dated July 25 cereal production in 2022 is estimated to be below average. The country brief notes that following completion of harvesting of the 2022 main-season summer cereal crops, mostly maize and sorghum, production of maize is about one‑third of the average, while the sorghum output is almost insignificant. The brief stipulates that the poor harvest was primarily due to extreme rainfalls during January and February, which caused localized flooding and resulted in crop losses.

“The heavy rains were most prominent in the main cereal‑producing northwestern areas, with a significant negative impact on yields of the main season summer crops, mostly due to waterlogging that resulted in extensive weed infestations,” reads the country brief. It further noted that output of 6 000 tonnes of wheat will be harvested in November in northern regions further stating that total cereal production in 2022 is forecast at 35 000 tonnes, well below the previous five‑year average.

Global Land Outlook second edition on land restoration for recovery and resilience 2022 notes that up to 40 percent of the planet’s land is degraded, directly affecting half of humanity and threatens roughly half of global GDP (US$44 trillion). It reads that if business as usual continued through 2050, report projects additional degradation of an area almost the size of the South America.

“As food prices soar amid rapid climate and other planetary changes, ‘crisis footing’ needed to conserve, restore and use land sustainably,” read the report. It further notes that the way land resources- soil, water and biodiversity are currently mismanaged and misused threatens the health and continued survival of many species on Earth. The report further reads that conserving, restoring, and using land resources sustainably is a global imperative, one that requires action on a crisis footing. It further reads that investing in large scale land restoration is a powerful, cost effective tool to combat desertification, soil erosion and loss of agricultural production.

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