FAO Investment Centre
Socio-economic and Production Systems Studies

  Le Centre d'investissement
de la FAO
tudes des systmes socio-conomiques et productifs

El Centro de Inversiones de la FAO
Estudios de los sistemas socioeconmicos y productivos




 Objective of the Socio-Economic and Production System Study (SEPSS)

The overall objective of this study carried out by the FAO Investment Centre was to gather information on rural people, production systems and livelihoods in the two mountain districts of Thaba Tseka and Qacha’s Nek (see Map below of Lesotho), in particular to clarify the characteristics, needs and priorities of the target group as a basis for selection of possible project activities.



 Definition of Study Area

The study was conducted in the two mountain districts of Thaba Tseka and Qacha's Nek. Six areas were selected in each district on the basis of agro-ecological zones, degree of contact with previous development initiatives and accessibility. The four ecological zones that were adopted were: High Mountain; Tableland; Lateral Valley; and Senqu River Valley. The High Mountain zone is made up of areas above 2 500m a.s.l. which are mainly used for summer grazing. The Tableland is made up areas with an altitude range of 1 750 to 2 500m a.s.l. The topography of the area is flat or plateaux in character. The Lateral Valley zone is found at different altitudes below 2 500m a.s.l but is characterized by protected valleys that lead to the high mountain area that is used for summer grazing. The Senqu River Valley is made up of areas along the Senqu river whose main characteristic is dry conditions created by the rain shadow imposed on the Senqu valley by the central mountain range.

Historical Background of Existing Agrarian Systems

Population growth was an inevitable consequence of the success which Lesotho knew in the mid-19th century. This growing population, even in the earliest years, could no longer go south or west. Thus they had to go east. The expansion into the Mountains proceeded in stages. First animal owners used the Mountain lands for grazing their livestock, with only isolated herdsmen's huts (metebo) perched on high cliffs overlooking the vast emptiness of the rolling hills and Mountains. Then the huts gave way to small settlements, with the best grazing land being put under the plough. The small settlements yielded in turn to villages, and in the end any land with enough soil for at least one ploughing was taken out of its status as common cattle country and allocated to families who accompanied these displaced younger sons of chiefs because they too could no longer count on their accustomed allocation of three fields in their Lowlands villages.

By the year 1900, therefore, the land, instead of providing a balanced living to a small group of hunters and gatherers, was forced to support a rapidly growing body of pastoralists and agriculturists. The process has continued to the present day, with more and more high land being claimed for human settlement. Mountain valleys and even high, windy Mountain passes are now village sites, and ever higher and steeper and shallower soils are being ploughed and planted.

Demographic Context and Settlement Patterns in the Mountain Areas

The two study districts have an area of about 661 000 ha of which some 300 00 ha (45%) is considered to be arable. The 1986 census data indicate that there are 47 000 households in the two districts and the total population is 200 000. Although there are over 1000 settlements in the two districts, there are only 151 gazetted villages (94 in Thaba Tseka and 57 in Qacha's Nek) where most of the people are concentrated.

Settlements in the mountain areas are organized such that the houses are located on hills and hillocks above the fields and water sources (rivers and springs). A typical transect shows that the village will usually be near a river or a valley. Above is grazing land for those animals that have to be kept near the village at all times, below that is fields. Then the houses follow with some of them having very small gardens because of the crowded nature of the villages. Below the village one typically finds communal gardens and/or private gardens of small fields. The springs are also found in this same area. The area below is then taken up by big fields all the way to either the river or the valley bottom. This layout of villages means that the houses are not built on the limited arable land that exist in the area. The location of the village is also such that people can see what is happening in the fields and can rapidly respond when animals or people trespass in the fields.

