Home­stead gar­dens to the res­cue

Lesotho Times - - Feature -

LERIBE — Ask 90-year-old Ram­mit­sane Matela how cli­mate con­di­tions have changed over the years and he does not need to stretch his mem­ory far to find the an­swer.

“Heavy rains and drought are things that started re­cently,” he says of the ex­treme weather events which, as in so many other parts of the world, are in­creas­ingly af­flict­ing Le­sotho.

Flat-topped hills and moun­tains, rocky crevices and don­gas — deep gul­lies formed by soil ero­sion — mark much of Le­sotho’s land­scape, giv­ing it a lu­nar-like ap­pear­ance. Dur­ing strong down­pours, the don­gas turn into tor­rents that drain away the in­creas­ingly scarce fer­tile top­soil from cul­tivable tracts of land that lie in the val­leys.

Le­sotho strug­gles with poverty, mal­nu­tri­tion, high HIV in­fec­tion rates, un­em­ploy­ment and soil ero­sion.

De­clin­ing har­vests due to the com­bi­na­tion of in­ad­e­quate pro­duc­tion prac­tices and the im­pact of cli­mate change are com­pound­ing the coun­try’s prob­lems, push­ing many ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties fur­ther into food and nu­tri­tion in­se­cu­rity.

Bet­ter crops while sav­ing soil

and wa­ter Part of the so­lu­tion lies in cre­at­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties for house­holds to pro­duce their own nu­tri­tious food and for them to do this by us­ing pre­cious resources such as soil and wa­ter in a sus­tain­able way.

The Food and Agri­cul­ture Or­gan­i­sa­tion of the United Na­tions (FAO) is work­ing with the Gov­ern­ment of Le­sotho, non-gov­ern­men­tal or­gan­i­sa­tions and other United Na­tions agen­cies on a re­silience strat­egy to help adapt the coun­try’s farm­ing sys­tem to chang­ing cli­mate con­di­tions such as er­ratic rain pat­terns and higher tem­per­a­tures.

The ini­tia­tive in­cludes pro­mot­ing home­stead gar­den­ing and adopt­ing in­no­va­tive tech­niques such as the con­struc­tion of key­hole gar­dens.

Th­ese are raised plots — around two me­tres in di­am­e­ter — con­sist­ing of an outer stone wall packed with sev­eral lay­ers of soil and rich or­ganic ma­te­rial such as ma­nure, compost or ash that sur­round a cylin­dri­cal bas­ket filled with por­ous ma­te­rial such as cot­ton sacks stones reed, maize, sorghum and clay pots.

The key­hole gar­den’s struc­ture al­lows for the plant­ing of car­rot, beet­root, spinach and other veg­eta­bles next to each other in a way that can im­prove soil fer­til­ity and cap­ture mois­ture.

The gar­den can also be eas­ily cov­ered to pro­tect crops from win­ter frost and the dry­ing ef­fects of the wind.

For 65-year-old grand­mother, Makompi Mahlo­mola, from the vil­lage of Komeng in Leribe dis­trict, the key­hole gar­den is the only read­ily avail­able source of nu­tri­tion­ally di­verse food for her house­hold which in­cludes four young chil­dren.

“My main prob­lem is that no­body in the fam­ily is work­ing. Our home gar­den re­ally helped us be­cause we can grow veg­eta­bles for longer, even when there is a dry spell. Spinach is es­pe­cially good be­cause it grows all year round,” she ex­plains.

Tar­get­ing the young In pro­mot­ing bet­ter nu­tri­tion and de­vel­op­ing the skills to in­crease the pro­duc­tion and va­ri­ety of veg­etable crops through home­stead gar­den­ing, FAO, the Gov­ern­ment of Le­sotho and their part­ners are also reach­ing out to ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties, es­pe­cially chil­dren, young peo­ple and the most vul­ner­a­ble.

“The chal­lenge is to elim­i­nate hunger and this is not a chal­lenge that can be ac­com­plished by ac­tors work­ing in iso­la­tion,” says Borja Miguelez, FAO Emer­gency and Re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion Co­or­di­na­tor in Le- sotho.

He ex­plains that FAO works pri­mar­ily with ex­ten­sion ser­vices, gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials from the min­istries of agri­cul­ture and ed­u­ca­tion, as well as non-gov­ern­men­tal or­ga­ni­za­tions and other UN agen­cies.

In one such joint ef­fort, FAO, with the sup­port of the Gov­ern­ment of Le­sotho, the Euro­pean Union, USAID and UKAID, has de­vel­oped colour­ful posters on grow­ing food at home, im­prov­ing yields, diver­si­fy­ing crops and eat­ing healthy.

Th­ese mes­sages have been har­mo­nized with the food se­cu­rity stake­hold­ers in the coun­try.

The ma­te­ri­als are be­ing dis­trib­uted to schools, ex­ten­sion work­ers and part­ners in English and in the lo­cal Se­sotho lan­guage.

The aim of the cam­paign is also to en­cour­age and teach peo­ple to build key­hole gar­dens at home and at school, im­prove di­ver­sity of crops and op­ti­mize the use of food.

At Thabeng High School in Morija, pupils have built their own key­hole gar­den as part of their train­ing.

“Most of the kids in our school are or­phans. There is no one who can pro­vide them with money or who can pro­vide them with food, so in the school year we pro­vide them with the ba­sic skills in agri­cul­ture which they can use to pro­duce some­thing,” says Katiso Sekete an agri­cul­ture teacher at Thabeng High School.

Part of the chal­lenge is to per­suade ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties to adopt the new tech­niques, ac­cord­ing to Nti­tia Tuoane, Act­ing Di­rec­tor Field Ser­vices in Le­sotho’s Min­istry of Agri­cul­ture and Food Se­cu­rity.

“There’s al­ways a bit of fear of jump­ing into it, so peo­ple al­ways watch other peo­ple to see if there are suc­cesses,” he says.

Mal­ijo Matela, whose first name means “mother of food”, is 22 years old and fin­ish­ing high school. For her and her house­hold, the key­hole gar­den she tends has made life much eas­ier.

“Be­fore the home gar­den­ing I would not know what to cook and some­times I would go to bed hun­gry, but now things are eas­ier be­cause I have veg­eta­bles,” she says.

stu­dents at ikhethe­leng Pri­mary school watch their class­mates wa­ter their trench gar­den.

katiso sekete, agri­cul­ture teacher at tha­bang high school, gives a les­son on build­ing key­hole gar­dens. Pics Rodger Bosch.

key­hole gar­den

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