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State of forests and plantations

Existing Forests, Trees and Shrub Resources

Lesotho is one of the least forested countries in Africa. No recent comprehensive data on the extent of forest cover exist. Variations of estimates depend on the definition of forest employed. By the most favourable counts and taking into account all types of forestry resources, coverage is unlikely to exceed a few percentage points of total surface area.

Forest resources can be categorised into five main groups. These are essentially categorised according to patterns of ownership and consist of:

Indigenous trees and shrubs

Government owned plantations

Private treelots

Trees in individual homesteads

Trees in the urban environment


Indigenous trees and shrubs

The extent, density and composition of indigenous forest and shrubland were determined in the course of the 1981-82 National Rangeland Inventory. Due to poor archiving procedures, however, detailed records by locality were subsequently lost. An extended programme has been underway since 1990 under which the trees and shrubs present in each forest patch are identified and its location plotted on a 1:20 000 maps (May, 1997).

Lesotho’s forest patches and woodlands have been, and continue to be subject to so many impacts. This makes it difficult to identify and evaluate their current status. Essentially, the forest patches and woodlands are of two basic types, but with a number of sub-types.

One main type comprises the mixed evergreen and deciduous forest patches of the Lowlands and Foothills. It is found below escarpments, in valleys and gullies and other similar localities. Thereby providing partial partial protection from the fierce post-winter bushfires that used to ravage the country before overgrazing became rampant. It is reported that some of the species that occur in Lesotho are found in mountain forests as far north Tanzania and beyond (May 1997). The emergent trees of this first type generally grow to maximum heights of 12-20 metres. They commonly include Celtis africana (Molutu), Olea europaea var. Africana (Mohloare), Kiggellaria africana (Lekhasi), Pittosporum viridiflorum (Phuku e nyenyane), with less commonly Ilex mitis (Phukhu) and Scolopia mundii (qoqolosi) which are shade demanding in youth. The canopy trees, of which only a few species may reach 11 metres or so in Lesotho, commonly include Maytenus hetrophylla (Sefea-maeba), M. undata, M. Acuminata, Halleria lucida(Lebetsa), Euclea crispa var. Crispa (Mohlakola), Diospyros lyciodes, Buddleja salvifolia (Lelothoane) and Grewia occidentalis (Lesika). Due to cutting and browsing, these species are more often of shrub form. Old trees of the pioneer tree, Leucosidea sericea (Cheche) may occur but are succeeded by those of the other species in closed canopy conditions.

The other main type is dominated by Leucosidea sericea which forms more or less homogeneous stands of trees and comparatively-extensive scrubby areas in the lower Mountains Zone up to 2500 metres or so, where it appears to be a dominant tree species. Depending on the degree of openness of the Leucosidea, its principal shrub associates may be Rhamnus prinoides (Mofifi) , Diospyros austro-africana (Senokonoko), Rhus divaricata (Kolits=ana), R. dentata (Lebelebele), Euclea coriacea (Ralikokotoana), Buddleja salvifolia (below 2200 metres or so), Buddleja loricata (Lelora) (above 2200 metres or so), Artemesia afra (Lengana) and Myrsine africana (Moroka- pheleu) (May, 1994).

Using National Rangeland Inventory data, Mahlelebe calculated the total area dominated by the native trees as 34 685 ha only. The inventory’s two vegetation categories, Leucosidea-dominated and Rhus dominated were classified as shrubland types and in the final computation, the areas pervaded by the indigenous trees were incorporated into them.

It is not worthy that the national average crown cover (i.e. the part of the plant directly above and below the ground) of Lucosidea sericea and of the various Rhus species amounted to 10.88% and 11.32% respectively of the total land area. While, total crown cover of all woody plants in these categories was 21.24% and 12.90% respectively; revealing the overall openness of woody growth in much of Lesotho.

Although the naturally occurring extent of natural forest and woodland is low, it remains a valuable resource to many rural people, providing: fuel, wood for tools and house construction, medicines for both humans and livestock, sites for traditional ceremonies, browse and shelter for livestock. Almost all these areas are extensively used for grazing and firewood collection. Despite the existence of management schemes backed by regulatory measures, natural vegetation loss continues unabated. The rate of depletion, however, has not been quantified.