Land Tenure and Control of Common Property Resources

There are two main forms of land holdings in the areas studied, private land and communal land. The bulk of private land is made up of fields, residential sites take up a smaller proportion of the total land in private hands. Almost all communal land is open grazing land that is at different levels of degradation. The Land (Amendment) Order of 1992 provides for land holders to obtain a 90-year (inheritable) leasehold on their land. However, there has not been much farmer demand for leases on crop land because the traditional tenure system provides sufficient security. The main interest in leases in the rural areas regards holdings whose tenure may be subject to dispute, such as woodlot and gully rehabilitation sites that have been allocated to individuals on common lands. The picture is different in the urban areas where demand for land is high. Obtaining a lease is the best means of securing tenure of land. The data from the study indicate that 51% of the interviewed households have fields. This is low because of the sampling that was biased towards the poor. The data also show that 22% of the households who own land have one field, 18% have two fields and 4.4% have three fields. On the other hand data from the poverty survey for the two study area districts indicate that 76% of households have fields and that 28% of those who have fields own one field, 23% own two fields and 12.6% own three fields. The average field size from the study data is 0.8 ha.

The mountain area communal grazing areas, especially the cattle posts, poses a unique problem for the livestock sector in general. The cattle post areas are under the jurisdiction of principal chiefs. Permits for grazing in these areas are obtained from the principal chiefs many kilometres from the areas. The local chiefs have a minor role to play in the use of the cattle posts. Although transhumance has now been abolished, in theory there is still some animal movement in the areas that are under one principal chief. What has been reduced is the movement of animals from most of the Lowlands to the Mountains.

Control of communal property resources has its origins in the Laws of Lerotholi and was based on the chieftain system. Under these laws, the chief had the right to allocate and direct the management and use of communal resources. The main form of management of natural vegetation (grass, trees, thatching materials, medicinal plants, etc) was to declare the area closed (leboella). There would then be people who are charged with the duty to impound any animals which trespassed or people who harvested without permission. The new legislation changes this.

An area of common property resource management which has not received much attention is the reallocation of fields based on poor land management or failure to use the land. The Laws of Lerotholi and subsequent legislation made provision for reallocation of arable land that was not being properly managed. These laws have not been put into practice despite the serious degradation of the land that has resulted from poor management practices.



Land Use and Availability of Land for Farming

The general picture that emerges from observations during field work is that most of the arable land is found in low laying areas near villages. These areas have soil with sufficient depth for arable cropping. Although, some of the higher area is used for arable cropping, most of it is used for grazing. Above 2 500m a.s.l, there are no permanent settlements apart from summer grazing cattle posts. The location of the fields near villages is deliberate and allows the people to have easy access to their fields and makes it easy to see when livestock is trespassing. In all villages that the teams visited, people noted that the range can hardly support the animals that people have. Although there is vast tracks of land, the range can not support the animal numbers.

Crop farming is seriously threatened by soil erosion in some areas. Land that is suitable for crop production has already been allocated, and new fields can only be allocated on very steep hills where erosion is a great hazard. Heavy rains and poor land management by field owners has resulted in extensive soil erosion. In some cases there have been land slides that are caused by excessive rains in the past few months. In discussions at village level, the poor maintenance of terraces was noted as the major cause of soil erosion in the fields and it was noted that this causes a significant decrease in arable land.

Labour Use

There is division of labour based on different operations. Largely the division centres on whether the activity needs livestock or not. In those cases where animals are used, the men are the ones who do the work. Ploughing and cultivating are done by men while hand-hoeing is done by women and children. Women noted that even for those activities that are done by men, they have to cook special meals for the men and as such they are kept equally busy. The general impression that one gets from the labour calendars is that women have far much more to do than men. The jobs that men do have a very limited time. For example, ploughing and sowing takes some two or three weeks while the two hoeing operations take about two months in total. Men are busiest in August and September while women are busiest in November and January to February in terms of physical work in the fields. Both men and women are busiest in April to June when the produce is harvested and threshed.

Immediately after harvesting a number of social events such as initiation school graduation take place. This is because food is the central item for all the social events. Women play a very pivotal role in these ceremonies and men hardly do much. For example, preparations for Christmas start in November as women renew the decorations inside and outside their homes. The floors and walls are smeared and new litema patterns are made. In discussion with some of the women, they noted that the festive nature of most of these activities ensures the participation of most community members and that this makes the work less tedious compared to weeding and other agricultural activities. An examination of the social and cropping calendars together shows that women are busy for a large part of the year.

