LESOTHO

GEOGRAPHY, POPULATION AND WATER RESOURCES

TABLE 1

Basic statistics and population

Area of the country

Cultivable land

Cultivated land

1994

1994

3 035 000

209 293

ha

ha

ha

Total population

Population density

Rural population

1994

1994

1990

1 996 000

66

81

inhab.

inhab./km2

%

Water supply coverage

Urban population

Rural population

1991

1991

90

40

%

%

Lesotho, located in southern Africa, is a mountainous, landlocked country covering 30 350 km2. The country is totally surrounded by the Republic of South Africa. Cultivated land is estimated at 209 293 ha, or 6.9% of the total area.

The total population is almost 2 million (1994), of which 81% lives in the rural areas. Annual population growth rate is 2.5%. Average population density is 66/km2, but in the western lowlands and foothills the population density can reach 140/km2.

The severe droughts in 1991 and 1992 led to a fall in agriculture's contribution to GDP, from 17.5% in 1990 to 10.1% in 1992.

Climate and water resources

The average annual rainfall is 760 mm, varying from less than 300 mm/year in the western lowlands to 1 600 mm/year in the northeastern highlands. Intra-annual precipitation variation is high: 85% of the total is received during the months of October to April, with a peak in December and January. Very intense storms are frequent in this period, particularly in the lowlands, where as much as 15% of the annual rainfall may occur within 24 hours.

As a consequence of the abundant rainfall in the highlands, Lesotho's main natural re-source is water. Surface water resources are estimated at 4.73 km3/year, far in excess of the country's requirements, whereas there is a shortage of water in South Africa. Therefore, the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP) has been initiated, which will eventually transfer 2.1 km3/year (66 m3/s) to South Africa while enabling Lesotho to generate its own electricity.

The major river systems in Lesotho are:

•the Senqu (or Orange), which drains two-thirds of Lesotho (24 485 km2), originates in the extreme north of the country and leaves Lesotho near Quthing. In its catchment, four large dams will be constructed under the LHWP, with a total capacity of 7.7 km3;

TABLE 2

Water balance

Water resources:

Average precipitation

Internal renewable water resources – total

Internal renewable water resources – per caput

Global renewable water resources

Dependency ratio

Total dam capacity

De-salinated water

1994

1994

760

23.1

5.2

2 605

5.2

0

0.007

mm/yr

km³/yr

km³/yr

m³/yr

km³/yr

%

km3

106 m3/yr

Water withdrawal:

- Agricultural

- Domestic

- Industrial

Total

per caput

as % of internal renewable water resources

Other withdrawal

1987

1987

1987

1987

28

11

11

50

31

1.0

106 m³/yr

106 m³/yr

106 m³/yr

106 m³/yr

m³/yr

%

106 m³/yr

Wastewater:

Produced

Treated

Re-used treated wastewater

1994

2.2

106 m³/yr

106 m³/yr

106 m³/yr

TABLE 3

Irrigation and drainage

Irrigation potential

1994

12 500

ha

Irrigation:

1. Full or partial control irrigation: equipped area

- surface irrigation

- sprinkler irrigation

- micro-irrigation

% of area irrigated from groundwater

% of area irrigated from surface water

part of equipped area actually irrigated

2. Spate irrigation

3. Equipped wetland and inland valley bottoms

4. Other cultivated wetland and inland valley bottoms

5. Flood recession cropping area

Total water managed area (1+2+3+4+5)

as % of cultivated area

increase over last 10 years

power irrigated area as % of water managed area

1994

1994

1994

1994

1994

2 722

-

-

-

-

-

7.4

0

-

-

-

2 722

1.3

-

-

ha

ha

ha

ha

%

%

%

ha

ha

ha

ha

ha

%

%

%

Full or partial control schemes: Criteria

Large schemes > 100 ha

Medium schemes

Small schemes < 100 ha

Total number of households in irrigation

1994

1994

1994

2 519

-

203

1 268

ha

ha

ha

Irrigated Crops:

Total irrigated grain production

as % of total grain production

Harvested crops under irrigation

- vegetables

1994

1994

1994

1994

0

0

203

203

t

%

ha

ha

Drainage - Environment:

Drained area

as a % of cultivated area

Flood-protected area

Area salinized by irrigation

-

-

-

-

ha

%

ha

ha

•the Makhaleng, with a catchment area of 2 911 km2, originates in the vicinity of Mount Machache and leaves the country near Mohales Hoek; and

•the Mohokare (or Caladon) marks the border with South Africa and has a catchment of 6 890 km2. It springs from Mount Aux Sources, and leaves Lesotho near Wepener. All its major tributaries are located in Lesotho.

