Nthatuoa Koeshe and Mimi Machakaire
EIGHTY-YEAR old Matseko Raseboko had lost hope of ever sustaining herself and her grandchildren due to the incessant droughts which put paid to their efforts to eke a living through rain-fed subsistence agriculture in Mahobong village in the district of Leribe.
“The land was so dry and we had completely lost hope of growing crops as everything we planted died due to lack of rain and intense heat,” said Ms Raseboko.
Hers was a poverty-stricken scenario that mirrored the daily struggles of most Basotho who have to contend with food security as well as healthcare challenges.
However, Ms Raseboko and many other Basotho have been given a new lease of life and reason to look forward to another day, thanks to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) which has come up with several interventions to ameliorate the food security challenges.
The Sunday Express recently interacted with Ms Raseboko during a field trip to Mahobong where she recounted how she had benefitted from a FAO intervention to assist 18 500 households with agricultural inputs and knowledge transfer to help them adapt to climate change, while building their resilience to better withstand future shocks.
The programme was first introduced in 2012 in collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security.
FAO distributed maize and bean seeds, fertilisers, vegetable seeds kits and trained farmers on conservation agriculture and improved home gardening in the first year of the programme.
The beneficiaries were also given support with cover crops so that the soil could be protected. 11 000 residents received this support in 2013.
“The first time FAO people came to teach us about conservation agriculture I thought it was a waste of time.
“I thought it was impossible to grow crops when we were experiencing such drought but with time we understood how it worked and later the land produced miracles for us,” Ms Raseboko said, adding she now harvested more than she had ever imagined.
“As long as I am able to wake up and work I will never starve because of the knowledge that FAO gave us” she said.
Leribe’s District Crop Product Officer in the Ministry of Agriculture, Ranqhoabate Mohlakola said conservation agriculture had helped several vulnerable households to produce their own food.
“Conservation agriculture involves sustainable agricultural methods based on three principles namely minimum disturbance of the soil, permanent soil cover and crop rotations,” he said adding that soil erosion was a major problem in Lesotho affecting both the quality and quantity of harvests.
“By adopting conservation agriculture, farmers not only ensure better harvests but also contribute to the improvement of soil quality and its preservation,” he said.
He however, said there was a challenge of people eating seeds given to them by FAO for planting due to poverty.
“Because some of these seeds are safe for eating and replanting, some people have nothing else to eat so they decide to consume the seeds.
“This takes them back to starving the long run as they remain with nothing to plant.”
Ms Raseboko is just one out of many beneficiaries of the FAO interventions which have transformed the lives of thousands of Basotho.
Fellow beneficiary, Paul Motseki is a 47 year-old father of five, who said agriculture was his only sources of livelihood.
Mr Motseki joined hands with 15 farmers and formed the Mphatlalatsane organisation which practices conservation agriculture.
“We work as an organisation but each of us have their own gardens and fields where they implement what we share at the organisation,” he said.
“I managed to get nine bags of wheat on my 0.9 acres field, CA,” he said, adding he has been practicing conservation agriculture for eight years.
Lesotho has been experiencing a major food insecurity crisis as a result of the El-Niño induced drought.
The situation has been exacerbated by crop failures, low incomes, and high food prices which has resulted in 41 percent of rural families spending more than half their income on food.
FAO’s assistance in Lesotho is based on the four strategic priorities of sustainable food and nutrition security, an enabling environment for sustainable agribusiness, sustainable management of natural resources, recognising land degradation and unsustainable utilisation of natural resources as the lead contributing factors to food insecurity and declining agricultural productivity in the country.
FAO also works to ensure improved agricultural service delivery, particularly with a view to improving farming communities’ access to agricultural advisory services.
According to FAO, conservation agriculture holds tremendous potential for all sizes of farms and agro-ecological systems, but its adoption is perhaps most urgently required by smallholder farmers, especially those facing acute labour shortages.
It is stated that this is a way to combine profitable agricultural production with environmental concerns and sustainability.
This has also been proven to work in a variety of agro ecological zones and farming systems. It is been perceived by practitioners as a valid tool for Sustainable Land Management.
Conservation agriculture can only work optimally if the different technical areas are considered simultaneously in an integrated way and with that in mind, FAO staff created an informal workgroup consisting of members from the Plant Production and Protection Division (AGP), the Land and Water Division (NRL), and Rural Infrastructure and Agro-Industries Division (AGS).
It is understood that the multidisciplinary nature of conservation agriculture will always require the rich mix of expertise available to FAO as it works to promote the concept worldwide.