Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN) Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN)

Biodiversity and tropical forest assessment for Lesotho
July 2007
United States Agency for International Development (USAID)

Acknowledgements: FANRPAN acknowledges the DEC website as the source of this report:

Executive summary

This report was commissioned by USAID/Africa Bureau as part of the Biodiversity Analysis and Technical Support (BATS) program. BATS will provide analytical and technical assistance to USAID/Africa and support its operating units in the design and implementation of assistance activities in Africa in a manner that conserves natural resources and biodiversity, including tropical forests and other critical habitats.

This report is designed to fulfill legal requirements under sections 118/119 of the Foreign Assistance Act. The act requires all USAID operating units to include in their country plans an analysis of the actions necessary to conserve biological diversity and tropical forests, and the extent to which current or proposed USAID actions meet those needs.
The report is designed to help formulate Lesotho’s foreign assistance strategy over the next year and to plan for biodiversity and forest conservation concerns over the medium to long term. Wetlands like these in Lesotho are high in biodiversity.

This report provides details on the extent, threats, and major issues in the biodiversity and forest sectors of Lesotho, as well as information on current U.S. Foreign Assistance and USAID programming. For countries such as Lesotho, which lie entirely outside the tropics, the 118 assessment of tropical forest is not required.1 However, this document includes information and analysis based on the non-tropical forests of Lesotho, and it is highly recommended that this information be considered when planning USAID activities.

With more than 80 percent of the land at an altitude of 1,800 meters or higher, Lesotho is distinguished by cooler temperatures than other areas at the same latitude. Winters are dry and cold, reaching 0 degrees Fahrenheit in the highlands. Snow can be found year-round in the highlands and from May through September in the lowlands. Summers are hot and wet, with frequent thundershowers and the lowlands reaching up to 85 degrees.

Although not rich in game and wildlife like neighboring South Africa, Lesotho still remains an important priority for successful implementation of conservation and natural resource management activities. The IUCN Red List indicates over 400 entries for Lesotho, including the African lion and several species of frog and bird. Lesotho has one national park and three conservation areas, where these and other endangered and vulnerable species can be found. The lack in overall species numbers is due to a combination of habitat loss from anthropogenic activities, hunting pressures, and competition for land with domesticated livestock. Large game including zebra, wildebeest, blesbok, and eland are believed to have thrived in large numbers within Lesotho’s borders, and they are still common in surrounding South Africa.

With over 2 million citizens (2006) and a growth rate of 0.144 percent (2007)2, the majority of Basotho are concentrated in the western lowlands where agricultural land is best. Approximately 19 percent of all residents live in urban centers with the remaining 81 percent in rural areas. As one of the world’s poorest countries3, Lesotho’s economy is dominated by subsistence agriculture and animal husbandry, though production has been declining for several decades.

In addition to population increase, other pressures from poverty, poor land tenure and management, and infertile soils are driving people onto marginal agricultural lands and so-called protected areas, contributing to environmental degradation. Unemployment is rampant, with 45 percent (2003) of citizens without steady income. In 2003, almost 35 percent of male Basotho worked in mining operations in South Africa and thus were able to supplement household income, however this number has declined recently due to increased mechanization, stagnation in gold mining, and a new preference for South African labor. Lesotho is also in the midst of an HIV/AIDS crisis, with an estimated 29 percent of adults infected. The crisis has led to the negative growth rate and shortened the average lifespan to less then 40 years.

Exports ($779.1 million in 2006) include electricity, diamonds, clothing, footwear, livestock, wool, and mohair. Recently the garment manufacturing industry, which is the largest employer in the country, has greatly increased in size and is now a multi-million dollar industry, accounting for 77 percent of exports and almost 20 percent of GDP (2003). Over 80 percent of Lesotho’s exports are to the United States. Imports ($1.401 billion in 2006) consist of food, building materials, vehicles, machinery, medicines, and petroleum products, with the majority originating in Asian countries.

Lesotho’s most prominent natural resource is water, which has become an important economic asset through the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP). Financed by the World Bank, the African Development Bank, European Investment Bank, and many other bilateral donors, the multi-billion dollar project began in 1986. Due to the LHWP and the rapidly growing manufacturing sector, the country has become one of the fastest growing economies in Africa.

Other natural resources include diamonds, clay, sand, and building stone. Currently, exploration for iron, coal and uranium are underway. The country’s forest resources are extremely limited, with a total of 140 km2 in forest plantations (about 0.2 percent of arable land), which are managed by the government. In addition, Lesotho has very small, isolated patches of remaining indigenous forest, mostly in remote areas. Due to the lack of available firewood and building materials, the government has encouraged plantations of exotic species like pine and eucalyptus and developed a forestry policy and forest service. More recently, local communities have been encouraged by the government of Lesotho and local and international NGOs to establish reserves and reforestation projects using indigenous species.

