QUTHING- Development partners have been urged to consult communities before implementing projects to ensure relevance and sustainability.
Although residents generally welcome such developments in their areas, they have also raised concern most of the projects are imposed on them hence their failure.
“Being poor does not mean we are retarded,” said Thabiso Letsoela of Quthing. “It is important for donors or government to consult us first before implementing projects in our area because we need to decide what benefits us most. That way, the projects’ survival is guaranteed because communities would feel they own them and also that they were not forced on them.”
But for Letsoela (19), he has little to complain about as he is a beneficiary of the Ministry of Forestry and Land Reclamation’s tree-planting programme which he says transformed his life.
“I lost my single mother in 1999, and afterwards, my grandmother struggled to look after me. Then in 2008, a Mazenod support group identified me as a potential beneficiary of the ministry’s programme for orphans and after going through a rigid screening process, I was admitted. And from that day, my life changed for the better.
“In December alone that year, I received high quality clothing, uniforms and groceries to last us at least four months,” he said.
However, it was the ministry’s tree-planting project that was to change Letsoela’s life for good. Under the initiative, beneficiaries, who are orphans and their guardians, are taught how to cultivate tree-seedlings, which are then purchased by the Ministry of Forestry and Land Reclamation.
Letsoela says the project made him feel in control of his life.
“It brought me independence and made me feel that at last, I was in charge of my life,” Letsoela on Tuesday told the Sunday Express.
“Not being given food and school fees without sweating for them made me feel good about myself. I also knew the success of this project was entirely up to me so I felt ownership and made me care.”
Initiated under the ‘improvement of early warning systems to reduce the impacts of climate change and capacity building to integrate climate change into development plans’ programme, the project seeks to ensure communities survive in the face of shifting weather patterns.
Co-sponsored by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and Lesotho government, the project is meant to help Quthing, Mafeteng and Thaba-Tseka communities in both the medium and long term.
Yet not every resident of the targeted villages is happy with the initiative, among them Palama Moshesha of Ha Lekhari in Mafeteng district. According to Moshesha, communities were not adequately consulted as they could have come up with different projects tailor-made for their needs if they had.
“I feel the projects are not community-oriented. They were imposed on us and not properly planned,” Moshesha said.
“The pine tree project in our village is not good for us at all. We have planted trees that are going to turn into a forest right in the middle of the village, thereby putting people’s lives in danger from criminals.
“This could have been easily avoided if the community had been involved. Most of us don’t even understand what climate change adaptation is. We cannot deny the fact that we have problems such as farming seasons becoming shorter, but this is no excuse for not consulting us, the intended beneficiaries of these projects.”
Moshesha further claimed the “general feeling” among the villagers was the project was short-term and meant to benefit “a small group of people aligned to a certain political party”.
However, another Ha Lekhari resident, John Moshesha, begs to differ.
“Under this programme, we planted peach-trees in Ha ‘Mamaribana and residents take turns to look after them,” Moshesha said.
“Once the trees start bearing fruit, we will elect a finance committee which is going to be responsible for selling the produce and distributing the money among different households. The Ministry of Forestry also donated over 170 pine tree seedlings and the trees are going to be used for firewood in future. We are happy with this initiative as it has given us hope and a source of income.”
In addition to planting trees, villagers have constructed a dam although it has presented some challenges because it is not in line with climate change adaptation procedures.
“The dam is wide and deep but we are told this is going to present problems because the water will easily evaporate. The ideal dam to mitigate the effects of climate change should be deep and narrow. But we are happy because the dam is going to provide us and our livestock with water,” said one of the villagers, ‘Manthabiseng Pitso.
According to Agriculture and Food Security Minister ‘Mapalesa Mothokho, communities must ensure the right model of dams is built to ensure maximum benefits.
“The walls and floor must be covered with plastic to ensure water is not easily lost,” Ms Mothokho said.
Meanwhile, the programme’s Finance and Administration Officer, ‘Mamokhomo Mabote, said it was not true that projects were imposed on communities.
“We are working with ministries of forestry and agriculture on these projects, and communities were trained before their implementation,” Mabote said.
“The 2007 National Adaptation Programme identified communities like Ha Lekhari as areas of chronic vulnerability.
“The two ministries then went to villages to assess their needs. For instance, if a village relies on maize-farming, the two ministries would study how best they could be helped improve their yields,” she said.
However, Ms Mabote admitted there was resistance among certain communities which did not want the projects due to a variety of reasons.
“Some villagers are refusing to release their land for these projects and as a result, don’t want anything to do with them. I have heard that they suspect government would demand a certain percentage of their yields, which is not true at all,” Ms Mabote said.
On his part, head of the social and environmental justice department at Transformation Resource Centre, Tsikoane Peshoane, warned imposed projects are not sustainable.
“We have heard of instances where big projects don’t benefit communities simply because they are imposed,” Mr Peshoane said.
“For instance, a certain mining company built a lodge without consulting community members, only to realise the residents didn’t have the capacity to run it and also did not want it.
“Company officials then started running around looking for someone to operate it but this could have been avoided if they had engaged residents first before coming up with the lodge.”
Mr Peshoane further made reference to Ha Mohale where a certain company built communal toilets without engaging the villagers first.
“This was one good development but the toilets ended up being used as storerooms because community members did not understand their importance,” Mr Peshoane said.
Mr Peshoane said no-matter how good and relevant such developments might appear, they end up not benefitting the people because of the communities do not feel they own them.
He stressed the need for development partners to consult and involve communities before bringing such initiatives to villages.
“Development partners should not think on behalf of communities because what might seem important and a need for them might not be the case for residents.
“For instance, company officials might think Pae-La-Ilthatsoa villagers in Mokhotlong need electricity while for them, the most important thing is a road and a bridge.
“Communities must be given an opportunity to decide the projects they want as this gives them a sense of ownership and as a result, they will make sure the projects are protected.”
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