‘Women should push green energy agenda’

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TECHNOLOGIES for Economic Development (TED) Managing Director, ‘Mantopi Martin de Porres Lebofa, was last month honoured for making a positive impact in the energy and climate change adaptation sectors at the Women Appreciation Awards.

In this wide-ranging interview with Lesotho Times (LT) reporter Pascalinah Kabi, Ms Lebofa explains how women can harness clean energy and use the occasion of the 50th independence anniversary to step up efforts to help the country achieve the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) — a new, universal set of goals, targets and indicators that United Nations member states will be expected to use to frame their agendas and political policies over the next 15 years.

LT: When did your interest in developmental issues, particularly energy, develop?

Lebofa: The interest was nurtured from childhood and increased as I grew up. Having grown up in a rural area, I empathise with rural people’s hardships. Every time we visit our rural villages, the environmental and economic conditions would have deteriorated from the last time. At least that has been the situation where I come from.

Therefore one cannot think of anything other than development to better the situation. That is the reason we wake up every day.

As a Catholic, I have tried to emulate my patron Saint Martin de Porres also known as Martin of Charity. I am also inspired by the trust and love of God which gives mankind the responsibility to care for His creation (Genesis 1:26-28). According to the Catholic Catechism, the Seventh Commandment of God has a component in it, that of “Respect for integrity of creation”.

Therefore, my interest in development stems from my identity as a Catholic Christian, to keep in mind that we were created to know God, to love Him and work for Him.  What do we live for: to take care of God’s creation and as such, to promote sustainable development.

LT: What does it mean to you and women in general to be celebrating 50 years of independence?

Lebofa: I am also celebrating my 50th birthday and so Lesotho’s 50 years of independence means a lot more to me. I should therefore be able to point out at least one thing that I have achieved during that time.

As women, we should be able to utilise our inherent innovative skills for the many roles and responsibilities assigned to us by gender roles. We should use all, even little opportunities and avenues available as stepping stones to bigger achievements. We just need to realise the power we have and the contribution we alone can make in the development of Lesotho collectively.

LT: What are some of the key challenges facing women in the energy sector?

Lebofa: Silence, ignorance and the failure by the majority of women to demand the provision of services that are enshrined in our policies and documents that guide our country remain among the biggest challenges that must be rooted out.

For instance; the first Energy Policy Goal states energy will contribute to improvement of livelihoods and further states the energy sector would contribute towards poverty alleviation.

Do women ever demand the implementation of that goal? Can you imagine a situation where Basotho women would utilise solar energy to run sewing machines in their rural communities to sew school uniforms and seshoeshoe dresses?

No. Women will just complain about the lack of markets for such products but the reality is we live in energy poverty. To my understanding, the terms of reference of ministers are the policies of their ministries with which their performance should be measured. As the public, we have the right to demand the implementation of those policies.

Another challenge facing women is lack of innovation and entrepreneurship to use available resources and to realise opportunities of carrying out initiatives for growth.

We seem to be only interested in consuming without productivity. For instance, on a daily basis, Basotho women prepare their family meals cooking with wood but you never see the same women planting back trees to replace the ones they would have chopped for firewood.

One of the biggest challenges that need to be addressed is the mentality that we can only overcome challenges and achieve development only if we have money. It is not true that development can only come if one has money.

LT: How can these challenges be addressed to ensure that women continue to lead a normal lifestyle despite the impact of climatic challenges on the energy sector?

Lebofa: The time is now for Basotho women to grab available opportunities at their disposal and use available resources for their betterment. We need to move to a position where women would know and appreciate that they can champion productive activities that don’t require financing.

Women should read policy documents and know the services contained in them. How many women and communities are aware the Ministry of Forestry, Range and Soil Conservation provides trees for free to individuals to plant in their respective communities?

The ministry provides on request, a reasonable number of free forest and fruit trees to community members and women don’t need to have money to champion development projects like this.

Women have more tasks in the household and the execution of responsibilities (the biblical book of) Proverbs 22:6 lies with them. They ought to know that and be proud of the roles and responsibilities that gender has assigned to them.

LT: SDG target 7 extensively deals with energy issues. Do you think Lesotho will be able to achieve this target by creating an enabling environment for women to have access to clean and renewable energy?

Lebofa: Definitely. Lesotho will achieve not just SDG 7 but all 17 goals. Women and the nation as a whole should ensure that their daily activities do not compromise the future.

Basotho should also start blaming themselves for consequences of climate change. Continuing to blame other countries means we are failing to realise we have not done justice to the environment. We are actually wasting the time we could have used to change the situation.

If more than 70 percent of the population relies on biomass for cooking and heating (National Strategic Development Plan 1) and the National Energy Policy Foreword states that “Lesotho is characterised by huge dependence on biomass fuels to meet the basic needs of cooking and space heating by the majority of the population” then we all need to change our mind-set.

We are consuming what was produced some 50-plus years ago and ours has been only to consume and not produce. That is not sustainable and we are dismally failing on SDG 12 which emphasises responsible consumption and production.

My organisation, our friends, you and everyone who hears this clarion call should join in increasing vegetation cover by planting at least one tree, especially an indigenous one every month. That way we will be directly implementing SDGs 13, 15, 16 and 17. We will all realise achievement of the rest of the SGDs.

I can assure you Lesotho will achieve the SDGs. You and I should go and lobby more people to ensure that happens. Since last September, I have been on a personal mission to discuss and educate people about the SDGs. We should therefore join hands to come up with innovative and simple ways to do it. We fail when we complicate issues on how to achieve sustainable development.

LT: What does the future hold for Basotho women in terms of access to clean and renewable energy?

Lebofa: The Minister of Energy and Meteorology Selibe Mochoboroane commemorated the African-Mosotho Woman Month by honouring women working in Energy and Climate Change. He also pleaded with the Department of Energy to distribute the National Energy Policy and to make it widely known.

We informed the honorable minister that women will “push” to make sure the policy is implemented. Holding the ministry accountable will therefore ensure that it achieves its mandate.

As mentioned in that forum and in many others, Lesotho should be proud of renewable energy sources the country has in abundance and we must use them for economic development, tourism and other opportunities. We can do this by turning Lesotho into a green country and stop emphasising that Lesotho’s emissions are low.

We have the opportunity to further reduce and get close to achieving no emissions.

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