Food insecurity? Count me out 

MATHATISI SEBUSI

QUTHING – Taking a step up from being an indigent beggar to spearheading efforts to help those who are less fortunate has been Nolizile Siyoyo’s biggest accomplishment. Born 59 years ago, Nolizile, from Ha Mohlakoana in the Lesotho’s Southern Quthing district, is a beneficiary of the Improving Adaptive Capacity of Vulnerable and Food Insecure Populations in Lesotho (IACoV) project, one among many whose adaptive and resilience capacity to climate change has improved. 

She is, today, food secure. IACoV is a four years’ project, financially supported by the Adaptive Fund to the tune of M150 million. It is executed by the Lesotho government through its Ministry of Forestry, Range and Soil Conservation and the Lesotho Meteorological Services (LMS) – and implemented by the World Food Programme (WFP).

The project intends to address the barriers of climate change adaptation by strengthening capacity of the government on early warning signs while insuring that optimal knowledge and utilization of climate information are tailored to community needs.

Prior to inception of the IACoV project Siyoyo’s family had only two options, to go to bed on empty stomachs every day or beg for food from their neighbours as nobody in the family was working. They chose the latter.

Siyoyo is a mother to an unemployed 30-years-old son, and is also raising three grandchildren aged 17, 14 and two years; the grandchildren’s mother died last year. Siyoyo says that raising hungry children while she too was hungry and very weak was a mammoth challenge. While having less to nothing to eat, she and the grandchildren were regularly sick and were once diagnosed with malnutrition. 

She continues that her family was faced with food insecurity even though she was trying by all means to plant vegetables and maize at her garden and fields, but none brought enough produce due to heavy rains and baking sun that have become a common climatic feature lately.

She continues that all her efforts to ensure that her son and grandchildren had food on the table were futile, and as a result gave up on farming – only to be revived by the IACoV project.

“Food was not the only struggle, I even struggled to take my grandchildren to school…couldn’t even buy them clothes.” “What worried me most was not only her struggle to look after her family but the fact that my entire community depended solely on farming for survival, and we were struggling to produce anything; leading to confusion on a sudden change in weather patterns.

We were confused and did not know what the sudden change of weather patterns meant until we were told about climate change and were introduced to smart climate agriculture. We were taught skills that increased our resilience and adaptive capacity to climate change,” she narrates.

Today, Siyoyo and her community are well informed on climate change and are confident that they will be able to produce food for their families and supply local markets despite extreme weathers patterns they may experience.

 

“Years ago, great misery befell our village and the district in general. We experienced extreme weather conditions from late heavy rains to extreme sun that saw our plants swept away and burned. This was experienced by all farmers in the village and we all were stranded with no food to feed our families,” she recalls.

Siyoyo says her and her community’s lives literally changed when IACoV arrived in their area and were involved in poverty alleviation projects where each household is given an opportunity to work for three conservative months earning a sum of M1 200 per month.

With the money that her family earned, she was able to look after son and grandchildren who she took to school. She also managed to settle her medical bills.

 Articulating what the project entailed, Siyoyo notes that the started in 2017 by first rehabilitating grassing lands, dongas, wetlands and soil conservation. She says through land rehabilitation, their mountains have regained their natural beauty and have their wetlands and grasslands restored.

She further points out that now “the mountains are clothed with grass, our animals have plenty to eat and are able to produce more milk as well as wool and mohair for selling.”

She indicates that through IACoV assistance, Ha Mohlakoana community started a vegetable project where they were all capacitated on climate smart agriculture to practice both at the project site and at their homes. As of today, the community project is blooming. It produces among others tomatoes; all green leaves vegetables, potatoes, butternut and pumpkins of which they sell to the community and the local market.

The community has opened a savings account with a local commercial bank and intends to expand their project so that in years to come they are in a position to increase job opportunities for their community. Siyoyo says they strive to graduate from being employees to be employers in the near future.

With the money they earned from the project, Siyoyo reveals they also plan to help orphans in the community, and build a warehouse where they will store their produce.

At home, Siyoyo has 30 indigenous chickens that she bought with the money she earned from poverty alleviation projects, has key hole plots at her home where she plants vegetables enough to feed her family and even share with the less fortunate in the village.

She addressed that IACoV did not just restore her dignity and that of her family by ensuring that they have food on their table but also ensured that even after the project they will still survive despite climate change.

“COVID-19 lockdown as proved to that my resilience and adaptive capacity have increase as throughout the lockdown, despite weather conditions, I was able to grow my own food, both at home and at the project, enough feed my family and share with  neighbors as well.

