Big freeze hits farmers

Big freeze hits farmers

QACHA’S NEK – GROWING up in the mountainous Tebellong village in Qacha’s Nek district, Masiu Tsunyane learnt all about farming and how to beat the frequent snowfall – or so he thought.
What Tsunyane was not prepared for is the huge amount of snow falling in recent times due to climate change-induced weather changes. Just as he was preparing for the traditional warm season, there was more snow, leading him to lose five lambs and five sheep due to excessive snow.

“I have seen many winters and many snows but my livestock never got killed. That has changed,” said the 42-year-old.
“It is sad that in this winter I have lost some of my livestock due to the snow,” Tsunyane told thepost.
The sadness at losing his animals has turned into extreme worry that more could die after the Lesotho Meteorological Services this week forecast more snow in the mountainous area. He is now planning for next year with the extreme weather conditions in mind.

“I still hope that next year my sheep and goats will give birth and I will pursue my plans. So the thing is I have to make sure that they have a warm and better place,” he said.
Another farmer, Ramaseli Thamae, 50, said the snow almost wiped out his kraal after 21 of his goats succumbed to the extreme weather conditions.
Born and raised in Ha-Sekake in Qacha’s Nek by a father who trained him on how to look after livestock, Thamae said he “never expected this amount of snow” in August.

Keeping livestock is his main economic mainstay.
“I have lost money. Losing one goat means losing money. What more when one loses more than 20,” Thamae said.
“I am very sad I cannot even fake a smile, it is just that I do not know who to blame,” he said.
“However, I feel better because I know I am not the only one who is going through this. I am with other farmers and we still hope tomorrow will come with something better. We need to help each other with strategies to avoid losses in the future.”

He said rather than quitting farming, he will try to adapt.
“I will not quit farming because I have no other means of earning a living. Farming is my only hope because my father taught me that in order to live, I have to work hard”.
Salemane Hooko, 68, of Semonkong said he lost 37 sheep and 10 goats.
“I am devastated,” Hooko said.
“My plan was to have more than a thousand small stocks. Before this catastrophe I had 720 goats and 150 sheep,” he said.
Hooko has been keeping sheep and goats since 1964 when he arrived in Semonkong with his father.

He grew up in Phamong, Mokhotlong, and his father moved the family to Semonkong in search of better pastures and he learnt from him the value of livestock.
“At that time, we only had 17 sheep, three cows, a horse and a donkey,” he said.
He said his love for animals grew daily and he joined the mines in South Africa to raise money to buy more animals, which he did.
Semonkong is the second coldest place in the country after Oxbow. Temperatures often slump below zero almost all nights and mornings during winter.

The cold weather at what is supposed to be the start of spring has not spared other parts of the country.
Tseko Keketsi, 42, has had his 31 goats killed in the lowlands of Ha-Toloane in Mafeteng.
“The viciousness of this snow has killed my goats,” Keketsi said.
Snow never fell in Ha-Toloane but the cold wind was sweeping down from the mountains.
“There was too much rain just after I had finished shearing my goats,” Keketsi said.

“I think they were affected by the cold. This rain and cold weather happened at an unexpected time. I was not prepared at all,” he said.
He said words alone cannot express the devastation.
“I rely on my livestock for a living. I was raised by parents who depended on livestock and now I also raise my children with the money from livestock,” he said. “But I have learnt a lesson, albeit a bitter one.”
Another farmer from the lowlands areas that rarely experienced snow is 36-year-old ’Matebello Selokoma of Mafeteng Ha-Khojane.
Selokoma said he lost eight sheep.

“It was very rainy and cold but I didn’t think the animals would die. This is too bad,” Selokoma said.
An official with the Lesotho National Wool and Mohair Growers Association (LNWMGA), Rantelali Shea, said he heard that some farmers lost up to 40 goats per kraal in Semonkong, although he could not confirm the exact numbers.

Shea said the reason behind the loss is that many farmers were relaxed. Hoping that spring was on the way, many farmers didn’t stock up food for the animals in preparation for snow.
“The snow came at a time we were very relaxed, there wasn’t enough food for the animals and the warm shelters were not there,” Shea said.
“We were really not aware that the snow would come at this time,” he said.
Khotsang Moshoeshoe, the chairperson of the Mokhotlong Wool and Mohair Growers Association, said farmers in the district were spared the agony of seeing their animals die due to preparedness.

“We had a lot of snow but we were ready for it. That is why we were able to protect our animals from the cold,” said Moshoeshoe.
Moshoeshoe advised affected farmers that “it is very wise to have good shelters for the animals”.
“Stones for sheltering are for free, so in order to save the lives of the animals it is better to build shelters,” Moshoeshoe said.
Recent years have seen snow falling during times which farmers least expect.

Sometimes such snowfalls peak up to two meters and cause disaster in the mountain areas. This is what happened in 2016 in the districts of Mokhotlong, Qacha’s Nek and Thaba-Tseka when it unusually snowed in October when spring usually gives way to summer.
In that year, excessive, cold rains cut roads, destroyed bridges and at least nine people were reported dead and an unknown number of livestock also succumbed to the extreme weather conditions.
Authorities recorded health problems that included frostbites, snow blindness and typhoid.

Earlier in 1987 the NASA Earth Observatory reported about a severe storm that dumped several feet of snow in the Drakensburg Mountains, and turned many parts of Lesotho into disaster areas.
At least 22 people were reported dead and many more were stranded in mountain towns and camping areas, often without fuel or electricity, or food and water.

Later in 1996 Lesotho experienced another two-metres high snow that melted within two days because it was hot, causing rivers down the mountains to swell.
Ten years later in 2016 the country had another snow storm that prompted the airlifts of at least eight tourists, and caused the deaths of several shepherds.

Sheep production is one of the most economically important industries in Lesotho because of wool production, which is a valued export commodity contributing five percent to the GDP of the country.
A paper published by the Food Agricultural Organisation in 2019 states that climate change is expected to exacerbate existing climate-related problems in southern Africa, where 68 percent of the population is rural and dependent on agriculture for basic livelihoods.

“Lesotho is a typical example of a country considered highly vulnerable to climate-related challenges,” the paper reads.
The paper showed that during the winter months (May to July), cool dry air is a feature of the interior southern African plateau, including Lesotho, and rainfall is low.

Occasionally, deep cold fronts can deposit significant amounts of snow on the high ground, often at the beginning or end of winter, according to the FAO study.
Snow falls annually on the mountains of Lesotho and generally once in three years over the low-lying areas.
Strong winds associated with frontal systems occur particularly during late winter.
The high altitude means that Lesotho experiences some of the lowest temperatures in southern Africa, especially along the mountain ridges and plateaus.

Thooe Ramolibeli

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