Forests and the forestry sector
Although Lesotho has an extraordinarily small proportion of trees (less than 1 percent of its land area) trees and forests are crucial in poverty alleviation and environment protection. For household fuels, people are forced to use shrubs, cow-dung, roots, crop residues and imported fossil fuels. The country suffers from land degradation, and is left with less than 10 percent ¿arable land¿, resulting in low incomes and widespread rural poverty. These issues are being addressed through the Poverty Reduction Strategy Programme (PRSP) which aims at reforming the agricultural sector, decentralise government to democratically elected bodies at district and village level, and prepare the country for the implementation of a 20-year Development Plan (¿Vision 2020¿).
Only around 24 percent of Lesotho's GDP is derived from natural resources. So while forest resources do not presently appear to contribute significantly to the national economy, their potential for import-saving (at the moment all processed wood consumed in Lesotho is imported) as well as the creation of new employment opportunities in rural areas could be very significant.
Additionally, it has been estimated that fuelwood from trees and shrubs account for 62 percent of Lesotho's energy requirements. The biggest challenges facing the Government of Lesotho today are the declining agriculture productivity, high unemployment rate and severe poverty situation amidst the reduced job opportunities in the South African Mines. The current situation provides an opportunity for the development of the forestry sector, especially to favour import-saving, employment creation and overall poverty alleviation.
There are three main areas identified where forestry might contribute to poverty alleviation: private forest products businesses; forestry as a source of in-country paid employment; and, forestry as an indirect alleviator through enabling poor people to produce their own firewood and poles that, otherwise, they would have to try to buy. Where adopted, agroforestry has a certain potential to improve cropland and livestock productivity, besides the long-term benefits to the environment.
The greatest threat to forest resources in Lesotho is from the browsing of the regrowth of harvested woody plants by the large population of freely-grazed domestic livestock. The second greatest threat is from resource harvesting for household fuel at a level considerably in excess of the regenerative capacity of the forest resources. Other important issues in forestry in Lesotho embrace: lack of awareness and appreciation of proper indigenous trees and shrubs management; adverse climatic factors such as periodic droughts, which threaten the growth of trees and kills inappropriate exotic tree species; poor performance of afforestation to-date owing to livestock and climatic factors; and, the paucity of relevant forestry research and training.
Last updated: February 2004