Mohale’s Hoek battles climate change effects

MATHATISI SEBUSI

MASERU – Despite Lesotho’s efforts to address the impact of climate change on its citizens by ensuring adaptation and resilience, effects of extreme weather continue to dwarf the hard work. Communities continue to struggle to make ends meet, with farmers remaining most vulnerable and at the mercy of handouts.

Forty-five-year-old Rethabile ’Mantutle, a single mother to six children, is among the many hardest hit by the effects of climate change. Basking in the sun and lost in thought, ’Mantutle is among the Maphutseng community members whose fields were swept away by the neighbouring river.

As a result, ’Mantutle will this year have no food to feed her six children, let alone any means to send them to school. She has been ploughing her family field for years and managed to harvest some produce even though it is insufficient to feed her family for the whole year.

’Mantutle’s family field used to produce enough sorghum for consumption and for sale but since 2010, she says, the harvest began deteriorating. The Mohale’s Hoek district, which just 124 km from the capital Maseru, is one of the country’s districts that are most weather beaten. June, is harvest season for Basotho farmers, a season expected to respond to all their food and basic needs until the next harvest.

However, this year it has been a different story. ’Mantutle and most sorghum and maize farmers have no harvest this season and will be counted as food insecure. “I have no idea how we are going to survive this year. As we speak, the food we have will not even sustain us for a month,” she said.

A World Food Programme (WFP) assessment found that Mohale’s Hoek district is experiencing severe climate change impacts. The   community has received attention to improve their capacity to deal with climate change through the Ministry of Forestry, Range and Soil Conservation and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). However, only a fraction of the community has applied their knowledge to build resilience to climate change.

Among the things they are taught is rehabilitation of their land, which includes rangelands, wetlands and dongas. The community was also exposed to smart agriculture to combat the effects of climate change like drought. As encouragement to work on the projects and answer some of the communities’ needs, people were given incentives to work on the rehabilitation projects.

However, rehabilitation of dongas’ project was left undone and, as a result, the community’s land continues to erode with new dongas invading the communal sites. The biggest challenge within the Maphutseng community is the actual application of climate smart agriculture techniques. ’Mantutle and some community members claim that it is time consuming and needs a lot of manpower and time they do not have.

Among the techniques the community was encouraged to apply to ensure that their produce survives all weather conditions are use of shade nets, collection of rain water, use of relevant pesticides, and digging of holes when planting seedlings, instead of overturning the whole soil. On the other hand, a school in the surrounding area that was also capacitated on climate change just like the community, is reaping bumper harvests from its hard work.

As much has it has also reported climate smart agriculture to be time consuming, the technique has yielded positive results for Maphutseng Primary School, which is also in Mohale’s Hoek. The school and its surrounding community are beneficiaries of UNDP’s GEF project titled: “Reducing Vulnerability from Climate Change (RVCC) in foothills and lowlands and lower Senqu River basin.”

The project was implemented to mainstream climate risk considerations into land rehabilitation programmes in Lesotho for improved ecosystem resilience and reduced vulnerability of livelihoods to climate shocks. The UNDP worked in collaboration with Ministry of Forestry and Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security on the project. RVCC was a five-year project that started in 2015 and ended in 2020 which was piloted in three community councils in Mohale’s Hoek.

Through the project, UNDP integrated issues concerning climate change in the school curriculum from primary schools so that children from lower grades can be more aware of climate change and factors that cause it. This they did through a climate change manual for schools. Maphutseng Primary School is one of the schools where the climate change manual was integrated into their curriculum.

Speaking to this publication, Principal at Maphutseng Primary School, ’Malintle ’Mantutle, noted that ever since capacitation by UNDP, the school is able to produce its own vegetables and currently, they have a lot of cabbage that is enough for consumption, sale and even giving away to children to take home.

She said if it was not for schools being closed due to Covid-19, they would have produced more. “If schools were not closed for the whole year due to Covid-19, we would have produced more food. The skills and knowledge we got from UNDP on climate smart agriculture, and the practice we put in place have proved that if applied well and given a chance, climate smart agriculture will resolve our food insecurity challenges,” she said.

Area Chief of Maphutseng, ’Mampoi Letsie, speaking on land degradation in her community, noted that the afflictions 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. She said families consistently lose arable land to building of 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 for 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. “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 noted.

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.

A 2018 report updated in 2021 by the Lesotho Meteorological Services on climate change scenarios in the country notes that Lesotho’s temperatures are increasing; the frequency of cold temperatures is decreasing while that of hot temperatures is increasing.

The report says precipitation is becoming more erratic with increasing occurrence of droughts and heavy rainfall. Climate change scientist, Mosuoe Letuka, noted that the heavy rainfalls that were experienced by the southern part of the country in February are one of the signs of climate change.

He said climate change is among others identified by extreme weather conditions that normally leave negative impacts on people and the environment. Letuka said heavy rains that are a result of climate change are experienced with intensity within a short time. “Lesotho has been experiencing extreme weather conditions but now climate change makes them more frequent and intense,” he said.

Already in 2000, a national report on climate change reported that the geographical location of Lesotho exposes the country to significant influences of both the Indian and the Atlantic Oceans, which have wide temperature differences.

“Analysis of Lesotho’s current climate indicates that its variability places critical constraints on crop production in the country. While sunlight is not a limiting factor, water supply (the result of rainfall and evaporation), together with soil/terrain characteristics, and the climate regime, remain major factors.

Lack of capacity and capability amongst relevant institutions to capture these erratic climate conditions of Southern Africa over many years have proven to be detrimental to crop production. “These factors influence the adaptability and distribution of different types of crops as well as different cultivars within each crop category,” the report reads.

Also, the Lesotho’s Climate Change Policy (2017) notes that in recent years, Lesotho has been experiencing an increasing frequency of natural disasters and extreme weather events. “Food insecurity, human, animals as well as crop disease, loss of biodiversity, environmental degradations and depletion of the country’s natural resources base are on the increase,” highlights the policy.

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