Group of CA farmers in Marakabei village, Butha-Buthe district

Wind of change in Lesotho

17/07/2013

“We are very happy with conservation agriculture and we try to convince other farmers to join the team!” In the village of Marakabei, in the Butha-Buthe district of Lesotho, five farmers talk about Conservation Agriculture (CA).

Masekoele Motaung, Mamphamele Rantso, Leseli Mosikili, Mamothambo Maqomele and Teboho Mokhele are members of a CA team made of 16 farmers, 12 women and four men. They are all beneficiaries of the 2012 emergency programme of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), implemented in partnership with the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security with financial support from the European Commission Directorate-General for Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection (ECHO), Belgium and the UN Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF). The programme will continue in 2013 thanks to ECHO’s continued support and funding from the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID).

These farmers had heard of CA from a previous FAO project conducted in a neighbouring village. They decided to adopt CA techniques before they became part of the current emergency programme. They explain that they became motivated after observing how vigorous the crops planted respecting CA principles looked. The yields seemed much better so they immediately wanted to know more about the method. “We realized it is cheaper to do CA than traditional techniques, and we heard that it helps protecting the land from erosion.” Some of them use a tractor, some use animals, some do everything by hand. They simply adapt what they used to do to the new agricultural method.

CA is based on three pillars: minimum soil disturbance, crop rotations and permanent soil cover. But there are different possibilities in the practice of CA. It can be manual or mechanical, small or large scale. “We were picked to be beneficiaries because we were already practicing CA!” they said, happy. Adopting CA is not easy in the beginning. “There are too many weeds!” they said, “This is our main concern.” Extension staff recommends weeding regularly to avoid underperforming crops. Over time the mulch and cover crops will limit the growth of weeds in CA fields. Another challenge is the preparation of their lands for planting. To cope with the additional work – digging basins for seeds and fertilizers – they take advantage of the team and help each other.

The motivation among them is obvious, and some lament about lost opportunity. Maqomele confesses “I received the inputs for doing CA. But at the time of planting, I was away from home. When I came back, my kids had already planted the land, using conventional methods. I wish to do CA next season to also benefit from its good results.” The group explains that they all have livestock or poultry. They also have home gardens, as it is part of the FAO programme. They are planting maize and beans on their lands.

When they look back and remember how their conventional fields were compare to CA now, some already see differences. Mokhele, a 30 year old farmer using CA for the third consecutive season, said that he noticed a sharp increase in the yields. Mamphamele affirmed “I see an improvement in the fertility of the soil. It also looks more stable.” Confirming the words of her companions, Masekoele said that she can clearly see an improvement of the drainage: the soil does not keep the water so much as it used to do. These encouraging remarks enhance the motivation of the other farmers, listening carefully while shaking their heads. None of the farmers in the team are able to produce enough to feed their family for the whole year.