“I did not have any more money left to invest in farming. The losses were just too much. I made a decision to go to the neighbouring country to work in the illegal mines or sell illicit drugs,” said a distressed Tlokotsi Matsoso, a farmer in Qalabane village, Mafeteng district.
The 44-year-old and a father of 3 children is one of the smallholder farmers in Lesotho that have borne the brunt of climate change. Farming has always been the only source of income for his household.
Tlokotsi grows vegetables such as cabbages, English giant rape, onions, cucumber and tomatoes to sell as he doesn’t have any other form of income. Before, his farming activities relied on rainfall which is becoming increasingly unpredictable in Lesotho resulting in a lack of water in the nearby dams.
He used to grow crops on an open field. In 2010, the severe drought that hit his country left all his vegetable gardens dried up. The following year hailstones damaged his vegetables. He had planted about 10 000 seedlings of cabbage.
Climate change in the pockets
The losses impacted heavily on the family; being the sole breadwinner, getting food was now becoming a challenge, let alone affording other household needs like school fees and uniform for his children.
With no education and other marketable skills to put to use, he chose to remain in farming anyway, hoping for better days ahead. However, his greatest frustration would come in 2018 when hail damaged the ready to harvest crops. He was convinced that he would never recover from such a loss.
“I was devastated. Customers had started coming bargaining for my crops. When the hail struck, I thought the customer whom I had declined to sell to, because he was offering me little money, had bewitched my crops. I had invested in seeds, pesticides, fertilizer and my energy, all gone to waste. That is when I decided I was not going to do farming again,” said a dejected Tlokotsi.
With the appropriate farming equipment, we are better off working in our farms than migrating to the cities or to other countries
Working under shade
It was around the same year that the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) was implementing the project aimed to reduce vulnerability and enhance the adaptive capacity of the communities in the most vulnerable zones in Lesotho.
The project built Tlokotsi a shade net and a water tank to facilitate irrigation. The drip irrigation system was installed in the shade net. He was trained how to use drip irrigation technology which regulates the amount of water that goes to the plant and minimizes the amount of water used.
Three years down the road, he now has big dreams. He has already introduced new varieties of vegetables in the shade net and targets hotels and restaurants in town as his next clients. For now, his clients are people from his community.
“My dreams have come alive. I don’t have any reason why I should move to other countries looking for casual work. I have the facilities to enable my family to have a better life. The shade net protects my crops from extreme weather conditions such as heat, and hail, and regulates the amount of water that enters the garden. I grow crops all year round,” says now a hopeful Tlokotsi.
No need to migrate
His business now employs more than three workers. He has since opened a bank account. More people, especially the youth he has trained, have been slowly adopting the system.
“It is no longer a challenge to pay school fees, food is always available. My wife gets time to take care of the household matters and rest; before we would work in the field two of us the whole day and come back home hungry,” says Tlokotsi with a smile.
Migration has been a coping mechanism for many farming households in Lesotho’s rural areas to deal with seasonal food and income shortages or the impacts of droughts or extreme weather conditions on production.
Across the border they normally find work in the construction industry, large-scale farms doing activities such as, sheep shearing, harvesting orchards during summer and working in illegal and dangerous mines.
“With the appropriate farming equipment, we are better off working in our farms than migrating to the cities or to other countries,” said Teboho and Seeiso, two youthful farmers of Ha Mphethi village in Quthing district. FAO provided them with a shade net, 5 000 litres stone-built water tank and drip irrigation system through which they make decent incomes.