A trail of de­struc­tion

Land degra­da­tion has left ru­ral Ba­sotho in dan­ger of los­ing the very source of their liveli­hoods

Lesotho Times - - Feature - Pas­cali­nah Kabi

MOHALE’S HOEK — Tech­nolo­gies for Eco­nomic De­vel­op­ment (TED) — a lo­cal non-gov­ern­men­tal or­gan­i­sa­tion (NGO) deal­ing with eco­log­i­cal is­sues — has warned Le­sotho could fail to achieve its Sus­tain­able De­vel­op­ment Goals (SDGS) if rad­i­cal mea­sures are not put in place to pro­tect the en­vi­ron­ment from mas­sive soil-ero­sion.

TED was es­tab­lished in 2004 and fo­cuses on sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment through ap­pro­pri­ate tech­nolo­gies, de­cen­tral­ized waste­water treat­ment and eco­log­i­cal dry san­i­ta­tion.

The NGO fur­ther fo­cuses on biomass con­ser­va­tion and nu­tri­ent-re­cy­cling, de­cen­tralised re­new­able en­ergy pro­duc­tion and en­ergy-sav­ing tech­nolo­gies, tech­ni­cal train­ing, en­vi­ron­men­tal and hy­giene ed­u­ca­tion and con­sul­tan­cies.

TED Man­ag­ing Di­rec­tor ‘ Man­topi Le­bofa be­lieves Le­sotho faces “a huge” land-degra­da­tion prob­lem be­cause of soil ero­sion largely re­sult­ing from wan­ton cut­ting down of trees for fire­wood, and ev­ery in­di­vid­ual should ac­knowl­edge their role in this chal­lenge if it is to be over­come.

Ms Le­bofa, an en­vi­ron­men­tal ac­tivist, said ad­mit­ting one has played a role in the mas­sive land-degra­da­tion that has left Le­sotho such a bro­ken coun­try would help come up with prac­ti­cal so­lu­tions to re­ha­bil­i­tate the coun­try­side be­fore it is too late.

Ms Le­bofa, who was speak­ing to the Le­sotho Times af­ter a re­cent visit to Mohale’s Hoek to eval­u­ate the degra­da­tion, urged lo­cal res­i­dents not to de­stroy their liveli­hoods through their own ac­tions.

Mohale’s Hoek is one of the coun­try’s dis­tricts slowly turn­ing into a maze of don­gas which are eat­ing away arable land and pas­tures, de­priv­ing com­mu­ni­ties of their priced nat­u­ral re­sources.

Lo­cal vil­lagers, like any other ru­ral res­i­dents in the coun­try, largely de­pend on agri­cul­ture for their liveli­hood and fear they could soon be­come beg­gars if noth­ing is done to ad­dress the scourge of land-degra­da­tion.

“Ba­sotho are very good at putting the blame on some­one’s doorstep but un­less we all ac­knowl­edge we are all party to this mas­sive land-degra­da­tion be­cause of our ac­tions, it will be very dif­fi­cult to re­verse the prob­lem and en­sure we put a stop to this sad story,” Ms Le­bofa said.

“As in­di­vid­u­als, we need to ask our­selves this ques­tion: when was the last time I planted a tree to pro­tect my own en­vi­ron­ment?”

The ma­jor­ity of Ba­sotho, she points out, have never planted trees or grass yet they con­tinue to har­vest these nat­u­ral re­sources for house­hold use such as fire­wood, leav­ing the land un­pro­tected and vul­ner­a­ble to soil ero­sion when it rains or even dur­ing heavy winds.

Ms Le­bofa also said ru­ral res­i­dents were un­wit­tingly caus­ing harm to the en­vi­ron­ment, adding there was ur­gent need to ed­u­cate them about the im­por­tance of plant­ing trees ev­ery time they cut them down for fire­wood.

She fur­ther high­lighted TED’S in­ves­ti­ga­tions had re­vealed al­most ev­ery week, a tree is cut down or up­rooted for fire­wood or medic­i­nal pur­poses. But ac­cord­ing to Ms Le­bofa, the peo­ple re­spon­si­ble for this plun­der never take any ini­tia­tives to plant trees and make amends for their ac­tions.

Ms Le­bofa said: “When we were grow­ing up, Le­sotho was not as naked as it is to­day. Even though peo­ple solely de­pended on fire­wood for cook­ing pur­poses, our plants eas­ily grew back as they were not en­tirely chopped off or up­rooted.”