Food Sufficiency

Most of the staple crops are grown for household consumption and, with the declining yields, very little is sold. Potatoes on the other hand are mostly sold and very little is consumed by the household. Barley is primarily used for feeding livestock. The data from the household interviews confirm the observation that little of the cereal and pulses are sold. On global mountain area level, only 3% of interviewed household reported selling any maize while 21% sold sorghum and no household reported selling wheat. A similarly small number of households reported selling pulses (15%). Vegetables on the other hand were sold by a relatively large number of households (29%). It is significant to note that at the time of the study, only 7% of households had some maize remaining form the previous harvest and no households had any wheat, sorghum or pulses remaining.

About 27% of households noted that they had left some maize, sorghum and wheat for seed while 30% had left some beans and peas for seed. It is important to note that in discussion with people in the study area that a large amount of the crop was being used in the green state. This is due to the fact that households have very little or nothing left in the house to eat following the year of drought.

An issue that was addressed in both village and household interviews was the number of months that the households was able to feed itself with the produce from the fields. Data from village discussions indicate that in Thaba Tseka some households (40-60%) have enough food in the house from April to September. In some cases households have food for only 4 months. From October to March about 90% of households do not have enough food. For Qacha's Nek the picture is very different; only 10-30% of households were said to have enough food between April and July. On the other hand the number of households which are deficient in food are estimated to be more than 95%. From household interviews, for the two districts 57% of households are self-sufficient for only 3 months; by month 8 only 10% of households still have some food. It is worth noting that 4% of interviewed households are never self-sufficient in food.

An issue which the above observation raises is how households cope when they run out of food. In the majority of cases people noted that they are helped by neighbours and relatives. In Qacha's Nek people noted that they are being helped by people who are working on the road projects. Also relatively large numbers of households in the districts were reported to have received relief grain totalling at least 100 kg. The households that receive relief grain share with others. Some people noted that they brewed beer and sold wood to survive when the household supplied ran out. In areas of Thaba Tseka people noted that looking for casual jobs was one of the coping strategies commonly used by people. Payment for casual work can be by cash or in kind. Weeding was mentioned as the operation which people look to for casual work.

When the data is broken down according to the below average, average and above average households, it is clear that households at the bottom of the scale run out of food very early after harvesting. For example 86% of these households are self-sufficient for only 5 months and only 10% of the households are self-sufficient for over 6 months. For average households, the situation is a little better in that 87% of the households are self-sufficient to 7 months. Among the above average households, at month 8 72% of the households still have food and there is a good number (28%) which at month 12 still have enough food.


Livestock play a major role in the farming systems of the mountain areas. In most of the villages that were visited by the study teams, no tractors were found except in two villages and all agricultural work was reported to be done using animal power. While cattle are mostly used for land preparation, other livestock types play important roles too. A look at reason why households keep livestock shows that 40% keep cattle for ploughing, 13% keep cattle for sale and 10% for ploughing and milk. 86% of households use horses, donkeys and mules for transport purposes. Most of the small stock is kept for sale and for wool and mohair.

Non-Farm Employment and Women's Issues

Data from the poverty study indicate that in both districts, the proportion of households without land is about 21%. Estimates from the study vary from 6% to 30% for Qacha's Nek and 40 to 70% for Thaba Tseka where the highest figures are recorded in Mantsonyane and Kolbere which are semi-urban areas. There are very limited off-farm job opportunities in the mountain areas. The estimated rate of unemployment is in the region of 90%. Non-professional job opportunities for those without land and youth (apart from being hired in the fields mainly for weeding) include: building houses, working on road construction and maintenance, shop assisting, soil conservation drought relief projects, domestic keeping, block making, hawking, sewing and knitting, forging metal and shoe and saddle repairs. Professional job opportunities include: teaching, police work, motor mechanics and carpenters.

A point that became very clear in discussions with people in the mountain areas is that the skill levels were very low for those activities noted above. Building houses for people is the highest source of employment apart from those cases where there are roads construction activities. There are several activities that are connected to house building that present opportunities for employment for other people apart from the builders. These include collecting stones or blocks, levelling the place for the house and collecting water. Men are the ones who have better chances of being employed if the house is a modern one which will include cement plastering. If a traditional house is being built then women have a larger part to play in plastering the walls with a mixture of dung and soil.

