Garden miracles in Ha Tšilonyane
MASERU – WHENEVER the rains fell, ‘Malikeleli Malefo, 86, would beg her neighbours to provide cattle to plough her fields.
But every time she would struggle to get some help. Sometimes the help would come at the very end of the ploughing season.
“People who have money would start ploughing their fields first and later would tell me that there is no time,” she says.
Malefo, from Ha Tšilonyane in Makhoarane, on the outskirts of Maseru, says because of her age she would also have a tough time getting the right type of seeds which are more resilient to drought.
That has been her ordeal for years. Malefo is staying with her two grandchildren. The three survive on her M500 old-age monthly pension from the government.
Every three months, they also pick up a M360 grant under the Child Grants Programme, the government’s flagship social safety net programme.
Under the programme, Malefo and many other pensioners in Lesotho are cushioned from the biting economic crisis.
While her M500 monthly pension is supposedly meant to take her far in the month, the reality is that the high cost of living has eroded its buying power over the years.
With the cheapest 10kg bag of maize-meal costing about M80, it is no wonder that Malefo often battles to get to the next pay day.
Despite receiving a pension, Malefo tells thepost she, together with her grandchildren, sometimes went to bed on an empty stomach.
“We would survive on hands-out or be forced to eat unpalatable sinews,” she says.
Life was a hard slog.
That was until the Catholic Relief Services (CRS), a social programme run by the Catholic Church, intervened three years ago.
To fight hunger and poverty in Lesotho, the CSR introduced the keyhole gardening concept in Malefo’s village of Ha Tšilonyane.
Thanks to the project, Malefo is now able to grow enough to feed her family, keeping hunger at bay.
A keyhole garden is a circular raised garden, about a metre off the ground, with a key-hole shaped indention on one side.
The keyhole garden is ideal for intensive growing of vegetables. The vegetables are placed closely together to maximise production.
The gardens are also easier to maintain.
Malefo is among scores of villagers who have benefitted from the project through the CRS’s programme of Sustainable Poverty Reduction through Income, Nutrition, and access to Government Services (SPRINGS).
‘Mamatsemela Matsemela, 59, who also gets a social grant from the government, says the keyhole garden project has changed her life for the better.
Matsemela, who is a widow, is taking care of four children.
She says she ventured into agriculture with almost zero knowledge about agricultural techniques and methods. The result was that her returns were poor.
But thanks to the keyhole garden project, Matsemela’s life has changed dramatically for the better.
She says she has been harvesting bumper yields from her garden ever since she ventured into the project in 2015.
Matsemela points at her flourishing vegetables in her keyhole garden in her backyard and says she is now among the leading vegetable growers in her area.
“Some farmers in the area come to my place and I guide them through as to how the keyhole garden concept can improve their lives,” she says.
Matsemela says small-scale farmers in Lesotho face various challenges including lack of capital leading to low or poor yields.
She says this is mainly because agriculture in Lesotho is rain-fed with few crops under irrigation.
The result is that Lesotho imports virtually all its agricultural produce from its biggest and only neighbour South Africa.
For instance, the Lesotho Potato Association (LPA) last October said the country spends more than M3 million a month on potato imports, mostly from South Africa.
To wean the country off its dependency on South Africa, the association pledged to boost the capacity of farmers by giving them enough seeds to grow enough potatoes.
Matsemela says because their vegetable garden is thriving, she does not have to divert her grant money meant for the children to buy food.
“This keyhole garden is more resilient to drought,” she says.
The chairperson of Makhoarane community council, Tsekiso Mpafi, says the keyhole garden project has lifted many villagers out of poverty.
It has also lowered the number of individuals who depended on food handouts from donors.
Mpafi says due to the persistent drought that Lesotho experienced over the last few years, keyhole gardening has provided a successful way out of poverty and hunger for many families.
“When this project was brought into our area, we all breathed a collective sigh of relief,” Mpafi says.
He says when the project was introduced three years ago most farmers in the area were reeling from a sharp drop in crop production due to prolonged drought brought about by climate change. Mpafi says the project was initially introduced in the villages of Matsieng, Mahloenyeng, Ha Tšilonyane and Ha Toloane. It has since been expanded to most villages in the area.
He says keyhole gardening has boosted food security in the villages. “The project has changed our livelihoods,” he says.
Erica Dahl-Bredine, the CRS Country Representative, says SPRINGS is working in five community councils throughout the country.
She says this project was piloted in three community councils of Makhoarane, Likila, Menkhoaneng but has now also been rolled out to Tebe-tebe and Tenesolo community councils.
Erica says their goal is to help families ‘graduate’ out of poverty. She says they are happy because the results are promising.
Erica says the keyhole gardens are built in such a manner that they are easily maintained by people who are as old as Malefo.
“The keyhole gardening does not need a lot of manpower. Used water can also be used for watering the gardens.”
She says they also encourage villagers to preserve their vegetables in dried form when they harvest more so that they can be food secure during hard times.
“They can dry the vegetables or can them so that they can use them during difficult times,” she says.
Erica says their project works in the most vulnerable communities based on Lesotho Vulnerability Assessment reports produced by the Disaster Management Authority (DMA).
She says the CRS picks the most vulnerable communities as determined by the high percentage of social assistance beneficiaries or high rates of poverty in the areas.
Erica says the project seeks to achieve three objectives – increasing income, improve nutrition and improve access to government services.
She says their project helps vulnerable groups to graduate out of poverty while ensuring that social grants are only used to ensure that children are kept in school.
“Since there is free primary education and free health services in Lesotho, we hope the social grants will only be used to take care of the children,” she says.
Social Development Minister Molahlehi Letlotlo says the Child Grants Programme is one of the projects in which the government is doing well.
He says the government is planning to initiate developmental projects in rural areas to reduce dependency on donors.
Letlotlo however appealed to donors to pump in more resources to allow the projects to pick up on so they are able to run on their own in the future.
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