Conservation agriculture in Lesotho: when mother knows best
'Me Maphoka Thaba is a rural farmer in the Leribe district of northern Lesotho. Active and energetic at 72, she has faced many problems that are all too common to rural farmers in Lesotho.
Years of erratic rain and dry spells have wreaked havoc on harvests, and much of the country's farmland – a precious resource in this mountainous nation – is threatened by severe soil erosion and environmental degradation. Over a third of the population is food insecure, and like many, 'Me Maphoka often worried for herself and her three children.
"I have always been anxious because I cannot produce enough food to feed my family for a whole year," she explained. "The neighbors help me when I run short of food."
A decision to change
In 2012, for the first time in her life, 'Me Maphoka decided to change the way she farmed her land. She had heard about conservation agriculture (CA), a new farming approach being practiced in the neighboring village. Impressed by their harvests, she went to the nearby town resource center to learn more, and spoke to extension officers who encouraged her to try CA on her farm.
But her 17-year old son Poello was against the idea and tried to dissuade her. "He asked the neighbours to talk to me, to convince me to stop thinking of CA," she recounted.
Poello, who was studying to be a carpenter, couldn't understand how CA worked. He was especially dubious about its use of "planting basins"—in CA, seeds are not planted along the usual furrow but in small basins or pits that are usually dug with hand hoes.
"I didn't know what CA was," he said. "I could not understand how the seeds would germinate when they were put in the basins."
But 'Me Maphoka persevered. She knew she wanted to try out this new technique. As a kind of compromise and trial, she decided to let her son have his say over one part of her land, to plant and farm in the conventional way, while she would use CA on the other part.
To learn more about CA, she enrolled as a beneficiary of the Emergency and Resilience Programme (ERP), run by FAO Lesotho and the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security (MAFS). The ERP provided her with inputs, training and extension services, especially on CA.
A year later, the land spoke for itself. On 'Me Maphoka's side stood rows and rows of healthy maize. She explained that with conventional farming she usually harvested around 60kg of maize, but with CA she expected to harvest over 400kg.
And on Poello's side? The stalks of corn were so scattered and scant that the land seemed almost fallow. Poello himself admitted it: "My crops look poor, whereas my mother's crops look good." Moreover, he was convinced of the value of CA and excited to use it himself: "Now that I know more about CA, I am willing to improve my knowledge," he said. "I want to help my mother to practice CA on 100% of the land."
He may not be the only one she has convinced. 'Me Maphoka remembered how, earlier in the season, people would come and watch her working her land. "Now they can see I will harvest more and better quality crops," she said proudly, hoping that they too would join her in practicing conservation agriculture.
The Emergency and Recovery Programme jointly implemented by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security (MAFS) is funded by the United Kingdom Department For International Development (DFID) and the European Commission's Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO).
- FAO. 2013. Conservation Agriculture, a new technology linking generations. Rome.