Wages paid people differ significantly. Labour charges for building a rondavel 4m in diameter range from as little as M600 to as high as M1 600 and the charge may or may not include hauling stones by the builder. Casual labour charges per day are also very variable depending on activity but a figure of M7 was mentioned in a number of cases. People who work as cashiers in cafes/shops are paid in the region of M100 per month. The road construction and road maintenance crews are paid the minimum wage of M17 per day as are those employed on soil conservation projects of the drought relief programme.

Women take the greatest responsibility to see to the daily upkeep of the family and they are the most affected in resource poor households. This is because unlike men, women usually will stay with the family and only go away to seek work as the last resort. To be able to bring income into the house, women will: sell wood, vegetables, grass and grass products (brooms, mats, etc.), clay pots, beer, bread, fat cakes, chickens and eggs, and traditional tobacco (mohlothi). The money derived from these activities is used immediately to meet household needs and as such the women live from hand to mouth. Some of the money goes into saving schemes such as burial associations with the hope that this will ease the burden of the household in times of tragedy or when need arises.

Women are also involved in a number of NGOs and CBOs whose purpose is to make some cash or address some household problems. These include sewing and knitting clubs where the main activity is making uniforms that are sold to schools in the area. In many villages they have formed communal garden groups that are aimed at improving household dietary needs. Those who can afford and have access to supply of chicks form poultry associations.

Women face a number of other problems that have to do with their daily household work and effort to bring income into their households. These include water supply, fuel supply, poor health facilities and child malnutrition, poor education facilities, and lack of marketing opportunities. Poor water supply and scarcity of fuel are the most serious problems that women experience in the rural areas of the mountain areas. During the dry years, women have to go very far for water as the wells dry up. There are very few developed water systems in the villages and the general quality of water used for household consumption is poor and people attribute the high prevalence of skin diseases and diarrhoea to poor water quality. The poor supply of fuelwood has been noted above. Health centres are few and far apart in the mountain areas and people have to walk or ride long distances. Women are the ones who use these facilities most for their own health problems and to take children for vaccinations and other ailments.

Education facilities are also few and far apart in the study area districts with high schools only found in district towns. Women who are household managers have problems sending their children to the schools far away as this entails many expenses (travel, board and lodging, etc) that the women can not afford from their meagre resources. The lack of kindergarten facilities in villages mean that women have to combine full time child care with household activities. Lack of marketing outlets for products such as grass mats, baskets, etc that women weave means that the women can not fully exploit the potential that is presented by abundance of grass in the area.

The labour calendar for women is bi-modal in pattern. The first peak of activity is during the harvesting season. There is then a decline in activities in August and September. The tempo of activities increases in October and peaks in December over the festive season. The decline of activities continues to March when it gets lowest.

Perceived Agricultural Problems by Households

Poor crop production is seen by most households as the most serious problem of agriculture. Other main problems are: drought, lack of animals for land preparation, lack of land to farm, lack of inputs, poor animal health and management, inadequate labour and lack of machinery, etc. A cross tabulation of perceived problems by household type shows that households in the average category are mostly worried by problems of drought, lack of fields and poor crop production. The below average households are concerned by poor crop production, lack of inputs, lack of fields, drought and lack of animals for land preparation. The only significant problem of the above average households is poor crop production.

A look at what are the perceived causes of the problems show that although there is a long list of causes, the major ones are drought, no rains, poverty, no money, no land to be allocated and inadequate labour to help with agricultural work. Labour to help with agricultural work as a cause of poor production is mentioned mostly by average households while the problem of lack of money is mentioned by below average households. Drought was seen as a cause of lack of seeds because what was reserved as seed was used up during the drought mostly by average households. However not many below average households saw this is a major cause. It is worth noting that stock theft was reported as a cause of hunger and poverty by below average and average households only.

