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Villagers rise against food insecurity


…engage in battle to reclaim broken land under World Food Programme initiative 


ROTHE- Villagers of Ha-Sankoe in Rothe tell a heartrending story of an endless struggle to survive extreme weather conditions which continue bringing either too much rain or dry, hot spells, leaving many families destitute.

The hostile climate has left hundreds of villagers not only battling to meet their basic food needs but also unable to afford their children’s school-fees—a situation which has made food insecurity and poverty a permanent feature in most households in Rothe.

Makeabetsoe Ponea LEFT and ‘Mamokoteli Letsie,
Makeabetsoe Ponea LEFT and ‘Mamokoteli Letsie,

Residents such as Makeabetsoe Ponea (24) have witnessed their parents toil in barren, sandy fields with very little to show for it at the end of many harvest seasons, and appear destined to follow in their footsteps.

Now a mother-of-one, Ms Ponea and her husband of five years, have worked the infertile land hoping for a miracle harvest that would last them until the next cropping season. This, however, has remained but a dream for the family.

According to Ms Ponea, it had become clear the battle to survive was getting more complex with each passing year as arable land was gradually dwindling, eaten away by deep, wide gullies which now cut across many of the villagers’ fields. Ms Ponea said this was a frightening state of affairs which, if not addressed as a matter of urgency, would leave families without any productive land, thereby exacerbating an already dire situation.

The solution, Ms Ponea suggested, could be in new, smarter and climate-resilient approaches to agriculture, while rehabilitating the degraded land should be a major priority.

“Putting food on the table is no longer a matter of working hard, but what this village can do to adapt and join the fight to mitigate the effects of extreme weather conditions,” Ms Ponea said, adding the hailstorm recently experienced in Ha-Sankoe could be warning of yet another poor harvest this season.

Ms Ponea said because of inclement weather and infertile soil, life had become difficult for many young Ha-Sankoe families with no other source of income apart from agriculture.

donga art 3
The broken land of Rothe

“For many years now, I have seen that when the rain comes, it brings with it hail and strong winds, which leave a trail of destruction in their wake. The rain causes flooding in many parts of Ha-Sankoe and washes

away the soil, leaving our fields with deep gullies, and making it impossible for us to produce enough food for our families.”

According to Ms Ponea, when the rain stops, another disaster usually follows.

“The scorching sun comes and burns much of the crop, leaving us helpless and food-insecure.”

Ms Ponea’s village, Ha-Damane, is one of eight settlements under Ha-Sankoe, which is situated about 50 kilometres from the capital Maseru. The eight villages are situated at the foot of the Qeme mountain range, but sadly in a broken valley prone to flooding.

Only shrubs grow on Qeme, while the land below has its own disturbing tale of years of cruel battery as evidenced by the deep scars, poor soil quality and sparse vegetation.

After years of helplessly watching their land deteriorate and food-insecurity worsening, the community finally learnt that mourning in self-pity was not going to make their situation any better.

“We have since realised that for us to survive the harsh weather, we have to understand the climate first and then come up with strategies that can rehabilitate the damaged environment. At the same time, we have got to grow crop varieties that can withstand harsh climatic conditions, and also adopt new farming methods such as Conservation Agriculture (CA), which involves minimum disturbance of the soil when planting the crops.

Rothe villagers busy re-claiming their environment under the WFP initiative
Rothe villagers busy re-claiming their environment under the WFP initiative

“We are concerned about the state of our environment. With the support we are getting from the World Food Programme (WFP), I am happy that as a community, we are now doing something to reverse the effects of the extreme weather and working towards changing our desperate situation,” Ms Ponea said.

Ha-Sankoe villagers are engaging in programmes aimed at rehabilitating the worst affected areas of their neighbourhood. It is on these plains that scrawny cattle could be seen grazing the barely visible grass this week, while children played games in dongas that have broken out in almost artistic fashion. Below one of the monstrous dongas, the earth continues to split, developing into a nasty gash, which has since become an unwelcome tributary.

However, on this particular day, the villagers had taken a break from their rehabilitation work to receive monthly food rations provided by the United Nations’ World Food Programme (WFP) under the agency’s Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) programme.

Through this year’s support of $1million from the Government of Russia, 25,000 vulnerable people from the districts of Maseru, Mafeteng, Mohale’s Hoek and Quthing are benefitting from the Food For Asset scheme. In Ha-Sankoe alone, 80 food-insecure households are engaging in tree and grass-planting, land-terracing, removal of invasive plants and building silt-traps on sloppy landscapes in order to stop soil-erosion—all in an effort to save the land from further degradation.

Each household receives a monthly food package comprising maize-meal, peas, cooking oil and wheat-flour—thanks to the Russian Government.

Most families who only depend on agriculture in Ha-Sankoe harvested poorly in the last farming season, and cannot afford to buy food from the supermarkets, hence the importance of the scheme.

According to the Lesotho Vulnerability Assessment Committee report released in June this year, 447,000 people throughout the country are food-insecure until the next harvest in April 2015.

WFP’s Country Director Mary Njoroge says Russia’s support made it possible for the agency to introduce—in Rothe and three other drought-prone districts—the Food for Asset Scheme this year.

“We realised that for years, these communities have been vulnerable to weather-related shocks and as a result, they continue to suffer chronic food insecurity,” Ms Njoroge said.

The whole DRR component has been programmed towards enhancing “resilience and responsiveness” by supporting livelihood strategies that boost both incomes and farm-based assets, Ms Njoroge said.

“Through livelihood strategies such as family or community gardens, orchards and woodlots, WFP seeks to strengthen food-security, nutrition and also reclaim the land to create a healthy and agro-productive environment.”

On Tuesday, a total of 100 villagers from Ha-Sekheke in Mafeteng also received food packages and gardening tools such as spades, forks, racks and watering cans to help increase their capacity to produce food, courtesy of WFP.

Ms Njoroge also said the support from Russia had enabled WFP to buy 671 tonnes of wheat-flour, yellow split peas and sunflower oil for this year.

The food support has improved the lives of villagers such as 57-year-old Matumelo Phomane of Ha-Sekheke, who now works with fellow residents to rehabilitate their environment.

A widow and mother of one son, Ms Phomane said through the Food For Asset support, she would be able to produce vegetables for sale and household consumption.

On her part, ‘Mamokoteli Letsie (56) of Ha-Sankoe, says the initiative is educating many locals to change their attitude regarding the environment.

“Although there has been a lot of reckless tree-cutting over the years, there hasn’t been a culture of planting trees in this area. The support we are getting from WFP is making us more responsible as far as the environment is concerned and also uniting us as we work together towards a common goal—which is ensuring that we save our land. There are other areas which are slowly becoming deserts in many parts of our country and I wish this support could be extended to these villages before it’s too late,” said Ms Letsie, who is a mother of six.

Ms Letsie added food which the WFP uses to motivate the communities to be part of the project, is also helping to reduce the number of people who are abandoning the village because of poverty.

“We would want everyone to stay so that we can all work together. With the support we are receiving, there is hope that we can adapt and survive the extreme weather conditions.”-WFP Lesotho


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