Talking of food, I mean a balanced meal that for years I longed for as cattle now produce enough milk, chickens lay enough eggs and I have enough vegetables in her plot.

What is even encouraging about the project is that we are also training our children the ins and outs of climate smart agriculture.  Most people, adults and youth alike, have been working in the project instead of going to South Africa and work in South African fields which was a norm in the village.

“Elders are also able to stay home, work in the projects and at the same time raise their children who have for years been on their own,” she said.

IACoV field officer in Quthing, Tšoanelo Oliphant,  confirmed during a separate interview that the Ha Mohlakoana community began their activities with land a rehabilitation project and when progress was made and wet lands, grassing lands among other were restored, mountain covered with grass and other indigenous herbs and plants they proceeded to a vegetable project.

He said they decided on a vegetable project after realizing that land rehabilitation project only addressed food insecurity but does not improve the community’s resilience and adaptive capacity to climate change.

He said just like in land rehabilitation project, community members are hired for three consecutive months in the vegetable growing project and are expected to work for four hours and spent the other four hours working in their house hold projects at a pay of M1 200 as well.

He said the vegetable projects is at three villages around Quthing which are Lebelonyana, Ha Mashapha and Ha Mohlakoana.

He noted that the projects are under component three of IACoV which focuses on empowering communities to understand community based planning processes that facilitate implementation of appropriate resilience building and adaptation interventions that generate sustainable asset ensuring income diversification and market access.

Oliphant said before IACoV was launched in 2020, capacity training on climate change was a challenge but since its presence, people make more informed decisions when it comes to agriculture. He said through the projects, the community is able to supply other communities and local market with their products.

For IACOV, project coordinator Nkopo Matsepe says the venture, which commenced in 2020, is expected to come to an end in 2024.

He indicates also that through the project, communities will be empowered to plan and implement appropriate resilience building activities that will transform lives and diversify livelihoods.

Matsepe highlighted that the project focuses mainly on women and children that are most vulnerable and affected by climate change – and have no means to survive.

The IACoV project is three-pronged, with component one focusing on strengthening government capacity to generate climate information and promote its use to forecast risks of climate shocks, mobilize 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.

And 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 asset ensuring income diversification and market access,” explains the project coordinator.

 In his 2021/2022 budget speech, minister of finance Thabo Sofonea noted that in relation to nutrition sensitive and climate smart agriculture, the ministry of agriculture and food security will among others promote community level gravity fed irrigation projects, short cycle livestock and food processing projects and consolidate research efforts on selected products to improve productivity. 

He said the national irrigation master plan has been completed and as per the plan, the government has 53 130 hectares that can be irrigated at the cost of M12.6 billion. 

He further noted that in the medium-term, the focus will be on rehabilitation of existing infrastructure and development of infrastructure for 24 percent of irrigation land (12 652 ha). 

“All these initiatives need to be supported by a progressive agricultural inputs production and marketing system, robust market intelligence and information system and extension services. 

This requires complementarity between the government, private sector, and experienced non-profit organizations in the extension of agricultural support services,” he said. In its Country Brief, the WFP notes that Lesotho is experiencing a major food security crisis as a result of the El-Niño induced drought.

It addresses that the situation has been made worse by successive years of crop failures, low incomes and high food prices that mean that 41 percent of rural families are spending over half their income on food. “Over 30 percent of the Lesotho population across all 10 districts will face high levels of acute food insecurity until March 2020. More than 70 percent of the population in rural Lesotho is engaged in subsistence farming. 

Productivity has been deteriorating since the early 1990s because of unpredictable weather conditions, including inconsistent rains and persistent and recurring droughts. 

Maize is the staple diet of Lesotho, but just 9 percent of the country’s total landmass is suitable for cultivation. Despite this, 80 percent of the population live in rural areas. Many poor rural households lack access to agricultural land, while those who do own land lack resources to maximize production, such as fertilisers and high-yield seeds,” reads the brief.

It further notes that Lesotho loses 7.13 percent of its GDP to chronic malnutrition, and around 33 percent of children under the age of 5 years are stunted, with a low height for their age.

It says nearly a quarter of the population is infected with HIV, with women being disproportionately affected due to gender-based violence. Around 80 percent of those living with HIV also have tuberculosis (TB).

Lesotho is highly vulnerable to the impact of climate change, with droughts already affecting harvest yields and causing significant loss of livestock. The climate is predicted to become warmer and dryer, making droughts and floods more frequent and intense. With less snow on the mountains and an increase in run-off rates, soil erosion will worsen and deplete the soil of nutrients.  But while some climate adaptation measures are being taken, the country lacks the resources for extensive mitigation, the brief noted.

 

 

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