Oa­sis amid El Niño mis­ery

Lesotho Times - - Feature - Pas­cali­nah Kabi

LERIBE — He stands tall in the middle of his thriv­ing maize crop, but still Litšoane Litšoane can­not con­ceal the tell­tale signs of a wor­ried man.

A Min­is­ter of Agri­cul­ture and Food Se­cu­rity in the pre­vi­ous coali­tion govern­ment led by Dr Thomas Tha­bane, Mr Litšoane has since taken to full­time farm­ing — his first love — he proudly tells the Le­sotho Times.

He had been do­ing ex­tremely well un­til now, when the El Niñoin­duced drought wreaked havoc across south­ern Africa.

Mr Litšoane (64) would har­vest at least 70 bags of maize from one hectare but says he ex­pects half this yield this year be­cause of the shift­ing weather con­di­tions.

The 11-hectare farm he is stand­ing on this Tues­day morn­ing is in Bela-bela in Leribe and be­longed to his now late grand­fa­ther. He owns an­other 100 hectares in the same area and says this has been the tough­est year for him as far as agri­cul­ture is con­cerned.

“This farm be­longed to my grand­fa­ther whom I never met. I only knew my father and grand­mother who in­tro­duced me to farm­ing,” Mr Litšoane said as he sur­veyed his crop slightly wilted be­cause of the scorch­ing heat.

“This place is what gave birth to my love for farm­ing; my first love. Farm­ing put food on the ta­ble when I was a kid; it paid my fees from pri­mary to ter­tiary school and does the same to this day.”

His farm­ing meth­ods might now be dif­fer­ent from what his par­ents and grand­mother taught him be­cause of a Diploma in Com­mer­cial Agri­cul­ture he earned from Las­cola Emeliana Agri­cul­tura in Italy, but Mr Litšoane be­lieves some things sim­ply can­not change, par­tic­u­larly in agri­cul­ture.

“My grand­mother taught me to put dung in our fields soon af­ter har­vest and till the land to make sure the soil re­tained mois­ture and was soft for the next plant­ing sea­son.

“She fur­ther taught me never to graze an­i­mals in the fields be­cause they made the soil harder and lose mois­ture.

“How­ever, I also later learnt that any good com­mer­cial farmer must never feed stalks to his live­stock but in­stead, plough them back into the ground soon af­ter har­vest.

“The rea­son why this is im­por­tant is it keeps the soil moist and helps you have a good har­vest even in th­ese se­vere weather con­di­tions.

“The stalks and dung will keep the soil hu­mid and in this se­vere drought, farm­ers will only have to dig deeper to en­sure that the seeds reach the moist area to give them enough nu­tri­ents and mois­ture to grow.

“This is why I have suc­ceeded de­spite the cur­rent drought. The few peo­ple who have heeded my call have also suc­ceeded and will have a rel­a­tively good har­vest. And the good thing is that this method of agri­cul­ture can be prac­ticed by any or­di­nary farmer.”

Mr Litšoane also said crop ro­ta­tion was im­por­tant for farm­ers as it kept the soil rich.

“It is ad­vis­able for a farmer to ro­tate crops ev­ery four years to al­low the soil to in­vig­o­rate it­self,” Mr Litšoane said.

“On this piece of land, I farm maize for four con­sec­u­tive years but in-be­tween, I plant beans dur­ing the win­ter crop­ping sea­son as this sup­plies the soil with much-needed nu­tri­ents,” Mr Litšoane said.

“Then af­ter ev­ery three to four years, I plough crops like peas, wheat and sorghum.”

Mr Litšoane said dur­ing a nor­mal sum­mer crop­ping sea­son, he har­vests at least 72 bags (70kilo­gramme) of maize per hectare.

How­ever, be­cause of the drought, the Bela-bela Mem­ber of Par­lia­ment (MP) said he was ex­pect­ing 30 bags per hectare this time around, and counts him­self amongst the luck­i­est to re­alise such yield. Most farm­ers in the district, and in­deed in Le­sotho, have been hard-hit by the drought and are not ex­pect­ing much from their fields which makes Mr Litšoane’s farm a rare oa­sis in the quick­sand of El Niño-in­duced mis­ery. El Niño is a pe­ri­odic cli­matic phe­nom­e­non char­ac­terised by in­ad­e­quate rain in some parts of the world and floods in oth­ers. Un­der El Niño, parts of South Amer­ica ex­pe­ri­ence heavy rain­fall, while dry con­di­tions pre­vail in Aus­tralia, south-east Asia and south­ern Africa.

In Le­sotho, just like the rest of south­ern Africa, the in­ad­e­quate rain­fall has been dev­as­tat­ing on both hu­mans and agri­cul­ture.

“I am mostly sur­rounded by farm­ers who have not man­aged to even come close to this and any farmer who will yield around 30-35 bags should be lucky given the cur­rent weather con­di­tions,” he said.

He fur­ther warned farm­ers to know when to use short and longterm seed va­ri­eties to max­imise their har­vests.

“Us­ing short-term seeds has its own ben­e­fits but has less yields and you have to sow af­ter 20 Novem­ber,” Mr Litšoane said.