Undisplayed Graphic

Water withdrawal (total: 0.05 km³ in 1987)

Undisplayed Graphic

Types of full and partial control irrigation schemes

Groundwater resources are conservatively estimated at 0.5 km3/year (calculated from the base flow of the Senqu river). The aquifers yields are low: of a sample of 818 wells, only 12% yielded above 1 l/s; average well depth was 65 m in intrusive, sedimentary or volcanic rock, and 28 m in alluvial rock. About 3 300 wells, equipped with hand-pumps, serve the rural population in the lowlands, while 10% of the urban domestic production originates from groundwater. Except for the area around Maputsoe (aquifer yield 50 l/s) the potential for irrigation with groundwater is low in Lesotho.

The total water withdrawal is estimated at 0.05 km3 (Figure 1).

IRRIGATION DEVELOPMENT

The potential for large-scale irrigation in Lesotho was estimated at 12 500 ha in the early 1970s. No other survey has been carried out to assess the total irrigation potential in Lesotho. The total water managed area is about 2 722 ha, and corresponds to the total equipped area for full or partial control irrigation. This area can be divided as follows (Figure 2):

•203 ha of small schemes (less than 100 ha each), mainly for vegetables. Surface and sprinkler irrigation is practised in these schemes, which are generally donor-supported. In the Small-Scale Irrigation Vegetable Project, irrigation development costs are ca $US 12 000/ha. Vegetable cultivation under the scheme gave a net income of $US 2 300/ha in 1992. The following yields had been achieved in various projects: from 1.9 to 3.6 t/ha for maize; between 3.5 and 13.5 t/ha for potatoes; and from 2 to 11.5 t/ha for onions;

•2 519 ha of large schemes (more than 100 ha each), developed from 1986. These schemes were equipped for sprinkler irrigation, but, as the schemes never managed to make a profit, they are no longer irrigated.

INSTITUTIONAL ENVIRONMENT

The donor-funded irrigation projects are operating within the institutional system of the Department of Crop Services, Ministry of Agriculture. The Ministry bears the costs of local staff. District Agricultural Officers are providing extension services to the projects.

The Department of Water Affairs, Ministry of Natural Resources, monitors the surface and groundwater resources in the country.

TRENDS IN WATER RESOURCES MANAGEMENT

Irrigation development has not been very successful in Lesotho, and many irrigation schemes have been converted into dryland farming systems. Reasons for the poor performance of irrigation in Lesotho include:

•using a top-down approach, whereby farmers were informed that their land had been chosen for irrigation development and their plots were consolidated and converted into blocks without prior consultation, resulting in opposition to irrigation development;

•farmers being expected to provide free labour to the scheme, regardless of the size of the landholding, while – in contrast – their profit share was based on the size of the holding, resulting in poor labour productivity; and

•low produce prices, as farmers are often forced to sell their products at the farm gate due to the general absence of wholesale markets in Lesotho.

The more successful irrigation projects in Lesotho, such as the Small-Scale Irrigated Vegetable Project, are based on an individual approach to communally owned irrigation schemes, where farmers control the on-field crop production activities. The applied irrigation distribution system allows each farmer to irrigate his plot independently of others.

The Government of Lesotho aims to develop and expand irrigated farming to achieve self-sufficiency in vegetables and to export the surplus. However, substantial increase in the irrigated area is not foreseen in the near future, and the irrigated sector remains small.

A study examining the potential for irrigation in connection with the Lesotho Highlands Water Project revealed that the proposed projects would have a negative return due to the high opportunity costs of water. Therefore most of the projects were cancelled, except from a plan to divert 100 l/s for irrigation purposes from a tailpond at Muela.

The severe drought of 1994-95 resulted in a failure of the main rainfed staple crops. The Government of Lesotho appealed for assistance from the international community in February 1995, illustrating the vulnerability of the agricultural sector. Expansion of the irrigated area could lead to improved food security, which should be taken into account in future cost-benefit analyses of irrigation projects.

MAIN SOURCES OF INFORMATION

Bureau of Statistics. 1994. Statistical report No. 6.

Lesotho Highlands Development Authority. 1990. Lesotho Highlands Water Project, Environmental Action Plan.

Ministry of Agriculture. 1991. The history of irrigation in Lesotho.

Ministry of Agriculture. 1993. Small-Scale Irrigated Vegetable Project. Report for October 1992 to March 1993.

Ministry of Natural Resources. 1994. Hydrogeological map of Lesotho.

UNDP. 1994. Lesotho: 1992 report.

Water and Sewage Authority. 1994. Project identification report.