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Re-claiming lost land from the jaws of climate change

Bereng Mpaki

A REMARKABLE transformation of previously worn-out grazing ranges into lush, green pastures in Mohale’s Hoek is proving that effective land rehabilitation is possible if stakeholders work together.

In Mokalimotšo Village, deep in rural Mohale’s Hoek in the community council of Thaba Mokhele, the community is achieving the unthinkable overhauling multiple years of poor land management practices to re-populate their grazing areas with vegetation. In the process, they have given hope for better livestock which has struggled for pastures for several years.

Joseph Molaoa says they now have thatching grass as a result of the project intervention

“Today’s generation does not have the privilege of living in an era where wild animals like antelope can be spotted but thanks to this initiative of rehabilitating our grazing areas such animals are gradually coming back,” Nthole Mafethe, the chairman of Mokalimotso Grazing Association in the area said.

The grazing association has been established as part of a broader project called Reducing Vulnerability from Climate Change (RVCC) under the auspices of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Lesotho.

Sustainable land management is regarded as an important strategy for combating climate change, with the potential to also help reduce poverty and the loss of biodiversity, improve the management of water resources, and increase food security.

The RVCC project, which is being piloted in three climate change -vulnerable councils of Khoelenya, Thaba Mokhele and Lithipeng is being implemented in conjunction with the Ministry of Forestry, Range and Soil Conservation.

The objective of the project is to mainstream climate risk considerations into the national Land Rehabilitation Programme of Lesotho for improved ecosystem resilience and reduced vulnerability of livelihoods to climate shocks.

It mainly focuses on land management initiatives and best practices in addressing the challenges brought by climate change impacts on communities.

The Global Environmental Fund-financed project was launched in 2015 as a five-year action plan to implement the RVCC in the Foothills, Lowlands and Lower Senqu River Basin in three Community Councils in Mohale’s Hoek District.

Supporting vulnerable regions directly talks to goal 13 of the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals of the. Goal 13 says: Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.

In a recent project tour by the Lesotho Times, Mr Mafethe, who is also the chief of Ha-Mafethe Village, said the advent of the project has brought a positive impact to the community as they are now taking better care of their previously diminished grazing lands.

He said they used to struggle to manage their grazing ranges, often with deadly clashes breaking out between livestock farmers and persons entrusted with preserving the ranges.

“Violent clashes would occasionally erupt leading to loss of lives when it comes to preserving rangelands as many members of the community did not buy into the idea.

“But now everybody understands that it is our collective responsibility as a community to take care of our ranges for the benefit of all of us.

“Now, we have ample grass for our livestock to graze on, while we also have thatch grass. We now have people coming from other areas to buy thatch grass here. Our livestock’s feeding has noticeably improved,” Mr Mafathe said.

He said the community has been able to practice rotational grazing, to avoid overgrazing and soil erosion on the ranges. The community has also weeded out unwanted vegetation on the ranges and re-planted grasses that are useful to livestock.

The community has also constructed contour ridges on the ranges to counter soil erosion from rain run-off on sloppy terrains.

He said their job is far from over as there are more areas that they need to put under land rehabilitation to turn their fortunes around.

For his part, counsellor of Thaba-Phiri electoral division in the Thaba-Mokhele council, Joseph ‘Molaoa, said the project has also assisted the people in many other different ways in being resilient against climate change.

He explained that the people have received among other things, seeds of climate resilient crops, fertilisers, water tanks for assisting in irrigation, food dryers and training on conserving food, beekeeping equipment and packaging materials.

He said these interventions are making a difference in the lives of people who were hopeless without jobs or any other form of income.

“Our people are now able to produce some goods that they can sell to make a living. I can safely say lives have been improved by the project.”

He said the project has helped them to restore a spirit of unity among the community members, which has become rare.

“The highlight of this project has been its ability to bring people together to instil unity of purpose.

“We are now a well-knit unit that will be able to work together for many years to come even after the project has ended,” Mr ‘Molaoa said.

Elsewhere, communities are gradually ditching the practice of overly depending on ranges.

Qhelane Qhelane, a farmer from Ha-Makhakhe in Lithipeng council, is cultivating different types of fodder/hay to feed his animals through the support of the project.

His flock of 12 sheep does not feed on the range lands but depends on the feeding. He said feeding his livestock at home ensures that they get the best possible nourishment unlike in the veld where they have to share with many other animals.

He said good feeding also ensures that his sheep produce good quality wool in improved quantities.

“What I also like about this method of raising my livestock is that they do not have to travel long distances to get to good grazing patches.

“Also, not mixing your livestock with other farmers’ can be beneficial because your animals will not get infected with any contagious diseases while grazing in the veld. Diseases can affect the quality of wool produced by animals,” Mr Qhelane said.

He said the fodder is also useful for poultry enabling to keep healthy chickens.

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