Suggested solutions for the perceived problems range from praying for rain to building dams and getting employment to earn money. A good number of below average households feel that getting employment would best solve a number of their problems. Relatively more respondents in the average category have no idea about what to do to solve problems that they face. The same households indicate that chiefs should reallocate land that is not being used productively by present owners. Some solutions that have been mentioned include: improvement of extension services, use of fertilizers, access to irrigation equipment, use of pesticides, making share cropping arrangements legally binding, starting communal farming, etc.

Socio-Economic Differentiation Between Production Systems

Data from the study show that more households own livestock in the High Mountain sub-zone. There are significantly more households with horses, sheep, goats, cattle and oxen. On the other hand there are fewer households with fields, cultivators and planters and relatively fewer households have radios and sharecrop in the high mountain sub-zone. The Senqu River Valley sub-zone ranks second in terms possession of livestock and all of the agricultural implements, but has the highest ownership of fields, share croppers and radios. The Lateral Valley sub-zone is third overall. When ownership of sheep is concerned, this sub-zone comes second, that is after the High Mountain sub-zone. It comes second in terms of numbers which sharecrop. On the other hand, there are more planters, cultivators and milking cows in this sub-zone than in any other sub-zone. When goats and other types of cattle are considered, households in this sub-zone have the least. Households in the Tableland have the least possessions and livestock overall but they have more other types of cattle than the Lateral Valley. Also more households in the sub-zone cultivators than those in the High Mountain and more have goats than those in the Lateral Valley.



At a workshop held, the study team defined four main categories of households for the mountain areas based on household resources (land and livestock), access to employment and involvement in commercial trading activities such as cafe/shops. The four categories are: above average, average, below average and ultra poor. The following Table presents the characteristics of households in these four categories and provides percent of households based on household interviews and estimates of proportions of households that fall within the categories based on observations and knowledge of study team members.


Table: Household typologies and characteristics

 Category Characteristics Percent of Households
    SEPSS Study Workshop
Above average Land, livestock & employment




  Landless, livestock & employment


  Shop owner, landless & no livestock


Average Land, livestock & no employment




  Land, no livestock & employment


  Landless, no livestock & employment


  Landless, livestock & no employment


Below average Land, no livestock & no employment




  Landless, no livestock & casual labour


Ultra-poor Landless, no livestock, disabled, old age & no labour force





It is clear from the above Table that there had been gross underestimation of the proportion of households in the upper and middle stratum. The Table also indicate that there are very few business people (<1%) among the interviewees. Similarly there are few people have land but do not own any livestock but have a member who is employed (2%). The World Bank definitions differ slightly from those used in the Table above. The World Bank system uses three categories: non-poor, poor and ultra poor. The ultra poor include two types that the study had put in the below average category.

The above average households are adopters of technology or initiatives. They are likely to sell livestock or produce from the land as they are able to access food by buying. They use their livestock and crops as productive economic assets. The middle income form a large part of subsistence farmers. They copy from initiatives by the above average but fail due to lack of resources. They aspire to get rich and are willing to learn. The poor are unable to respond to initiatives as they are completely unable to purchase inputs and at times have limited labour. Such households are locked into a vicious poverty circle as they live from hand to mouth and are not able to invest resources into activities that have the potential to get them out of poverty. The priority of the poor is to access wage or part-time employment to be able to escape the poverty trap. The ultra-poor only aspire for family and/or neighbour support and rely on recognition of their earlier support to the family and individual household members. The decline in family values and decline in mine employment are seriously threatening this social support mechanism.

Livestock is a dynamic asset that has the potential to change the status of a household while land is a passive asset that can only decline in quality and needs external and expensive inputs to be productive enough to present the household with potential for change. Cases were found in the study area where households which were ultra poor accumulated some wealth from hiring out their sons to look after cattle for rich households. Recently there are cases where rich households have been impoverished by the loss of a major part of their livestock through theft. Wage employment makes it possible for households to invest in any productive economic venture and also they are able to invest in agricultural inputs as well as proper management of their livestock.