Her NGO urges com­mu­ni­ties to plant indige­nous trees such as leu­cosidea sericea (cheche) be­cause such plants with­stand dif­fer­ent weather con­di­tions and do not de­stroy the en­vi­ron­ment, Ms Le­bofa added.

She fur­ther said TED’S com­mu­nity-based pub­lic aware­ness pro­grammes cen­tred on real-life ex­am­ples to en­sure each in­di­vid­ual un­der­stands he or she has a role to play in sav­ing the en­vi­ron­ment.

Ms Le­bofa how­ever, cau­tioned un­less vil­lagers ap­pre­ci­ate they could soon be lit­er­ally liv­ing in don­gas be­cause of their ac­tions, there was still a long way to go be­fore com­mu­ni­ties ap­pre­ci­ate the neg­a­tive im­pact of their ac­tions.

One sim­ple way to help con­serve the en­vi­ron­ment, she added, was leav­ing cow-dung to dry on the range as it nour­ishes the soil. This, she said, was one of the eas­i­est and cheap­est meth­ods of pro­tect­ing the en­vi­ron­ment and fight­ing land-degra­da­tion as fer­tile soil pro­duces lush grass­lands which make soil-ero­sion vir­tu­ally im­pos­si­ble.

“In the past, the cow dung was left to dry on the ground be­fore it could be taken for house­hold use but what I saw on my way to Mokhot­long the other day was very dis­turb­ing. Im­me­di­ately af­ter the cow had passed the dung, vil­lages were col­lect­ing it as hot as it was for mak­ing lisu ( dried cow dung used for cook­ing) and this means the en­vi­ron­ment is de­prived of the nu­tri­ents it gets from this ma­nure,” Ms Le­bofa said.

She urged ev­ery Mosotho us­ing the dung for cook­ing pur­poses to at least wait un­til it has dried out so that both hu­mans, an­i­mals and the en­vi­ron­ment could si­mul­ta­ne­ously ben­e­fit from it.

“They need to un­der­stand if the soil isn’t rich, there will be no pas­ture for their an­i­mals and their har­vest will go down dras­ti­cally. And if we don’t do any­thing about it now, some vil­lagers will end up with don­gas right at the en­trance of their homes.

“Peo­ple can only un­der­stand sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment if they are taught and en­cour­aged to pro­tect the en­vi­ron­ment they live in, pas­tures and nat­u­ral re­sources like trees and grass. This way, it would be easy for Le­sotho to at­tain the United Na­tions (UN) SDGS come 2030.”

On 19 July 2014, the UN Gen­eral As­sem­bly’s Open Work­ing Group on Sus­tain­able De­vel­op­ment Goals for­warded a pro­posal for the SDGS to the As­sem­bly. The pro­posal con­tained 17 goals with 169 tar­gets cov­er­ing a broad range of sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment is­sues, which in­cluded end­ing poverty and hunger, im­prov­ing health and ed­u­ca­tion, mak­ing cities more sus­tain­able, com­bat­ing cli­mate change, and pro­tect­ing oceans and forests.

To achieve the set SDGS, Ms Le­bofa stressed the ur­gent need for Le­sotho’s ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem to in­cor­po­rate en­vi­ron­men­tal lessons. This, she added, would en­sure Ba­sotho un­der­stand the im­por­tance of pro­tect­ing the en­vi­ron­ment at a younger age.

She fur­ther warned against graz­ing live­stock on wet­lands as this leaves them dry and un­able to water the en­vi­ron­ment.

“When wet­lands are in their best nat­u­ral con­di­tion, they are like sponges and ab­sorb more water, stor­ing it for use dur­ing dif­fi­cult times. When this same water is ab­sorbed and stored by the wet­lands, our land re­mains strong and moist, mak­ing it dif­fi­cult to crack into a donga. But as soon as the wet­lands are de­graded and un­able to store more water, our en­vi­ron­ment be­comes more vul­ner­a­ble, even­tu­ally dry­ing out. The mo­ment this hap­pens, the land starts crack­ing and in no time, one will see mas­sive land-degra­da­tion,” Ms Le­bofa said.

She pointed out it was im­por­tant for or­di­nary cit­i­zens to un­der­stand the im­por­tance of car­ing for nat­u­ral re­sources like wet­lands, pas­tures and trees be­cause hu­man be­ings suf­fer the most when they are neg­a­tively af­fected.

