Good news for farmers

Good news for farmers

Rose Moremoholo

MASERU – FARMERS can brace themselves for a bumper harvest after the Lesotho Meteorological Services (LMS) forecast a 75 percent chance of rain for October, November and December.

Experts who spoke at a Climate Change Forum last Friday there is a 40 percent chance of normal rainfall in Lesotho in the coming season with a 35 percent chance of above normal rainfall this year.

The chances of having below normal rainfall stand at 25 percent.

“We want to know if you can suggest that we go to the fields and sow with such percentages,” Chaka Ntsane, the chairman of Lesotho Potatoes Association, said.

It was further revealed that the country is likely to face a weak La Nina with a 0.5 percent chance.

El Niño and La Niña are opposite phases of what is known as the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) cycle.

The ENSO cycle is a scientific term that describes the fluctuations in temperature between the ocean and atmosphere in the east-central Equatorial Pacific (approximately between the International Date Line and 120 degrees West).

With memories of last year’s devastating drought still fresh in their minds, farmers were not sure what the weather has in stock for them this year.

When Minister of Energy, Selibe Mochoboroane, announced that the country would face El Nino weather pattern last year some farmers feared for the worst and did not bother to go to the fields during the summer cropping season.

Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili declared a state of emergency in December last year after many farmers failed to harvest from their fields. Mosisili requested development partners to assist Lesotho during the hard times.

But this week, the farmers were excited when they were told that there is a chance of good harvest because the rains were anticipated in this farming year.

“75 percent is a good risk to take, we say to fellow farmers let us go ahead and plough our lands. All we came here for is to be told that this year is promising as compared to last year,” Ntsane said.

However, Mokoena France, the Principal Meteorologist at the LMS, said they could not with certainty predict what was going to happen because climatology only works on probability and does not give assurance of when the rains will come.

“It is very difficult to boldly say go and cultivate your land because as much as the percentages of having rainfall are higher than not having rainfall at all it is not known to us when the rains will fall,” France said.

“It might fall in December when it is not the time to plant what had to be planted at the beginning of the season or they might fall in November.”

France said the challenge of taking up the risk solemnly lies on the farmers.

Farmers however vowed to take the risk this year.

Meanwhile, Molahlehi Lebone, the Director of Crops in the Ministry of Agriculture, said even though some people advised farmers to hold on to their fertilizer because of the impending drought last year, that was an individual decision.

“Farming is an individual task and whosoever wanted to take the risk should do that without any hindrance,” Lebone said.

Lebone said other farmers cultivated their land and planted the seeds that were provided to them and amazingly they reaped a good harvest because they took a risk while others failed dismally.

“This is why we say it is even harder to say whether it will be a good year or not,” Lebone said.

“It is hard to calculate outbreaks we can have if we experience heavy rainfall. In 2014 when we had an armyworm outbreak we didn’t see it coming but when we received warnings of having armyworms it was too late to prevent them from destroying vegetation,” he said.

Lebone said they can anticipate emerging and re-emerging diseases like soil borne diseases and vector borne diseases.

The Ministry of Water Affairs said it is getting itself ready for the next drought that may hit the country.

Billy Makakole, Principal Hydrologist, said Lesotho has water in abundance and it is every Mosotho’s right to have water.

However, the collection and water flow of rivers last year for the months of October, November and December was very low and for the months of January, February and March this year the great amount of water could be seen flowing at the end of the term.

“For the year 2015/2015 the flow we had was below average and this put a strain on agriculture,” Makakole said.

Lesotho only has 2025.598 (meters above sea level) in the Katse Dam, 1 650.98 in Metolong Dam and 2 039.77 for Mohale Dam.

Makakole said all the dams have a collection lower than the capacity they can actually hold. He said these effects have been brought about by the severe drought which has dried up wetlands and river streams that feed these three big dams.

The ministry said it is working on an early warning system to recover as much water as can be needed in times of drought.

“We are looking into building a dam in Hlotse to have adequate water and we have Metolong Dam that is already operational and people are reaping good fruits from the initiative,” Makakole said.

Motoho Maseatile, a Director in the Department of Water Affairs, said since the experience of drought in the country, they have developed a drought response plan to relieve public concern on the issue.

“We have launched a borehole water system where we have constructed boreholes for farmers, schools, health centres and villages. We are also on the road of repairing water systems that were broken down,” Maseatile said.

Maseatile said they are also working towards connecting more villages to the Metolong main pipes so as to feed a lot of other villages that have a benefit to the water and this shall not in any way strain the project because it was in the initial plan to connect every home to the main pipelines.

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