JULIUS ‘Mako, a small holder vegetable farmer from Ha Nkhetheleng in Mohale’s Hoek district, earns a living by selling his produce to the local community.
With the district being one of the areas hardest hit by drought in recent years, Mr ‘Mako’s hope of expanding into a commercial farmer had for several years remained a pipe-dream due to lack of water for irrigation.
However, in 2017 Mr ‘Mako received timely assistance from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) through its Reducing Vulnerability from Climate Change (RVCC) in the Foothills, Lowlands and Lower Senqu River Basin in three Community Councils in Mohale’s Hoek District initiative which built for him a 2000-litre water which collects rain water from the roof of his house.
The RVCC project, which is being implemented in conjunction with the ministry of Forestry, Range and Soil Conservation, focuses on land management initiatives and best practices in addressing the challenges brought by climate change impacts to communities.
Its objective is to mainstream climate risk considerations into the national land rehabilitation programme for improved ecosystem resilience and reduced vulnerability of livelihoods to climate shocks.
This Global Environmental Fund-financed project was launched in 2015 as a five-year action plan to be implemented in three councils of Khoelenya, Thaba Mokhele, and Lithipeng in the Mohale’s Hoek district.
Mr ‘Mako recently told the Lesotho Times that the water tank has come in handy for his crop production since he can now water his crops for prolonged periods even after the rain moisture has gone.
He said before the UNDP’s intervention, he was just producing crops to feed his family but has now started selling some of his produce to surrounding households.
He said he also hopes to grow his enterprise into a reliable commercial producer of cabbage, other leafy greens, onion, tomato and carrots among others.
“Since I got the water tank from the UNDP, I have seen positive progress in my crop production,” Mr Mako said.
“Before their intervention, I had a small plot on which I had planted four rows of vegetables but now my production has increased and I now have a variety of crops.”
The water tank Mr ‘Mako received is just one of several agricultural supporting inputs that the RVCC project gives to members of the community in exchange for engaging in identified land rehabilitation programmes such as building silt traps and planting grass where land has been exposed to erosion.
According to Motlatsi Phasumane who is the UNDP’s RVCC field project facilitator for Thaba Mokhele council, other inputs that have been given to communities to safeguard their livelihoods include seeds, fertilisers, fruit tree seedlings, food dryers, irrigation equipment, beekeeping gear, breeding rams and green house tents.
“We are encouraging the community to voluntarily take action on land management initiatives without expecting any payment in return. For instance, we encourage them to fill up dongas, construct small ponds for water catchment and to plant grass where soil is bare.
“While we do not give them any cash in return, we give them agricultural inputs meant to boost their food production efforts. This is to ensure that communities are strengthened in order to cope with the negative impact of climate change,” Mr Phasumane said.
He further said they have trained various community groups on how to execute new climate smart best farming practices.
Mr Phasumane said while the impact of the initiatives is slow that while slow, the behavior of communities is gradually changing with regards to climate change adaptation.
He said the major challenge is changing the mindset of the people to start taking responsibility in addressing land management around them without expecting something in return.
“To achieve that will take some time and it will influence the eventual success or failure of the project in the end,” he said.
Meanwhile, Tšoeu Moteane who is the chief of Ha Ramonyatsi, in the council of Thaba Mokhele, believes the project is especially having a positive impact on the rangelands.
“The project has transformed the landscape around us especially the grazing lands. We used to have bare land which could not produce any grass but now thanks to the project, greenery is being restored as we have planted grass on the range,” Mr Moteane said
He further said there was need for a mindset shift when it comes to grazing animals for the interventions of the project to last.
“We are inflicting the damage on our ranges by our bad grazing habits. Maybe we should review the penalty that one pays when their animals have strayed onto a conserved range.”
Despite the positive impact the RVCC has had in his life with the water tank, Mr ‘Mako believes he will need a lasting water supply like a borehole to further grow his enterprise.
“In this village there are three farmers who are into vegetable production and our common challenge is the lack of water. While the water tank has undoubtedly helped me to some extent, it has its limitations. When rains take longer intervals before falling, the water collected in the tank runs out and the crops fail.
“I therefore I believe a more reliable water source like a borehole would be more helpful for us. A reliable water source would also ensure that we will be able to produce for an extended period of time, unlike having to wait for rainy seasons,” Mr Mako said.
He believes that with a borehole supplying the village with water, they would increase their commercial operation and even send some produce to the market in the town of Mohale’s Hoek.
“We can develop into small but reliable commercial suppliers to retailers in town, so that many people can have access to vegetables that are still fresh.”
Another intervention Mr ‘Mako longs for is a shading net which he said would protect moisture from evaporating in high temperatures.