Government Owned Plantations

Much of the country’s existing woody biomass stock originates from planted trees by the Lesotho Woodlot Project between 1973 and 1987. Geographically woodlots have a skewed distribution with the majority located in the Lowlands and Foothills. By district, over half of the area established and survived is in Leribe (30%) and Maseru (26%). In terms of species: eucalyptus generally predominate in the north, pines in the drier south and cypress at higher elevations due to silvicultural reasons. The current distribution of woodlot by district is given in Table 2. Although the gazetted woodlot area is 12,988 ha, the actual stocked area is less than half this figure (6,130.9 ha).

Out of 10,362 ha of woodlot established until 1992 only 60% or 6,131 ha are stocked at present (60%). Replanting of 4,231 ha is required to re-establish the originally planted area. The currently stocked area of 6,131 consists of: 2,979 ha of eucalypts, 2,786 ha of Pinus species and 371 ha of other tree species (see Table 2). The quality of existing pine stands is superior to eucalytus stands as well as other tree species. The stands require regular pruning and thinning. Pinus radiata and Pinus pinaster show the best growth rates compared to Pinus halpensis. Although the latter has a good survival rate it grows slowly. In most cases Pinus species are suitable for erosion control but not particularly appropriate for wood production. The most performing eucalyptus species has remained throughout to be Eucalyptus rubida.

The inventory also identifies the following management problems:

inadequate management and control of the woodlot by the foresters due to lack of funds and other resources to carry out certain tending operations;

poor access to most of the woodlot situated on plateux due to deteriorated roads condition;

meagre harvesting and illegal felling resulting in declining quality and stocking of the woodlot;

large losses of stocking and tree quality due to drought, fire and grazing by animals in small stands; and decline in reforestation activities since late 1980s due to inadequate resources available for Afforestation programme (Runze, 1997).

Other problems that limit the range of species which can be grown and contribute to low survival and growth rates, even amongst well-adapted species are harsh climatic conditions and infertile soils.


Private woodlot - individual and community

No comprehensive survey of private tree planting or ownership has ever been conducted. In the main, they consist of small groves or patches of grey poplar (Populus canescens) or silver wattle (Acacia dealbata) often planted in dongas. These include areas compulsorily established under the Tree Planting Scheme of 19942-47, and from government-paid planting for soil stabilisation undertaken as part of wider conservation programmes, dating from around the same period. Although many of the community woodlot are not systematically managed they have been able to regenerate themselves into well utilised resource base. This is significant in view of the heavy grazing impacts by livestock.


Individually owned trees in Homesteads

Individually owned trees in homesteads also constitute valuable forest resource. The undisputed tenure of the homestead has provided individuals with security to plant trees for amenity, shade and fruit. Peach trees in particular are a ubiquitous feature of villages. Most homesteads have at least some trees: For example, a 1989 surveys found that 86% of all rural households had one tree, 66% of which were fruit trees. Most of these (87%) were planted around the home, (Hall and Green,1989).


Trees in the urban environment

Almost all towns in Lesotho have quite a number of trees in their surroundings. These trees play such an important role in improving the urban environment and the well-being of urban dwellers. Among other things they ensure a clean water supply for the city; protect the towns against strong winds; provide shade and a cooling effect in hot climate and provide a habitat for urban wildlife. Unfortunately, there are no figures to indicate the extent of trees found in the urban areas.


State of forest industries

Given the small scale of the resource Lesotho has few forest based industrial activities. Firewood and poles are produced in three government owned facilities and a number of small wood using enterprises such as furniture making (using imported timber) do exist. The forestry sector consequently generates little employment and is not a major contributor to national income.


Wood Demand - supply situation

Data on the import of forest products into Lesotho are limited in coverage and content. However, the value of total imports in 1994 was estimated at around 15 million Maluti. The extent of dependency in quantity terms cannot be determined from the available statistics, but it is readily apparent that Lesotho is:

entirely dependant upon imports for sawn timber, boards (plywood and other similar products)

heavily dependant upon imports for treated (i.e. preserved) posts used in building and fencing

heavily dependant upon imports of firewood - particularly (although not exclusively) that used in urban areas

In addition, the limited availability of domestically produced firewood has clearly resulted in considerable imports of fossil fuels.