Ac­cord­ing to the Food and Agri­cul­tural Or­gan­i­sa­tion (FAO) Cor­po­rate Doc­u­ment Repos­i­tory on the State of Forests and Plan­ta­tions in Le­sotho pro­duced in 2001, nat­u­ral veg­e­ta­tion loss is con­tin­u­ing un­abated due to fire­wood col­lec­tions.

“Although the nat­u­rally oc­cur­ring ex­tent of nat­u­ral for­est and wood­land is low, it re­mains a valu­able re­source to many ru­ral peo­ple, pro­vid­ing fuel, wood for tools and house con­struc­tion, medicines for both hu­mans and live­stock, sites for tra­di­tional cer­e­monies, browse and shel­ter for live­stock. Al­most all these ar­eas are ex­ten­sively used for graz­ing and fire­wood-col­lec­tion. De­spite the ex­is­tence of man­age­ment schemes backed by reg­u­la­tory mea­sures, nat­u­ral veg­e­ta­tion loss con­tin­ues un­abated. The rate of de­ple­tion, how­ever, has not been quan­ti­fied,” reads the re­port.

“Al­most all towns in Le­sotho have quite a num­ber of trees in their sur­round­ings. These trees play such an im­por­tant role in im­prov­ing the ur­ban en­vi­ron­ment and the well-be­ing of ur­ban dwellers. Among other things, they en­sure a clean water sup­ply for the city, pro­tect the towns against strong winds, pro­vide shade and a cool­ing ef­fect in hot cli­mate and pro­vide a habi­tat for ur­ban wildlife. Un­for­tu­nately, there are no fig­ures to in­di­cate the ex­tent of trees found in the ur­ban ar­eas.”

A Ha Mo­hohlo farmer, Tsepo Thibiri, told the Le­sotho Times wak­ing up ev­ery day to the pos­si­bil­ity he could soon stop farm­ing due to land degra­da­tion fright­ened him.

“In ru­ral ar­eas like this one, a fam­ily’s wealth is de­ter­mined by a good har­vest and the live­stock in their kraal and with this mas­sive soil ero­sion, ev­ery one of us is liv­ing in fear,” Mr Thibiri said.

“Al­most ev­ery fam­ily in this vil­lage has more than five cat­tle and we are be­gin­ning to miss the pas­tures that we used to fight over with res­i­dents of Ha Mo­let­sane. We won­der if our live­stock will sur­vive un­der this un­for­giv­ing soil-ero­sion given that not all of us can af­ford to buy fod­der from Mohale’s Hoek. We are re­ally scared.”

What also wor­ried him, he said, was there ap­peared to be no gov­ern­ment projects in their area, such as fato-fato, aimed at ad­dress­ing the sit­u­a­tion.

Fato-fato is a com­mu­nity-based gov­ern­ment project where un­skilled labour sourced from ben­e­fit­ing vil­lages, work for food or money to re­dress the ef­fects of soil ero­sion in their re­spec­tive com­mu­ni­ties.

“I can say we are un­for­tu­nate that un­like other vil­lages, fato-fato projects have not been ini­ti­ated in this area and we don’t know what to do. We are help­less. I think our an­i­mals are at the great­est risk be­cause they will soon start dy­ing be­cause of lack of food,” Mr Thibiri said.

“In the past, when we were fight­ing over pas­ture, we would sell maize, sorghum and beans and use that money to buy fod­der and other necessities but be­cause we are now los­ing our farm­lands to soil ero­sion, we don’t har­vest much and end up with no sur­plus to sell.”

Although Thibiri has no idea of what is caus­ing this mas­sive land degra­da­tion in the area, other vil­lagers strongly blame a snake called Khanyapa for the mas­sive soil ero­sion.

Ac­cord­ing to lo­cal folk­lore, Khanyapa is a snake which lives un­der water and ev­ery time it re­lo­cates, it causes a hur­ri­cane.

But TED has since dis­missed this story, say­ing Ba­sotho need to ac­knowl­edge their re­spon­si­bil­ity in the de­struc­tion of their en­vi­ron­ment.

De­graded land in Ha Mo­hahla, Mohale’s Hoek.

THE CUT­TING DOWN OF TREES FOR FIRE­WOOD BY VIL­LAGERS HAS LEFT THE LAND UN­PRO­TECTED AND VUL­NER­A­BLE TO SOIL ERO­SION.

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