For the past 22 years the Rural Self Help Development Association (RSDA) has built a commendable track record in providing expert advice and support to the small-hold crop and livestock farmers in Maseru, Lesotho. Australian volunteer, Liesl Keam, joined the association as a Climate Change Advisor, and is working to improve RSDA’s capacity to engage with the Government on climate-smart agriculture and enhanced food security. Liesl shares her experiences.
In Lesotho, agriculture is the main source of livelihood for the majority of the population, most of which is engaged in subsistence farming. However the ‘business as usual’ approach to agriculture in Lesotho is plagued by challenges of declining yields, land degradation, increasing fallow land and poor governance.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (2010), this has created a context of growing vulnerability, reflected in increased poverty and inequality, deteriorating health conditions (including low standards of food and nutrition security) and increasing exposure to external shocks and changing climatic conditions.
The Rural Self-Help Development Association exists to eradicate food insecurity and improve the lives of rural Basotho by supporting sustainable agriculture, facilitating self-help initiatives and enabling rural communities to become more sustainable in their agricultural practices.
RSDA works alongside over 50 small scale farming groups and three umbrella farmer associates, to advocate and lobby for policy and governance actions that address their concerns and priorities. In addition to having access to a wide network of chiefs, local government officials and district service providers, RSDA also places Extension Officers in the field to engage daily with farmers at a community level about the constraints and requirements needed to protect and enhance their natural resources and provide ongoing technical advice and mentoring.
In my role as Climate Change Advisor, I work with RSDA staff to facilitate the provision of advice to improve community participation and dialogue with Government at conferences and high level working groups, and on policies relating to sustainable development and the adoption of climate-smart agriculture. RSDA has developed a series of pilot programs which are used to enhance natural resources, increase productivity, generate food security and develop livelihood resilience.
In April 2014, we held a field day themed ‘Climate Smart Agriculture: Inspiration for Future Programming and Investment’, to provide information and practical examples of Climate Smart Agriculture. The evented assisted small hold farmers and interested stakeholders to better understand how Climate Smart Agriculture can be used to enhance economic livelihoods and improve future food security. The field day was attended by over 400 participants from all over Lesotho including key donor and government figures including the Minister for Agriculture.
By engaging with farmers at this community level, RSDA have been able to successfully implement a number of pilot climate change adaptation and resilience building initiatives, which can be used as test cases for future policy making and improving the participants livelihoods.
Particularly successful projects have included assisting the Akofang Makaota Dairy Farmers Association to promote and produce sustainable fodder to be used as low cost dairy feeding alternatives which increase productivity, and supporting the Majantja Temong Farmers Umbrella Association to implement a community seed multiplication pilot of open pollinated varieties (OPV). OPVs are less susceptible to the crop failure and unpredictable seasonal fluctuations, allowing farmers to harvest OPV seeds for income generation as well as preserving seed for future seasons.
A success story from the field
In February 2013 Lesotho was in the midst of a food crisis caused by poor crops and pest outbreaks. Vulnerable populations were not able to access sufficient food for their families. Lesotho Food Security Relief and Resilience Program (LFSRP) was implemented by a consortium of NGOs including RSDA with the objective that poor households would have increased access to food and a greater resilience to future food crises. RSDA field workers trained households in homestead gardening and provided technical support to implement keyhole and trench gardens. In nine months 1403 gardens were built by 1210 participants, with 93% of those planted, germinating. Anecdotal reports from field workers indicate that participants were particularly impressed with how the gardens allowed them to produce throughout the drought months with minimal water. Local Lenyakoane villager, Lineo Letsie, experienced food insecurity as a result of not having enough access to land to grow crops. Through LFSRP she received seeds and training on how to establish keyhole gardens. Lineo is now consuming her own vegetables and selling them to generate a small income. She is even able to produce a yield during the severe drought.
Case study provided by AVI