It was found that ownership of livestock and land and access to wage employment are the major factors that determine the differentiation between the different households. The data show that the resource base of the above average households is wider and composed of large amounts of disposable income that are obtained from wage employment and sale of livestock and livestock products. It should be noted that apart from the livestock which are used as a form of saving, the above average and average households have significant savings. The average amounts of savings of the two types of households is M1 274 for the average households and M3 164 for the above average household while the below average household have saved about M427. Below average households hardly have farming implements while the average household have some implements. It is significant to note that even the above average households have few planters, harrows and cultivators.

Household Composition and Labour Force

Although the average number of members per households in the study area is 4, the household size goes up to 13. Children account for 67% of the household members of which 18% are grand children. Only 1% of members are grand parents and other relatives and those who are not related to the household head account for 5% of the members. 48% of household members are male and 33% of households are female managed. The age structure of the household is such that 15% of the members are infants (5 years or under) while children below the age of 18 but above 5 years account for 38% of the members. Adults between the ages of 18 and 60 years account for 39% of the members. Members above 60 years of age account for only 7% of the members. The standard of education of the members in the mountain areas is low. On average, household members above the age of 5 have been to school for only 4 years and 20% of the members have never been to school. Above the age of 18, 23% have never been to school and 80% have not been to school for more than 7 years and on average they have been to school for only 5 years.

Although the potential active household members (aged 18 to 60) make up 38% of the members, children and old people do active work in the fields. When agricultural work is considered, children start actively being involved from the age of 10. 25% of people who are said to work on agriculture are between the age of 10 and 18 years while those between 18 and 60 years make up 61% of household members. In those households with scarce labour old people above the age of 60 are known to work actively. When the age of those members who are said to work on the fields is considered, 15% of them are between the ages of 60 and 79. An important consideration is whether household members are present all the time to do agricultural work. 14% of members are away some time of the year and most of the time these members are away for 10 to 12 months. 30% of these are scholars, 12% work elsewhere in Lesotho, 20% are mine workers, 10% work elsewhere in RSA and 9% are out looking for work.

Among the three types of households, 18% of household members in the above average households are away for some time during the year. For the average households the figure is 15% and 10% for the below average households. On the other hand, there are more people in the above average households who work in the fields. Numbers of household members do not differ significantly between the three types of households. The total numbers range from 1 to 12 or 13. In about 85% of the cases there are 1-6 members in the household for the below average and average households. The corresponding figure for the above average is 75%.


Household Income, Expenditure, Indebtedness and Savings


21% of household members bring some income into their households. The most significant source of income is wages from work in the mines in RSA, followed by wages from work in Lesotho. The average amount of money sent home from by mine workers per annum is M910 and this source of income is reported by 16% of the households. Average amount of money brought home from wage work in Lesotho is M473 and is reported by 15% of the households. This is followed by sales of the traditional beer where 39% of the households reported this as a source of income and the average amount brought in per annum by the sale is M351. Casual work in Lesotho is reported by 21% of the households as a source of income and the average amount of money obtained is M265 per annum. This is followed by other work in RSA which is reported by 6% of households with a mean of M108 per annum. Sales from sheep and sales of wool and mohair were reported by about 8% of households and the average amounts thereof are in the region of M58 per annum.

Sales from other types of livestock are not significant at the global level. Sales from cereal crops do not present a significant income source. The fact that dagga sales were reported by a very small number of households shows that people do not like to disclose this source of income because observations show that in most of the areas in the mountain areas many households plant dagga. 8% of households reported sales of vegetables with a mean income of M78 per annum.


Few households (3%) spent some money on fertilizers and land preparation in the previous year. It has been noted earlier that fertilizers are not easily found in the study areas and it is not surprising that people do not use fertilizers. An explanation for the low number that pay for land preparation is that 67% of people who have fields, rent or sharecrop have animals to form a span. A small number (6%) spent some money on seeds and a very insignificant number (1%) bought insecticides and pesticides. Only 8% spent money of purchase on livestock. 16% spent money on veterinary services where the mean expenditure is M10.30. A significant number of households (29%) purchased cereals and on average spent M154. The amounts spent on cereals ranged from 3 to 4 000 maloti. 31% of households bought fuel with a mean expenditure of 67 maloti.

