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Fields of tears in Lesotho as new tool is introduced to help mitigate climate change

01 October 2013,

After last season’s disastrous harvest, which delivered a fraction of previous yields, deep in Lesotho’s Ts’akholo village in Mafeteng district, Matsolo Sebusi’s husband has had to leave the family home to seek mining work in South Africa’s platinum belt of Rustenburg.

Climate change has left farmers in this village fearful for their future, and as result some have opted to sell their animals and abandon their plots for urban areas in search of employment.

Sebusi’s husband sends money home, but this is only a partial solution and she doesn’t see things getting any better. With her husband away, she has to get someone else to plough her fields, and share the harvest in return.

“I am struggle to feed my children after a failed harvest. The rains have failed us,” she added as she looks to the heavens as if pleading for rain.

Concerned that her children are not getting a good diet and sometimes they are excluded from school because Sebusi can’t pay fees or for uniforms. Her husband will borrow money if he doesn’t have any, but the family seems to be getting poorer year by year.

According to some research, Sebusi is considered one of the highly vulnerability households in a country that relies on rain-fed agriculture, which has seen the changing climatic conditions having impacted greatly on her crop production, and yields.

The unfavourable climate, untimely and irregular rainfalls, abnormal temperature patterns, droughts, which is worsening as a result of global climate change, hinders exploitation of the agriculture sector’s potential.

Due to Lesotho’s undulating slopes than flat terrain, this means that conventional methods of agriculture that tills the soil completely promote soil erosion, especially if terraces are not properly constructed and planting not done along the contour.

Degraded lands are more susceptible to climate change impacts such as increased temperature and more severe drought. Recorded land degradation problems in Lesotho include massive soil erosion that leads to gully formation and abandonment of land, loss of biodiversity, severe loss of vegetation and low agricultural production and productivity. According to metrological department, Lesotho is heavily influenced by a variety of competing weather systems, which leave the country prone to natural disasters, drought and desertification, loss of biological diversity and land degradation.


“Soil erosion has removed fertile surface soil resulting in soil fertility decline and consequently reduced my crop yields. Our extension officer attributes the cause of declining crop quality to low soil fertility, scorching sun on their crops, pests, drought and excessive rainfall,” Sebusi added.

Smallholder farmers lack necessary capacity

Like Sebusi, many smallholder farmers in rural Lesotho lack the necessary capacity to adapt to the negative impacts of the external shocks and also policy response is limited, institutional arrangements are weak, whilst interventions are not carefully matched to needs.

The agricultural sector accounts for about 17% of GDP, and is the primary source of income for more than half of the population. Of the country’s total land area, only about 10% is classified as arable. The majority of small-scale farmers live on what they can produce from cultivating an average of less than 1,5 ha of land or from herding livestock on grazing land that is increasingly and severely degraded, or on occasional income from other sources such as casual labour or remittances. About 30% of rural people live in extreme poverty. They include farmers who have less than 0,5 ha of land, people who are landless and households headed by women. People who live in the rugged mountain areas are significantly poorer than others in the country.

Small-scale farmers for years have been vulnerable to drought, at times floods and changing seasonality. As a result orphans and old people caring for them (orphans) are also vulnerable to these changes in climatic conditions. This is due to lack of income, HIV and AIDS, little household labour, lack of education, illness and hunger.

Farmers coming up with innovations

Sixty-two-year-old Makhahliso Ndaba from Mesitsaneng village whose household is considered a moderately vulnerability said ruined harvests have caused crippling food shortages that has put a lot of people at risk of going hungry.

“As a result some farmers have come with adaptation strategies that include water harvesting technologies, conservation tillage, use of keyhole and trench gardens, agroforestry and application of traditional medicine to control pests and diseases,” Ndaba said.

He has created a system to trap water, because the well is too far away. He collects water when it rains, it goes into the gutter and then uses the water for domestic chores and irrigating his crops and also for hi livestock.

Poverty in Lesotho

But despite this innervation by farmers, the majority of people in Lesotho remain trapped in poverty.

