The year of fat cows

The year of fat cows

MASERU – AFTER struggling for food last year because of El Nino-induced drought, Lesotho is set for a bumper harvest.

That’s according to the Ministry of Agriculture which says the heavy rains across the country will not affect food production this year.
Senior Crop Production Officer, Sekhonyana Mahase, says the heavy rains will lead to a bumper harvest “unless something bad happens later on”.
“May be if we could experience early frost but so far things are still ok,” he says.

Mahase says their survey around the country has revealed that only fields in swampy areas would be affected. But generally, he says, the harvests would be good.
Mahase is of the view that even potatoes and beans that the farmers were worried about are also in good condition.

He says comparatively with some years, they are optimistic that their yields would be high because for this summer cropping season, more than 9 000 hectares were planted.
“We are still compiling the report but we have cultivated more land this season,” he says.

However, Mahase also indicates that wheat production has been most affected by these pouring rains because in some areas, wheat was not harvested at all.
He says farmers in most parts of the country planted wheat which was of high quality but got damaged because of heavy rains.

Mahase points out that lack of Combine Harvesters in the country have also contributed significantly to the delayed harvesting of wheat.
Some farmers have been waiting for weeks for Combine Harvesters.

There are also a number of the harvesters that have broken down in the fields and are yet to be repaired. Good rains, he adds, that poured early last year after El Nino-induced drought enabled most farmers to plant every crop that they thought would lift them out of poverty.

“In Lesotho most farmers planted wheat in large numbers. This was history in the making because more than 13 000 hectares of land was planted,” he says.
Mahase says his ministry could not foresee that the wheat could go to waste.

Corroborating Mahase’s view on wheat, Crop Services’ Seed Multiplication Officer, Lesetla Makoae, said farmers had to wait until rains subsided and while they were waiting the wheat heads were falling from the stalks. Makoae estimated that the yield of wheat this season would be three tonnes per hectare.
Makoae said Leribe “is expected to have the highest wheat yield in the country for this season”.

Miguelez Borja, the Emergency and Rehabilitation Coordinator from Food and Agricultural Organisation Lesotho (FAOLS), says their records show that although in some cases there maybe some negative impacts of floods or other meteorological events, generally the season is going well. Potato Lesotho Association (PLA) Public Relations Officer (PRO), Chaka Ntsane, says

they are looking forward to have a bumper harvest as compared to last year where their yields were relatively low because of severe drought that struck the country.
The PLA is an association of local farmers who concentrate mostly on potato plantation in a bid to grab the lucrative potato market in the country.
Ntsane says only a few farmers within their association experienced some minor shocks due to intermittent heavy rains in the country.

“We already have samples of our produce and based on that, we are optimistic that we will have high yields,” he says. Research shows that the country spends more than M3.3 million on importing potatoes from South Africa.

Makoae said due to heavy rains, the potato yield is expected to be low especially in lowlands as potatoes are the most fragile crops, which do not tolerate a lot of water in the soil.
He also said potatoes absorb water easily resulting in bacteria blight which is caused by excessive moisture.

“Though potatoes are not yet harvested, but looking at crop stand there is a likelihood that we will lose in potato production this year, though the yield is going to be high for other crops,” he said.

Lephoto Taoana, Lesotho National Farmers Union (LENAFU) spokesperson, is also upbeat about the harvest this year despite some isolated Blight that has affected potatoes, spinach and beans in some parts of the country.

Blight refers to a specific symptom affecting plants in response to infection by a pathogenic organism. It leads to rapid browning and death of plant tissues such as leaves, branches, twigs, or floral organs.  In some parts of the country, Taoana adds, heavy rains made it impossible for some farmers to weed their fields.
‘Mamoleseng Shale, a seasoned subsistence farmer in Mafeteng district who has been battling climate change shocks over the years, says this has been her best year as a farmer.
Shale says she is already selling green maize, water melons and green beans.

This farmer maintains that being a widow, in some years her small farm would remain fallow because of severe drought.
Mafeteng, Mohale’s Hoek and Quthing are the most drought-prone districts in the country.
“I have achieved what was deemed impossible by those around me,” she boasts.

She says she never thought that one day she could earn some revenue from her produce.
“I now see that it’s possible to be a commercial farmer.”

What scares her though is that commercial farming is capital intensive and money is something she does not have.
“Having spent most of my life on the farm, I have seen first-hand the effects of climate change. It needs more resources”.
She adds: “We do not have to be afraid of climate change but to get acclimatized to it.”

Shale believes that since women play a big role in food production in most rural parts of the country, they should be empowered and assisted in all ways possible to help them produce food.

She says that this could in turn enable them to produce more and make savings which could be translated into investment and boost economic growth. She insists that women empowerment in agriculture could reduce unemployment in rural areas where most women are unemployed, adding that climate change has over the years contributed to a spike in food insecurity.

Meanwhile, Makoae says farmers should leverage on the current moisture in the soil and plant vegetables. Makoae told thepost that the cold will strike early this winter because of the current excessive rains hence the need for farmers to start planting vegetables now.

He says if farmers start planting now, the vegetables will be resistant enough and will withstand the cold when winter comes.
He however cautioned against planting for commercial purposes, which will require planting large quantities, because the cold can be very destructive to most vegetables.

Makoae said Basotho farmers have a bad tendency to buy seed and start planting only during spring and summer when it is rainy and spend the whole winter without vegetables.
“They don’t use the cropping calendar which provides information on planting, sowing and harvesting periods of selected foods,” Makoae said, adding that they must use data provided by the Food Security Information System.

“Out of (this) insufficient arable land, Basotho can produce their own food through agriculture especially in this rainy season and use 50 percent subsidy that the government is offering to each and every individual farmers in the country,” he said.

Makoae said one of the biggest challenges faced is that Basotho lack upgraded information on farming.  “Basotho can produce large quantity of crops but lack agricultural information, they are still rooted to their old ways of farming while everything has changed including the climate,” he said.

Meanwhile, for the next two weeks Lesotho will experience a dry period due to a tropical cyclone called Enawo. Senior Meteorologist Charles Tšeole said the cyclone is expected to ravage north east of Madagascar.

Tšeole said during this rainy season, “Semonkong has been the only district in the country to break a new record with excessive rain by 172 percent of rain”.
“Though there is no prediction of the expected rain, from February up to March 184 percent rain above normal has fallen in the country,” he said.

Majara Molupe and Senate Sekotlo

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