67% of households spent an average of 246 maloti on school-related items and the expenditure ranged from 4 to 720 maloti. Medical expenses were reported by 71% of households with an average of M96 maloti. 92% of households of households spent M1 099 on food and house keeping. Only 11% of households spent money of furniture.


40% of households have debts that range from 20 to 1500 maloti with an average of 268 maloti. Households took loans to for a variety of reasons but mainly to buy food (31%), clothing (16%) and to pay school fees for children (14%). Other reasons for taking loans include: to pay for medicines, for transport, to find money as husband had not yet send money, for funeral arrangements, to pay for animals that were impounded, brewing, etc. Although fewer households (33%) in the above average category have debts, the average amount owed (M475) is the highest. The largest number of households that have debts (45%) is in the average category and the average amount owed is M 264. 34% of households in the below average category have debts and the average amount owed is M217. While the levels of indebtedness do not differ significantly between the below average and the average households, it should be noted that the differentiation is very stark between the types of households when savings are considered. 67% of households above average have average savings of M3 174, 33% of average households have average savings of M1 274 and only 15% of below average households have mean savings of M155.


It is important at this point to remember that there is a very active informal saving sector in the form of mechaellano, stokvels, tekeline, mpate-cheleng (burial associations), etc. Women are the most active social groups in these schemes. The objective of saving money in burial association is mainly to ensure that even the poorest family can afford a decent burial for one of its members from very small savings. Objectives of the other saving schemes include: saving money for bulk purchases of grocery for Christmas, helping each other to purchase household furniture or other assets, helping each other to pay school fees for children, etc. Large amounts of money, that does not appear in the formal statistics, are held by these myriad of associations. This informal saving sector has grown in South Africa by merging small groups and it is a multi-million operation which is giving the formal banking sector a headache as most of the money from the black communities is help in this sector. The study data show that 49% of households are members of some kind of an association and that of this, about 60% are members of burial associations. A cross tabulation of status of household and membership of a CBO show that 30.9% of members come from the below average households, 57.3% from the average households and 11.2% from the above average households.

Some of the household survival strategies of poor households were mentioned when coping strategies of women were discussed. Apart from relying on women to brew beer and sell wood to raise some cash, the male folk go out to seek casual employment during those times when agricultural work is over. Even if the household does not have land, its members help other households to be able to get some produce at the end of the harvesting season. In general people in the mountain areas rely on each other to a great extent. When a family has some food, it shares with other households. The common term that is used for this act of helping each other is "ho sobelana". It is common to find that rich households have ‘hanger-ons’ who benefit from regular feeding as a reward for running errands or helping with household chores. Hiring boys out for herding is another common survival mechanism for resource-poor households. This enables the household to access money of livestock and at the same time the child who is hired on is fed by the household that has hired him. In many cases this is how some the children of poor households end up with their own livestock and possibly escape the poverty trap.

Causes of Poverty and Processes of Socio-Economic Differentiation

A Poverty Mapping Study made provides in-depth analysis of poverty and points out that the mountain areas and the rest of the Mountain area has a higher level of poverty than the Lowlands. Factors that villagers perceive as leading to poverty are: poor crop production, unemployment, drought, alcoholism, witchcraft, and injustice. Alcoholism and unemployment were noted to lead to many other factors that contribute to poverty. The loss of wage employment by the household head or breadwinner has the potential to lead to the decline in the status of the household and ultimately to poverty. The loss of wage employment may be due to death (especially for the miners), ill health, disability, or failure to get back to work in time after being home for week-end off or leave(ho ja bonase). Household decline is more rapid for young households if the bread winner loses wage employment because the household would not have accumulated enough wealth to take care of household needs without wages. The death of a male head of household is usually followed by a decline in quality and quantity of livestock until no animals are left. It is a common saying that animals follow their owner when he dies. This is a result of the poor management of those who are not owners. When the husband dies, the eldest son or brother looks after his family and the care of these care takers is usually not as good as that of the owner.

