Improving production, preserving the environment

Improving production, preserving the environment

29/07/2015

The agricultural production of smallholder farmers in Lesotho is mostly affected by severe soil degradation, limited access to quality inputs and poor produce markets farming practices. The country’s food security situation gradually worsened in the past years due to climatic and social challenges. This poses a threat to more than 75 percent of the population who live in rural areas and mostly depend on agriculture for their livelihoods. The declining agricultural productivity, low food security and seemingly untenable situation can easily be reversed with the adaptation of climate-smart agriculture such as conservation agriculture.

“The Government has emphasized the importance of conservation agriculture through its 2012-2017 National Strategic Development Plan”, said Mr Borja Miguélez, FAO Emergency and Resilience Coordinator in Lesotho. “Conservation agriculture saves labour, makes efficient use of inputs, produces higher yields and is environmentally friendly. It also provides better resilience against drought and prevents soil erosion”, he added.

Farmers learn from each other

In 2012, FAO Lesotho in partnership with the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security (MAFS) started the implementation of the Emergency and Resilience Programme (ERP), helping a total of 18 500 vulnerable farming families across the country with agricultural inputs and supporting MAFS extension staff with training on conservation agriculture and home gardening and nutrition.

“The main reason we were interested in conservation agriculture was to improve the moisture and fertility of our fields” said Mr and Mrs Taaso, who hosted a group of 50 farmers in Butha-Buthe on 21 July 2015. “Given the changes of the rains, we needed to improve moisture of the soil to be able to plant earlier. We have seen how the organic matter of crop residues is also benefiting our crops”.

In 2014, farmers' exchange visits were organised in the Leribe district to give farmers the opportunity to discuss their experience and ideas on the practice of conservation agriculture but also to witness the use of cover crops with the example of the grazing vetch. The positive feedbacks received from last year’s visits led to an upscale of the activity, involving all districts of Lesotho in 2015.

MAFS and FAO have embarked on supporting the exchange visits in nearly all Resource Centres of the country facilitating visits to the best performing farmers having adopted conservation agriculture and the use of cover crops during the months of July and August. It is expected that at least 1 000 farmers and 80 extension officers will participate in this important activity promoting first hand sharing of knowledge and experience.

ERP is funded by the European Commission Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO), the Government of Belgium, the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF), the United Kingdom's Department for International Development (DFID), the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) and the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA).

About conservation agriculture

Conservation agriculture is a way of managing agro-ecosystems aiming to improve productivity, while preserving the environment. It is based on three interlinked principles: minimal soil disturbance, permanent soil cover and crop rotation.

One of the main challenges in practicing conservation agriculture is the understanding of the second principle, which encourages farmers to maintain their fields with a permanent organic soil cover made of live mulch or cover crop – such as grazing vetch. Grazing vetch is a cover crop that protects the soil against erosion and enriches it with Nitrogen while contributing to optimize soil moisture.

Complemented by other good practices, including the use of quality seeds, and integrated pest, nutrient, weed and water management, as well as the use of sustainable mechanization approaches, conservation agriculture can serve as a basis for market-driven and sustainable intensification of agricultural production.