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Conservation Agriculture

Lesotho

Subsistence farmers in Lesotho have been able to boost agricultural yields and increase food production by adopting conservation agriculture. The locally adapted practice, known as likoti, also contributes to combating soil erosion and to enhancing fertility. Since the mid-1970s, maize yields have fallen from an average 1400 kg/ha to a current 450–500 kg/ha in most of the districts. In spite of its poor performance, agriculture remains a major source of livelihood for the vast majority of households engaged in subsistence farming. Under an FAO initiative, two sub-sample populations (117 CA and 112 ‘conventional’ farmers, or a total of 229) were monitored through a household survey in the western lowlands and in the south-eastern highlands of Lesotho.

The practice of likoti was first introduced in Tebellong – a harsh mountainous area in the south-eastern highlands of Qacha’s Nek district – by the local NGO ‘Growing Nations’. A planting basins system was developed and adapted to the local conditions and began to promote it with a Sesotho name, likoti, which means ‘holes’. Since 2002, the practice has captured the interest of more non-governmental and international organizations, including, among others, German Red Cross, FAO and WFP, which have supported the dissemination of the practice throughout the country. According to the likoti method, pits of about 15 × 30 cm in diameter and 15 to 20 cm deep (or smaller) are dug in a 75 × 75 cm grid. A small quantity of fertilizer (either inorganic or organic) and seeds (the number depends on the desired crop density) are placed in each basin and covered with soil. Additionally, farmers must leave enough crop residues on the field as mulch, and must also practice crop rotation and/or inter-cropping. The next season, farmers must plant in the same pits without turning the soil. Although likoti was originally deployed in the production of maize and beans, innovative farmers have used it to produce other crops such as sunflower, sorghum, potato and tomato.

Analysis of the survey data showed that the adoption of likoti has brought about significant advantages compared to conventional tillage practices. The most important are:

  • higher agricultural productivity, due to improved efficiency in the use of inputs and other resources; 
  • greater environmental sustainability, due to improved soil structure and enhanced fertility; and 
  • higher social sustainability, due to accessibility to the technology by all social categories, including the most vulnerable.

The socio-economic and environmental benefits help poor households to rehabilitate and strengthen their livelihood capital base and ultimately help rural communities to build system resilience in the face of widespread poverty and increasing vulnerability that affect the country.

Comparing the value of the output with the costs of the inputs showed that farmers producing maize with likoti in Qacha’s Nek returned a profit whereas those who ploughed incurred a loss. In Butha-Buthe, average profit of CA adopters was double that obtained by farmers who employed draught power, whereas it was almost four times that obtained by farmers who used tractor power.

The results show that attending appropriate training is a crucial prerequisite for the correct adoption of likoti. However, training is more effective when trainers pursue true participation and when social capital among farmers is stronger. Further important determinants of adoption are the level of education and the economic incentives provided to vulnerable households. Stronger policy and institutional support in all these areas would thus help address the cultural and resource constraints that limit the full potential of likoti to be harnessed and ultimately hinder its further spread throughout the country.

Source: Silici, L., Ndabe, P., Friedrich, T. & Kassam, A. 2011. Harnessing sustainability, resilience and productivity through conservation agriculture: the case of likoti in Lesotho. Int. J. Agri. Sust., 9(1): 1-8.