Poverty in the country is deeply entrenched in rural areas, where about 70% of the people live. More than half of rural people are poor, and more than one quarter of them are extremely poor. Poverty is closely linked to lack of income and unemployment, as well as to severe degradation of the natural resource base on which the livelihoods of many rural poor depend to a varying extent.

Accepting the 2013 Food, Agriculture, Natural Resouces Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN), Food Security Policy Leadership Award, Lesotho Prime Minister Motsoahae Thomas Thabane said poverty has deepened in rural households that have to manage without the remittance income they formerly received from migrant family members.

Thabane said livestock productivity on the other hand has declined, as stock theft and rangeland degradation have made animal husbandry a less attractive source of income.

“Many young people turn away from farming as a livelihood, yet urban areas offer few adequate alternatives. HIV/AIDS takes its toll, and rural people’s scarce resources are consumed in caring for the sick, covering funeral expenses and supporting orphans,” the Prime Minister added.

Thabane added that climate change has added another burden on the smallholder-farming sector as most rural households are engaged as subsistence farmers making them most vulnerable to the impacts.

“Climate change shocks have resulted in a variety of reported losses, primarily consisting of crop yield declines and asset or income losses. The majority of our farmers do nothing to respond to these shocks, mainly due to poverty. Those farmers who attempted to cope with the negative impacts of the shocks mainly had to sell their livestock, borrowing from their relatives, participating in food-for-work programs, and or obtaining food aid,” the Prime Minister said.

FANRPAN introduces a new tool in Lesotho

A Household Vulnerability Index (HVI) tool has been developed by FANRPAN to accurately measure the vulnerability of rural households to the impact of shocks . The HVI is being tested and used on the ground by FANRPAN in conjunction with other partners such as World Vision International (WVI).

Household vulnerability refers to the capacity or lack thereof to withstand shocks, which affect the food security or asset status at the household level. The HVI is used to measure vulnerability of rural households to result of external shocks such as HIV and AIDS, climate change and droughts.


FANRPAN developed HVI, which is a statistical tool for measuring household vulnerability. The HVI measures the vulnerability of households and communities in relation to the impact of diseases and shocks such as HIV and AIDS, erratic weather patterns and poverty according to the organisation’s CEO, Dr Lindiwe Majele Sibanda.

According to the organisation’s CEO, Dr Lindiwe Majele Sibanda , the HVI categorises a household by assessing external vulnerability that is induced by shocks and internal vulnerability of such a household to withstand shocks, then, “classifies the household as coping, acute, or in an emergency situation depending on the household’s ability to cope.”

Dr Sibanda added that the tool achieves this by assessing a household’s access to five livelihood capital assets; natural assets such as land, soil and water, physical assets such as livestock and equipment. “It also looks at the financial assets such as savings, salaries, remittances or pensions, human capital assets such as farm labour, gender composition and dependants as well as social assets such as information, community support, extended families and formal or informal social welfare support.”

According to Mafupu Mokoena, Director Operations at World Vision Lesotho, as an organisation that focuses on the plight of children, World Vision uses the statistics generated from the HVI assessments to improve their local child welfare programmes.

Mokoena said they together with FANRPAN and other stakeholders are building national level vulnerability assessments by developing and applying HVI at the community and household scales to explore the nature of climate vulnerability.

“It provides innovative methodological steps in relation to livelihood assessment to identify the vulnerability of households and communities to drought. This will help to improve drought vulnerability assessments and more widely as it shows extra information can be obtained from local-level vulnerability assessment that may be lacking in national- and regional-level analysis,” she added.

Results from the HVI research in Lesotho also shows that within the same agroecological zone, households and communities experience different degrees of climate vulnerability. These differences can be largely explained by socioeconomic characteristics such as wealth and gender, as well as access to capital assets.

FANRPAN’s steadfast mission is to promote effective food, agriculture and natural resources policies and is contributing significantly with various climate smart agriculture projects in association with the National University of Lesotho and local farmers. Some key projects in Lesotho are funded the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (NORAD) and International Development Research Centre (IDRC).

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