Lesotho expects better harvest this year

Lesotho expects better harvest this year

MASERU – THE Ministry of Agriculture says it is expecting a better harvest this year because of good rains compared to last year.

Last year the country produced about 30 000 tonnes of cereals, two-thirds lower than the previous five-year average due to drought caused by the El Nino phenomenon. The maize harvest was at an estimated 25 000 tonnes, which was 68 percent lower than the 2015 figures, according to the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO). Maize is Lesotho’s staple food and almost every family in the country depends on it for survival.

The Principal Crop Production Officer in the Ministry of Agriculture, Mojalefa Mohapi, said even though farmers had delayed in planting, they are expecting at least three tons per hectare this year. “This is just what we are expecting ideally but we will soon do an assessment on crop forecasting,” Mohapi said. “We are mostly fearful of the crops we have planted late because they might wither before their maturity stage.”

Mohapi said the expected harvest may slightly reduce hunger. “We are still experiencing strong impacts of climate change. It becomes really hot after rainy days and we lose all the moisture,” he said. Mohapi said in the 2016/2017 planting season they have so far planted wheat and peas on 16 800 hectares and the ministry is looking to cultivate at least 25 000 hectares for the next financial year. He said the ministry is waiting to get seeds from dealers which might affect the harvests. It is expected that planting of the 2017 summer cereal crops, especially maize and sorghum, was completed by the end of 2016.

Hopes for a better harvest springs from good rains experienced in the 2016/17 main summer cropping season (October-December) which increased the likelihood of above-average rainfall conditions until early 2017. FAO says the early production outlook for the 2017 cereal crops is generally favourable. “However, following the reduced 2016 harvest that constrained households food supplies and income opportunities, the productive capacities of farming households is expected to be lower than normal, particularly in regard to seed supplies and this may limit plantings,” an assessment done by FAO in November last year said.

FAO says its recent assessment indicated that farming households predominantly use own saved seed or seed from social networks, rather than market supplies. FAO is assisting 25 000 households with agricultural inputs and technical support to improve farming practices and input access, in addition to distributing vegetable production packages to 22 000 households. As a means to improve food security, the ministry prioritised summer and winter cereal production subsidy in 2013.

The goal is to increase the number of hectares under cereal production during the summer cropping season, whilst promoting good farming practices that conserve soil fertility.
In the 2015/2016 farming year, the government subsidised agricultural inputs such as seeds, fertilizers, ploughing machines and harvesting machines at 50 percent of the cost.
The ministry has two sections of farmers, independent farmers who buy agricultural inputs from retailers that work cordially with the ministry “and we have a lot of this kind of farmers who prefer to buy agricultural inputs from retailers”.

“The sales of agricultural inputs started in the highlands first and later came to the lowlands,” Mohapi said. He said the reason for them to start in the highlands is because farming differs in the highlands and lowlands as winter tends to strike the highlands faster than it does the lowlands. “We are avoiding a situation where crops don’t reach their maturity because of the cold,” Mohapi said. Only 9 percent of the land in the highlands is arable.

For independent farmers, they pay ploughing machine owner 50 percent and the machine owners claim the remaining 50 percent from the ministry. Mohapi said they also have share cropping, an assistance method in which the ministry uses a farmer’s field to plough, plant and harvest agricultural products with a share percentage of 50/50.  “It used to be 60/ 40 for government and farmers respectively but after the drought that the country experienced last year, the ministry decided it was only right to share equally for the 2016/2017 winter and summer cropping,” Mohapi said. In share cropping, the target was to use at least M13 242 but they have only ploughed at a value of M10 286.

Mohapi said the response to this season’s production and subsidy was higher than expected so much that seeds ran out before other traders could buy to sell to willing Basotho farmers.
“Our target was higher in this year’s summer cropping, with the help of organisations such as Disaster Management Authority (DMA) we had too many farmers who responded positively to the project,” Mohapi said.

Rose Moremoholo

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