Recently, livestock theft has become one of the major factors leading to poverty in the mountain areas. Until the drought broke this year, drought, not just in the mountain areas, was one of the significant causes of poverty. Based on the typologies developed earlier, if one were to list the causes of poverty according to priority, the list would be: loss of wage employment, loss of livestock, ill health or death of breadwinner, crop failure, and aging of the household head. It should be noted that in some cases the cause of poverty will be a combination of factors and the setting in of other problems such as alcoholism and marriage breakdown.

The following case best illustrates the process of impoverishment: The couple married in 1966 when the husband was a migrant worker in the mines. While he was in the mines he bought animals which were stolen and the few that remained were sold to cover household needs and some died because of poor management. The husband left work in 1979 due to illness and died in 1995 after a long period of illness which cost the family all its savings and sunk it into debt. The eldest child is a girl who has been married into another household and the son is 19 years and in school. The other children are girls who the mother does not expect much from. The mother is doing odd jobs to get money to feed the children and cloth them. The household has only 30 chickens and 1 field that it share crops with other families; the total produce from the field that came to the household last season was eight bags.

In some cases the husband goes to work in the RSA and does not come back leaving the wife to look after the children. To be able to support the children the wife has to seek employment and leave the children with the grandparents. The death or ill health of grandparents makes it difficult for the woman to continue to work and she often has to go back to the village to look after the household and the children. Beer brewing becomes the major source of income.

The following cases illustrates the process of upward social mobility: The couple married in 1947 and at that time the husband was a civil servant in Lesotho. The couple stayed with the parents in law of the husband until they could build their own house. The couple only had 1 daughter who got married and left the family and later brought some of the children to stay with her parents. In 1969, the husband retired from the civil service but had short-term contracts in various departments. Although the couple had some animals, the husband inherited more when his father died in 1984, this brought the household animals to 21 cattle, 20 sheep and 3 horses.



Constraints in the mountain areas can be divided into three categories: household level constraints; local institutional level constraints; and mountain-specific constraints. It should be noted that constraints in the different categories are interlinked but for the sake of clarity they will be discussed separately (Note: only household level links are detailed in this abstract of the full report).

Household level constraints are summarized in the Table below. From the Table it is clear that households face a wide range of problems that are mainly caused by the lack of infrastructure and facilities in the area. The poor resource base of the households is stretched even further by the high cost of goods that is imposed by poor road access. Household priorities hinge on availability of disposable income to address households needs of health, education, food security, water supply, family unity, purchase of agricultural inputs, accessing livestock to plough fields, caring for the aged and disabled, meeting veterinary costs, and accessing fuel for space heating and preparing meals.


Table: Perceived Household Constraints

Constraint Cause/s
Ill health
  • Old age
  • Health centres few and apart
  • Referral hospital is far
  • No clean water supply
  • Lack of toilets
  • No land to allocate any more
  • Drought
  • Limited disposable income
  • High cost of food commodities
Separation of families
  • Lack of job opportunities locally
  • Family members have to seek jobs in RSA and sometimes desert families
  • Lack of money to pay school fees
  • Limited access to higher education
Lack of farming inputs
  • No agricultural input stores
  • No money to buy inputs
Problem ploughing fields
  • Livestock starvation because of drought
  • Lack of tractors in the area
  • Livestock diseases due to poor vet services
Low wool and mohair prices
  • Poor extension assistance
  • Expensive improved rams
Low crop yields
  • Poor extension assistance
  • No inputs used
Limited disposable income
  • No job opportunities in country and area
  • Retrenchment from the mines
  • Poor marketing opportunities
  • Low wool and mohair prices
  • Limited opportunities for income generating activities and no assistance
  • Wage rates in villages too low
  • Migrants do not sent money regularly
Caring for the aged and disabled
  • No pension and/or disability payments
  • Declining family values
Livestock theft
  • Poverty
  • Anti-stock theft committee made of thieves
High livestock mortality and poor quality of animals
  • Drought and drying up of watering points
  • Prevalence of diseases
  • Poor veterinary services
  • Deteriorating pasture condition
  • Poor breeding practices and management
Poor access to fuel
  • Limited tree resources
  • Expensive convenient fuels
  • Poor road access for bulk fuel supply

Source: SEPSS village interviews