“Long-term seeds are sown be­tween Oc­to­ber and Novem­ber 20 and a farmer can only ex­pect a good har­vest at the end.

“I used long-term seeds in all my fields and sowed the seed on 11 Novem­ber 2015. I am on the right track. I am not scared of any­thing and come June this year, I will have a good har­vest.”

He con­tin­ued: “Hav­ing this kind of crop in the middle of such a crip­pling drought was not an easy ride.

“It was dif­fi­cult. It was ac­tu­ally one of the worst sum­mer crop­ping sea­sons I have ever wit­nessed. But like an ex­pe­ri­enced com­mer­cial farmer, my skills of keep­ing the soil moist came to my res­cue; they made my life eas­ier.

“But I will not stand here and claim that I wasn’t af­fected by this drought, be­cause I was. There are many chal­lenges farm­ers face when there is a drought, and one of them is dis­ease to both crops and live­stock, and I also have live­stock.

“Dur­ing a nor­mal sum­mer crop­ping sea­son, we spray chem­i­cals when we are plant­ing the seed. But the chem­i­cals can only be ap­plied dur­ing rainy days.

“But this time, we didn’t have the op­por­tu­nity to pre­vent dis­ease be- cause like I said, chem­i­cals can only be ad­min­is­tered dur­ing rainy days for them to pen­e­trate the soil, and we have not had many of th­ese wet days this sea­son.”

But Mr Litšoane said farm­ers should not de­spair and urged MPS to play their part in help­ing com­mu­ni­ties.

“As a Mem­ber of Par­lia­ment, I feel we need a tighter law pre­vent­ing an­i­mals from graz­ing on farms to en­sure that we beat the ef­fects of cli­mate change and con­tinue to pro­duce good har­vests. Cli­mate change is here to stay and we need to make tough de­ci­sions for the sake of our peo­ple,” he noted.

“But like I said, we need MPS to take the lead in com­ing up with such laws, and also have govern­ment’s sup­port.

“I can tell you that within five years of this leg­is­la­tion be­ing in place, we would be able to have a good har­vest as a whole coun­try, not a few in­di­vid­u­als. It is a known fact that Leribe is Le­sotho’s lead­ing farm­ing district, but be­cause of the cur­rent drought, it is not go­ing to pro­duce a good har­vest. That’s why we need to do some­thing about it.”

He also ad­vised that while par­lia­ment is draft­ing the law, in­di­vid­ual farm­ers could learn from sea­soned farm­ers.

“I fore­see Le­sotho in more trou­ble in the near fu­ture es­pe­cially in terms of food se­cu­rity. I don’t think we will be able to re­cover from this cur­rent drought for the next five years if some­thing dras­tic is not done.”

Mr Litšoane urged min­istries of Agri­cul­ture and Food Se­cu­rity, and En­ergy and Me­te­o­rol­ogy to work to­gether and train Ba­sotho about mod­ern farm­ing meth­ods, as an­other way to mit­i­gate cli­mate change and boost har­vests in­spite of ad­verse weather.

“We need to se­ri­ously think of in­tro­duc­ing con­ser­va­tion farm­ing to our peo­ple and en­sure that all sys­tems are in place be­fore it is kick­started,” Mr Litšoane said.

“It will not be easy for farm­ers for the first year but be­lieve me, the fol­low­ing year, we will have a good har­vest.”

Con­ser­va­tion Agri­cul­ture (CA) is a set of soil man­age­ment prac­tices that min­i­mize the dis­rup­tion of the soil’s struc­ture, com­po­si­tion and nat­u­ral bio­di­ver­sity. CA has proved to have the po­ten­tial to im­prove crop yields, while im­prov­ing the long-term en­vi­ron­men­tal and fi­nan­cial sus­tain­abil­ity of farm­ing.

Look­ing deep in thought, Mr Litšoane said funds per­mit­ting, he was hop­ing to have an ir­ri­gat­ing sys­tem on his farm.

This com­mer­cial farm­ing method would not only boost pro­duc­tion but also cre­ate jobs for the peo­ple of Leribe.

“I don’t want to make plans that will re­main white ele­phants. My wife and I are get­ting old and we need the buy-in of our chil­dren in or­der for the plans to come true and be sus­tain­able.

“I was talk­ing to my daugh­ter, who is also into agri­cul­ture, to ven­ture into green­house farm­ing and em­ploy peo­ple who will take care of th­ese farms,” he said.

Asked if it was ad­vis­able for farm­ers to start plant­ing crops now be­cause of the rain which started fall­ing con­sis­tently last week, Mr Litšoane said do­ing so would be a disas­ter.

“I know it’s tempt­ing to start plant­ing now be­cause of the cur­rent rains but it will only be a waste of money, seed and en­ergy be­cause it is too late,” Mr Litšoane said.

MR litšoane is op­ti­mistic of a good har­vest de­spite the drought.

FOR­MER agri­cul­ture and Food Se­cu­rity Min­is­ter litšoane litšoane (left) at his farm in leribe on Tues­day.

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