Less than 1 percent of Lesotho’s total land area is dedicated to protection of natural habitat and biodiversity. The protected areas are made up primarily of Sehlabathebe National Park, Tsehlanyane Nature Reserve, Bokong Nature Reserve, the Maloti-Drakensberg Transfrontier Conservation and Development Program, and the Masitise Nature Reserve. The Global Environment Facility (GEF) is funding some work to increase these areas through the organization Conserving Mountain Biodiversity in Southern Lesotho, and several new areas of protection have been proposed.

Threats to Lesotho’s environment stem from the very beginning of the country’s formation. Originally, the Basotho lived in a much larger area within South Africa, including most of what is now the Orange Free State. This flat region was ideal for the Basotho, who specialize in agriculture and animal husbandry, particularly cattle. After being driven from the Free State by the Boers4 in a series of wars from 1856-1868 into what is now Lesotho, the Basotho lost most of their fertile agricultural and pasture land.

They continued to carry on the tradition of livestock grazing and agriculture in the mountainous region of Lesotho, but without changing management practices to accommodate the steeply-sloped land. In addition, the increasing population continued to push livestock and agriculture farther and farther out onto steep mountain slopes and amplified the need for building materials and fuel wood. Without proper knowledge of soil conservation techniques, the land quickly began to worsen, and today Lesotho is facing a severe threat of land degradation, erosion, deforestation and desertification. The issue of land tenure insecurity is exacerbating the problem.

Lesotho is a non-presence USAID country, and support is directed through the Regional Center for Southern Africa (RCSA), based in Botswana; the HIV/AIDS regional office in Pretoria; and the U.S. Embassy in Lesotho.

The foreign assistance budget for 2008 is $7,550,000, and $50,000 of these funds has been directed toward peace and security to aid in the professional development of law enforcement. The remaining $7,500,000 will go towards increasing the capacity of organizations focusing on HIV/AIDS. U.S. objectives to advance health and law enforcement hold potential to incorporate biodiversity and forest conservation activities.

With the help of the Global Environment Facility and UNEP, the government of Lesotho has taken an active role in designing a strategic action plan for protection of biological diversity. Lesotho is also a signatory to a number of conventions dealing with conservation and biodiversity, including the Convention on Biological Diversity. Lesotho has begun enforcement of that convention’s terms, including a National Environmental Action Plan that was developed in 1989 and refined and modified by subsequent documents.5

In 2000, the government of Lesotho made a big step forward in development by introducing Vision 2020, a long-term initiative for development. This plan includes a section on improving environmental health and management. Vision 2020 is discussed further on page 12.

Better conservation management practices must be implemented immediately in order to stop the downward spiral of land degradation in Lesotho. Pressures of overgrazing and agriculture on delicate lands need to be alleviated before any further damage is done, and additional efforts in protection of unique flora and fauna should be made. These threats are not being addressed sufficiently by current U.S. Foreign Assistance programming, giving USAID an opportunity to take the lead on activities that will mitigate the impact of activities with the potential for detrimental environmental consequences.

Therefore, the following recommendations are offered to USAID to be implemented at the project level.
  • Activities directed at the rural population should encourage and promote better natural resource management practices. Appropriate technologies need to be integrated into agricultural systems such as terracing and contour planting on hillsides, to prevent erosion; and sustainable grazing techniques and introduction of compost and cover crops, to improve soil fertility. To this end, working with and supporting local non-profit organizations will help target problem areas and amplify dissemination efforts at the grassroots level.
  • Support efforts to increase clear land tenure security, especially for women.
  • Assist in the formation of new protected areas and support the process of increasing the amount of land under protection. Ensure that protected areas are adequate for accommodating large animals, including IUCN listed species, and span a variety of diverse ecosystems and unique flora. Ensure protected area laws are enforced and boundaries protected.
  • Work with other development organizations in the country that are concentrating on issues other than the environment. Habitat protection and conservation of natural resources are broad subjects that can find secondary support in other fields such as health, education, and business. For example, environmental sensitization can be incorporated into education programs, and health workers can emphasize the relationship between healthy environment and healthy communities. While no money is explicitly set aside in the FY08 congressional budget for biodiversity or environmental conservation, activities under Peace and Security and Investing in People can be reorganized to incorporate conservation and natural resource management elements which would positively affect Lesotho on multiple levels.

  1. To date, no such assessment has been conducted for Lesotho, although an analysis was produced by Nathan Associates in 2003 under a USAID/Regional Center for Southern Africa contract to provide environmental conservation guidance for the southern Africa region.
  2. U.S. Department of State estimate
  3. The HDI places it at 145/177, with average per capita GDP at $2,600 (2006)
  4. "Boer," the Dutch or Afrikaans word for farmer, came to denote the descendants of the Afrikaans-speaking pastoralists of the eastern Cape frontier in South Africa during the 1700s, as well as those who left the Cape Colony in the 1800s to settle in the Orange Free State, Transvaal, and Natal.
  5. National Paper on Environment and Development in Lesotho (1992), National Action Plan to Implement Agenda 21, National Environment Policy (1996), and the draft environment bill (1997).

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