Social and Economic Implications

In common with most developing countries Lesotho’s rural population is dependent upon biomass resources including shrubs, cow dung and crop residues to meet their own energy needs. Lesotho’s, harsh winters has meant that people require substantial energy for warmth in addition to food preparation. The overwhelming reliance of rural households on biomass fuels has placed tremendous pressure on this resource. While the use of dung and crop residues as alternatives to fuel wood has had adverse implications on soil fertility. In real terms, firewood provides 64% of the household energy in rural areas, with cow dung and crop residues accounting for over 27% of the balance (May, 1997).

Basotho utilise trees for a wide range of uses in addition to fuel. The survey work of Hall and Green (1989) indicates that trees are used for: fruit (especially peaches), windbreaks and shelter for houses, people and livestock, tools and furniture, fencing; browse for animals and medicines.

It is important to understand the multi-purpose value of trees and forests for conservation of forests and development of other community forestry activities. Beekeeping is a clear way of exploiting forests and trees without destruction. The financial outcome from beekeeping gives beekeepers a financial reason to protect forests and trees.

One source of forest fires causing tremendous tree destruction are honey hunters, but involvement of beekeepers in forest related activity will subdue this destruction through bee protection and assisting honey hunters in honey collection.

Also when given a choice for planting in forestry programme, farmers usually request fruit trees or trees from which they can obtain harvest within a very short time and many of these fruit trees depend on bees for pollination to produce high quality fruits and for fruit and seed set.


Forestry and environment

Soil Stabilisation

The importance of trees is not limited to their provision of wood. Trees play a pivotal role in environmental protection. Stabilising soil, preventing erosion, controlling water run-off in catchment areas, providing shelter from wind and the sun’s scorching heat, are some of the important purposes for which trees are widely planted and much needed in Lesotho. Trees around homesteads play a vital role in providing shade for houses and act as windbreaks during the strong August winds. In many countries loss of vegetative cover has spurred increased and more violent flooding, accelerated siltation of dams and propelled phenomenal soil erosion rates leading to all-out desertification.

Afforestation for protective purposes need not conflict with wood production. The poplars and willows planted throughout the country supply poles and fuelwood as well as abate soil erosion. Nevertheless, it is true that many plantings in Lesotho were not necessarily undertaken with water catchment protection and firewood generation intentions in mind. A good example is that of a huge donga near Berea Mission in Teyateyaneng district. In this instance, local people had attributed the donga formation to the removal of shrubs from the upstream valley sides, recalling when it was a stream that one could step across. Another example is that of Tsereoane near the Main South I road, where Lesotho Agricultural College students reclaimed a massive donga nearly ten years ago.


Amelioration of local climate

A good example of environmental protection rendered by trees has been cited above the Chesi Stream near Ha Khoeli (May,1997). In this largely undisturbed forest, no run-off or erosion is reported during heavy thunderstorms even on gradients greater than 100%. Some indigenous tree species and exotics (e.g Pinus halpensis at Tenane and Leloaleng woodlot) are able to grow quite well on stony, bouldery slopes because their roots can spread underneath them. Not only do stabilise such slopes better than grasses but also full utilisation of the hillsides potential is made. It has also been noted that trees were able to grow at over 3000m on the open hillside at Lestseng la Trai as long as they were protected from fire and grazing. This indicates that shelterbelts for livestock could in effect be established in mountain cattle post areas provided that support and cooperation of herders is forthcoming. By reducing wind speeds and therefore the >wind chill= factor, animals require less of their food just to keep warm, and this can also provides them with shelter from driving snow.

A major environmental aspect of plantations and indeed tree planting is its integration with farming. Such practice is commonly referred to as agroforestry. It is now widely recognised that agroforestry systems, where wood and food are grown together on the same piece of land, are the key to sustainable land management in fragile mountain ecosystems such as that of Lesotho. The practice, however, is yet to be explored in this country. The main challenge is to identify tree species that are compatible with other food crops; especially considering that moisture availability is almost invariably regarded as the critical limi!H2ting factor for crop growth. Since 1980, livestock and trees have been co-existing in harmony at the Leshoboro Plateau and other woodlot. Chiefs would regulate entry into woodlot by issuing grazing permits admitting specified numbers of animals for certain time periods. Unfortunately, the situation today is dramatically at odds with that which prevailed in the late 1980s as the woodlot are now overgrazed again.


