Lesotho is hands-on in addressing the impact of climate change, rehabilitating its land and capacitating its people to ensure that they are resilient. The country, experiencing severe land degradation and food insecurity, has been implementing sustainable projects on land rehabilitation and food production that not only help restore the country’s natural resources, including water and grass, but also ensures that communities are able to produce their own food for consumption and commercial purposes despite extreme weather conditions.
The efforts are in line with a call from the Heads of State and Government meeting at the United Nations’ Convention to Combat Desertification 15th session of the COP that the international community takes urgent action to stem the loss of lives and livelihoods that communities all over the world are experiencing due to the increasing and devastating impacts of desertification, land degradation and drought.
Dr Elvis Paul Tangen, coordinator of the Great Green Wall Initiative, said Lesotho is one of the countries that is experiencing extreme impacts of climate change ranging from land degradation, drought and severe rains, but is also among the most dedicated and doing very well in restoring its land and capacitating its people.
He said the country is in so much distress that its people are selling their livestock since some animals are dying because of degraded lands. They are working together with the country on the strategy to address these impacts, he said. He said this during the public briefing at United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) COP15 held in Abidjan on Wednesday. To redress the impacts of climate change, the government, in collaboration with development partners, is implementing climate change mitigation projects meant to rehabilitate the land and the country’s natural resources, while also ensuring food security for communities.
Improving Adaptive Capacity of Vulnerable and Food Insecure Population in Lesotho (IACOV) is a four-year project, financially supported by the Adaptive Fund to the tune of M150 million. It is executed by the Lesotho government through its Ministry of Forestry, Range and Soil Conservation and the Lesotho Meteorological Services (LMS) – and implemented by the World Food Programme (WFP). The project seeks to address the barriers of climate change adaptation by strengthening capacity of the government on early warning signs while ensuring that optimal knowledge and utilization of climate information are tailored to community needs.
IACOV project coordinator, Nkopo Matsepe, says the venture, which commenced in 2020, is expected to come to an end in 2024. He also indicates that through the project, communities will be empowered to plan and implement appropriate resilience building activities that will transform lives and diversify livelihoods. Matsepe highlighted that the project focuses mainly on women and children who are most vulnerable and affected by climate change and have no means to survive.
He said the IACOV project is three-pronged, with the first component focusing on strengthening government capacity to generate climate information and promote its use to forecast risks of climate shocks, mobilize early actions, and co-develop tailored and locally relevant climate services for communities. “Component Two concentrates on raising awareness of communities, women, youth, people living with HIV, and other vulnerable groups on the impacts of climate change, the importance of adaptation, and the use of climate information for seasonal planning and climate risk management."
“And Component Three focuses on empowering communities to understand community-based planning processes that facilitate implementation of appropriate resilience building and adaptation interventions that generate sustainable asset ensuring income diversification and market access,” Matsepe stated. Katlehong in Quthing, a southern district of Lesotho, is one of the communities that have embarked on land rehabilitation and agricultural projects that not only enables them to ensure their financial stability but to meet their nutritional needs.
Situated in the outskirt of Quthing town, Katlehong is one of the areas that was experiencing severe land degradation and water shortage while its people have been struggling to make end meets due to unemployment.
’Matankiso Taolane, a foreman at the agricultural project at Katlehong, told this publication that around December 2020, the Ministry of Forestry, Range and Soil Conservation and Improving Adaptive Capacity of Vulnerable and Food Insecure Populations in Lesotho (IACOV) visited their community and encouraged them to venture into sustainable projects that can improve their livelihoods.
She said they were told to choose projects and work towards achieving them collectively as a community. Taolane said before this, they were working on land rehabilitation projects with financial assistance from WFP, where each member of the community was given a chance to work for three consecutive months for a salary of M1200 per month.
She said the land rehabilitation projects included but were not limited to planting trees, controlling expansion of dongas, and rehabilitation of grasslands and wetlands. Now the community’s land has been restored; although not to its full capacity, their wetlands and grasslands have been restored. The community no longer runs out of water and their animals have plenty of grass to eat.
Taolane said with money that they earned from the land rehabilitation project, they were encouraged to save M100 per month which made M300 for the three months. She said in January 2021, Katlehong and surrounding villages (A-Skop, Katlehong, Waterfall, and Leralleng) were encouraged and guided to start projects of their choices with the money they saved and in March they started an agricultural project where they plant and sell vegetables including cabbage, onions, beet root, carrots, butternut and green peppers.
She said the vegetables are sold locally and proceeds from their sale are kept in a bank account for future projects which are in the pipeline.
All community members are part of the project and each one of them has a climate-smart plot at her house and at least eight chickens, she stated, noting that the home-situated plots and chicken projects are meant to enable households to meet their daily nutritious needs and also bring in some cash.
She said some of them sell eggs and vegetables to neighboring communities. Community members work at the community agricultural project in turns and earn M 1200 per month, which they say goes a long way in ensuring that their family needs are met. Youths from the communities who have been unemployed for years are part of the project and are determined to ensure the project’s success, so that even after the tenure of the project they are able to continue on their own.
