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The struggles of Lesotho’s rural poor

36,000 subsistence farmers receive agricultural inputs

Photo: ©FAO/Gianluigi Guercia
“I’m going to save seed from what I am growing now.”
19 May 2010, Ha Barete - A broken down tractor is the showpiece of 70-year-old Ralesoai Makhorole‘s yard; a satellite dish protrudes incongruously from the front wall of his tidy block house. Neither has worked for years. It has been a decade since Ralesoai worked in a mine in nearby South Africa, and his accumulated material goods have fallen into disuse and disrepair.

Now his family's day to day survival depends on three acres of maize and sugar beans that he grows through a sharecropping arrangement and a vegetable garden downhill from his house.

"I'm happy in my retirement, because I still feel strong," Ralesoai says. That's good news, because three other people - his wife, an unwell grown son, and a teenager in high school - rely on the spry grandfather for their every meal and household needs.

Ralesoai is one of 36,000 subsistence farmers in Lesotho targeted to receive agricultural inputs over a two year period through a European Union (EU) funded project implemented by FAO and the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security (MAFS). The project is designed to mitigate the worst effects of soaring food and agricultural input prices and the global economic downturn.

Consume and sell

FAO and the MAFS organize Input Trade Fairs in all ten districts of Lesotho, where local suppliers offer vulnerable farmers a variety of seeds, tools and fertilizer. The beneficiaries were able to "purchase" their chosen inputs using a voucher system.

"I will have enough produce to consume and sell," says Ralesoai, who went to a fair. "The money will help me pay for my son in school."

On this day, at first light, he is toiling in his garden, re-hoeing patches of soil that had compacted during recent hard rains. Locusts ate his emergent cabbage crop, but he also selected cabbage seed at the fair, which he is now using to replant.

Troubled by the tractor

Ralesoai's prognosis for next year's cropping season is upbeat. "I'm going to save seed from what I am growing now. I hope to increase my acreage of beans and maize - perhaps two times more."

Despite his positive forecasts both Ralesoai and his wife lament the tractor that stands as a reminder of what might be. "If it was working, it would have done wonders. We would have planted wheat and all kinds of crops."

But the couple don't have the 3,000 Maluti, about US$ 400, needed to fix it and their son who works in a garment factory - despite being a help to them at times - has four children of his own to feed.

The tractor and TV will continue to lay idle, but at least - with the critical and timely boost of seed and fertilizer - the Makhorole family can picture better times ahead.