Lesotho update: A dream comes true for farming families

By Andrew Newmarch, Portfolio Manager, Africa team

Agriculture is one of the main sources of income in the Maphutseng district of Lesotho, where many Australians sponsor children.

The terrain is really difficult. The mountains on the side of the sweeping valleys are sometimes quite majestic but their grandeur distracts from the devastation of the rains that flow rapidly down the hillsides and gouge out the plains.

One of the main challenges for the community is water for agriculture. Most farmers rely on rain-fed agriculture which means if the rains don’t come, or they come at a different time, or they come but with more or less intensity than usual, then these farmers lose out and are more vulnerable than usual. Back in July 2013, I visited a group of farmers who, with World Vision help, had “capped” a natural spring. This is a method of capturing the water from a spring and collecting it in a tank. The tank is often above the area to be serviced so that gravity can propel the water flow.

The group of farmers had dreams of what might be achieved on their land. They talked of fruit trees and vegetables and markets. It was the kind of discussion that we have heard so often, where optimism abounds but reality sometimes comes along and undermines the dream.

You cannot imagine my delight on a recent visit to Lesotho to see the change to this piece of land. The farmers’ dream was alive. The area had fruit trees growing on it; a greenhouse and vegetable garden as well as a chicken house.
How had all this come about? One of the strategies that World Vision has used is the group strategy. There are 21 members in this group and they have all worked together and supported each other and combined their labour, income and resources. They have learned how to collaborate and manage responsibilities and they have worked closely with the Department of Agriculture who have provided advice through their extension workers.

Was it really as good as it looked? I learned that it had not all been plain sailing. Firstly, there had been drought and the spring had dried up a little. Despite that, the group was planning to mitigate future droughts by building a small dam near another spring further away over the hill. They would then run a pipe from that dam to their plants. Secondly, the orchard was not growing as well as it could. It needed more management and care. It is also probable that more quality control needed to be conducted with the fruit, especially if they were going to be sold. On the other hand the greenhouse was doing well. It meant that summer crops could still be grown in winter, they could control the rain and could protect the crops from the wind. There were drip irrigation systems in place which provided an efficient use of water.

The group had branched out into chicken farming as well. They were selling to individual buyers and purchasing chickens for their own use. They were beginning to look at possible markets in a nearby town with institutions such as the prison, schools, hotels and clinics. However, they recognised that to be really competitive with the chickens coming across the border from South Africa, they needed a freezer so they could slaughter their own chickens and have them ready for the market when needed. That leads to an extension of the dream which is to electrify the chicken house.

This project has shown me that we can contribute to positive change. The signs are good that the initiatives taken so far will be sustainable; indeed, another poultry project nearby in another part of the project area is virtually independent of World Vision now. Perhaps the last word should go to Ntate Maphate, the local World Vision driver who gets to see perhaps more than almost anyone: “This is the best project I have seen.”