Impact on Water Supply

In Leshoboro Plateau, where most of the trees are eucalypts some springs below the plateau have started to dry up earlier in the year than usual while some have disappeared altogether. This confirms the widely debated fact that forested catchments usually reduce the amount of water in ground water reserves because they use more than non-forested catchments. However, they regulate the water flow more efficiently, preventing the extremes of flow that are characteristic of deforested catchments in areas of high rainfall


Impact on other plants

Eucalyptus is also known to produce chemicals that inhibit germination and growth of other plants (e.g. Eucalyptus sideroxylon). This may influence the choice of species when erosion control or grazing is important function of the plantation. These are some of the controversial aspects of eucalyptus and it should also be noted that the ecological effects of planting eucalyptus as single trees, rows of trees or in small woodlot, may be very different from those produced by plantations in extensive blocks.



Trees are the only forms of life larger than mankind that are encountered everyday. The streets of Maseru and other towns would be monotonous and ugly without trees. The amenity and recreation value of trees and green spaces in Maseru is widely recognised by the city dwellers for the same reason that trees give them a breathing space during their spare time.


Carbon Sinks and Climate Change

Roughly 50% of forest vegetation consists of the chemical element, carbon. This is why they are referred to as Carbon sinks. Conversely, biomass represents the potential amount of carbon that can be added to the atmosphere as carbon dioxide when forest is cleared or burned. By estimating the biomass density of forests it is possible to determine the quantity of carbon absorbed in forest vegetation. Data on the changing status of carbon pools is critical for informed policies and strategies on global atmospheric change.

Lesotho has ratified the Convention on Climate Change and has already carried out a national greenhouse gas emission inventory.


Institutional framework for forestry

Primary responsibility for national forestry development within the government lies with the Forestry Division, which is institutionally situated under the Department of Conservation, Forestry and Land Use Planning within the Ministry of Agriculture Cooperatives and Land Reclamation. The Forestry Division is responsible for the management of more than 400 forest reserves established under the Lesotho Woodlot Project. It is also mandated with the provision of technical backstopping to district level staff; including research and information dissemination activities.

Although the Forestry Division has a reasonable complement of professional staff, a majority of these are located at Headquarters. Delivery of forestry extension through the Ministry’s unified extension service is often poor. The service is particularly weak in the mountain districts, where there are fewer extension messages to offer and professional foresters are absent or in short supply. Many people rely on the Division for supply of planting materials, and shortages often occur at key times of the year. Apart from Forestry Division there are several other government Ministries and Departments as well as NGOs that also have a stake in Lesotho’s forestry development

Governmental institutions are:

National Environment Secretariat is the overriding policy maker and coordinator of all environment-linked activities, including those on indigenous forests, trees, shrubs and afforestation.

Ministry of Local Government has an overriding control under the Land Act of all land for indigenous forests, trees and shrubs and afforestation as well as forestry planning under the Town and Country planning Act. They also control communally-owned plantations on land not allocated under Land Act, control of firewood in Aleboella areas, effectively in control of all wild trees and shrubs as liremo even if contrary to the Liremo Control Order.

Ministry of Agriculture

Department of Field Services (DFS) has the primary responsibility in the districts for forestry extension, and social forestry development through the Unified Extension service and most of the forestry Division’s former staff establishment was transferred to this Department.

Department of Youth Affairs is also carrying out afforestation activities through the National Environment Youth Corps and Youth in general. In 1995 / 6 the Teyateyaneng Youth (Boys Scouts) had a target of 50,000 trees for the entire district and they managed to plant 20,000 trees.

Lesotho Agricultural College - forestry staff development and with the DFS, forestry training of individuals, groups and communities.

Department of Agricultural Research through an IFAD-funded project called Soil and Water Conservation and Agroforestry Programme (SwaCAP) has been distributing seed of a number of species for trials and has carried out some trials with fruit tree orchards.

Ministry of Natural Resources:

The Department of Energy carried out an in-depth study into energy consumption in Lesotho, following which a National Energy Master Plan was drawn up. The use of trees and shrubs, crop residues and dung as fuels was quantified on a national basis.

Lesotho Highlands Development Authority (LHDA) in collaboration with government line ministries has a responsibility for all natural resource management and development (including indigenous forests, trees, shrubs and afforestation) in the Katse and Mohale Catchments.

Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs)

At least 10 NGOs are now active in forestry field such as Care- Lesotho, Plenty, Lesotho Durham Link, Lesotho Red Cross, World Vision etc

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