Taolane, who is a youth, says apart from vegetables, they have started an orchard and currently they have planted apples and peach trees whose fruits they hope to sell in the not-so-distant future. The communities also contributed M300 and bought eight chickens for each family as a start for chicken projects. The communities have for years been surviving on agriculture but due to severe weather conditions, they have been producing less and less.
Taolane said the first time they had a good harvest was after being capacitated on climate-smart agriculture which they implemented. She and her counterparts are grateful that IACOV and the Ministry of Forestry have introduced them to the climate-smart agriculture and attest that there is life in the soil. Speaking to this publication on the progress of the country and its efforts towards addressing the impacts of climate change and rehabilitating the land, the country’s meteorologist, ’Marealeboha ’Malehloa Jockey, said in 2017 they developed a climate change policy through which the country is guided on how it can tackle climate change impacts.
The policy encompasses every sector and every role player that should participate in the fight against climate change. She said before the development of the policy, they developed the National Adaptation Programme of Action in 2007 to address the effects of climate change and identified 11 adaptation projects that they selected as immediate priority areas.
She said to date the document is their guiding tool in terms of climate change adaptation in Lesotho. She stated that projects that include Reducing Vulnerability from Climate Change (RVCC), Increasing Adaptive Capacity of Vulnerable and Food-insecure Populations in Lesotho (IACOV) and Early Warning Systems, to mention a few, are a result of the document.
“We are about to embark on the project called the National Adaptation Plan (NAP) which will focus on medium- and long-term planning. “When we developed the climate change policy, we also developed a strategic plan to implement the policy. The implementation strategy is a five-year plan which focuses on the short-term plans, while NAP will focus on the long-term plans way beyond 2030,” she said.
“We are going to use the National climate change policy implementation strategy to implement short-term plans. We are trying our best but obviously it is not good enough because climate change does not wait for us when we are implementing and putting our plans in action.”
“As we try to capacitate people and ensure their adaptation and resilience, damage still continues adding on the already available challenges. We cannot say we have managed to fully ensure that Basotho (Bantu peoples native to southern Africa) have adapted and are resilient to climate change impacts. We still have a long way to go,” she said.
Asked if Basotho, mostly those in the remote areas of the country, understand what climate change is and have adapted to it, Jockey said some do, others don’t. She said the assessment they did showed that most people do not know what is happening and they notice the change in climate but are not sure what is actually happening. Jockey said ignorance makes it harder for communities to adapt as they do not know the root of the problem therefore public awareness is a key issue that has to be attended to.
She further stated that it is a challenge that all sectors need to work on together to ensure people are informed. “We are even developing a National Climate Change Communication Strategy which will be used to guide the media on communicating the right messages on climate change and ensuring that climate issues are made part of the curriculum,” she said.
“Drought in Numbers, 2022,” released to mark Drought Day at UNCCD’s 15th Conference of Parties (COP15, 9-20 May in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire) calls for making a full global commitment to drought preparedness and resilience in all global regions a top priority. The report, an authoritative compendium of drought-related information and data, helps inform negotiations of one of several decisions by UNCCD’s 196 member states, to be issued on May 20, 2022 at the conclusion of COP15.
“The facts and figures of this publication all point in the same direction: an upward trajectory in the duration of droughts and the severity of impacts, not only affecting human societies but also the ecological systems upon which the survival of all life depends, including that of our own species,” says Ibrahim Thiaw, UNCCD executive secretary.
The report notes that since 2000, the number and duration of droughts has risen 29%, from 1970 to 2019, weather, climate and water hazards accounted for 50% of disasters and 45% of disaster-related deaths, mostly in developing countries.
It says droughts represent 15% of natural disasters but took the largest human toll, causing approximately 650,000 deaths from 1970-2019. It further notes that from 1998 to 2017, droughts caused global economic losses of roughly USD124 billion “In 2022, more than 2.3 billion people face water stress; almost 160 million children are exposed to severe and prolonged droughts. By 2030, an estimated 700 million people will be at risk of being displaced by drought.
“By 2040, an estimated one in four children will live in areas with extreme water shortages; by 2050, droughts may affect over three-quarters of the world’s population, and an estimated 4.8-5.7 billion people will live in areas that are water-scarce for at least one month each year, up from 3.6 billion today,” reads the report.
It further reads that up to 216 million people could be forced to migrate by 2050, largely due to drought in combination with other factors including water scarcity, declining crop productivity, sea-level rise, and overpopulation.
This story was produced as part of the 2022 UNCCD Virtual Reporting Fellowship, a journalism fellowship organized by Internews' Earth Journalism Network and the Robert Bosch Stiftung. It was originally published in Public Eye News on 10 May 2022. It has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Banner image: Lesotho takes hand-on approach to climate change / Credit: Public Eye News.