Koao on his maize field, Berea District

Basotho farmers picking up Conservation Agriculture

10/03/2013

It’s been only a year, but Motloheloa Koao has already noticed that his maize crops are greener and healthier – and he hopes this year will be his biggest harvest ever. Koao is a conservation farmer. He lives in the Berea District of Lesotho, about 50km from Maseru. The closest village is Mafotholeng. He grows maize and beans and owns chickens. Unfortunately, his livestock – cattle, goats and sheep – was stolen.

He is one of the 11,000 vulnerable farmers who was selected by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations to “try out” Conservation Agriculture (CA) under 2012 emergency programme funded by the European Commission Humanitarian Office (ECHO), Belgium and UN Central Emergency Fund (CERF). Thanks to ECHO and the Department For International Development (DFID), the programme will continue in 2013.

CA is considered to be an effective method to adapt to climate change induced shocks. He had heard about CA before, but did not have a clue of where to begin. Since he started he has participated in many training sessions. Extension officers regularly visit his farm. “I have learned a lot from the training and the extension officers. They have given me great tips, new ideas and skills and I now know a lot about CA farming. I wouldn’t like to go back to conventional farming methods,” said Koao.

Farming is Koao’s only source of income. He has a large family, four boys and three girls. Luckily the two eldest girls are out of the house and work in Maseru. They no longer depend on him and have their own families. All the other children, including the youngest, who is in pre-school, attend school in Maseru. One is a boarder, the others are taken care of by relatives. Koao tries to visit them regularly and the children return to the farm for holidays. His wife is ill and she, too, is being looked after by relatives.

Koao said, with most of his children still at school and with an ill wife, he needs money to take care of them all. “I grow enough to feed the family and even sell my produce to the neighbouring villages. I hope this year there will be an even bigger crop and I can sell more and make more money.” Koao said before he started CA he used to hire a tractor, which was very expensive. In the CA method, he does not need a tractor, which has saved him money.

But one challenge he had come across was in the preparation of the land. He needed extra labour to help him dig the basins for the seeds and fertilizer. “The land was dry so it wasn’t easy to dig and I had to hire labourers to help me.” But that has not stopped him. He wants to continue CA methods in the coming seasons. And, as long as there is no frost, drought or late rains and the pesty cutworms stay away, Koao is very optimistic that he will have a big harvest this year.

Talking about the three principles of CA: minimum soil disturbance, the use of cover crops and rotating crops, Koao said: “This year I practised minimum soil disturbance and intercropping. But next season I will include mulching the soil. “So far I am happy with the results,” he said, looking across his field of healthy-looking maize. “More farmers in this area are beginning to use CA methods. I think that when other farmers see how successful CA is, many more will take up CA.”