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Lesotho rolls sleeves on climate change


…as parliament adopt soil and water conservation policy 2021

Mohloai Mpesi

The government of Lesotho through the Ministry of Forestry, Range Management and Soil Conservation tabled its National Soil and Water Conservation Policy before the National Assembly earlier this week.  

The soil and water policies among others, detail strategies to control soil erosion and land degradation through biological control measures, mechanical control measures and sustainable land management in croplands sustainable rangeland management.

It has further been indicated through the report that its other intended mandate is to stimulate climate smart agricultural water management with the objective to promote climate adaptive responses for agricultural water management and resilience of agricultural systems.

 Some of the strategies to be used embroil the mechanical soil and water conservation program for water harvesting and runoff control, development of surface and subsurface water resources and productive use of green and grey water resources. Climate smart production systems and water use efficiency, soil water retention and management, soil and surface water conservation.  

“To maintain natural water courses, wetlands and maximize rehabilitation of degraded water bodies, strategies Soil and water conservation extension and training, stream bank protection programs, wetland and stream protection program,” the report reads.

One of the key objectives outlined is to promote compliance with laws and regulations for Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) with the intention for coordinated and joint planning of land based development, joint monitoring of post development impacts of land based development as well as the enforcement of Integrated Catchment Management principles.   

It was noted Lesotho faces a serious problem of increasing environmental degradation with major factors in environmental degradation reducing soil cover due to poor agricultural practices and overgrazing, depletion of soil organic matter and gully formation mainly resulting from impacts of land based developments.

“These result in declining crop yields and rangeland carrying capacity, siltation of dams and streams, and impacts on biodiversity; that adversely affect the national socio-economic wellbeing and development,” the report reads.

 â€œThe land surface of Lesotho is characterised by ragged mountain terrain forming a landscape sequence from lowlands, foothills to mountains leading to excessive runoff. This comes as a result of long-term loss of natural vegetation, soil erosion caused by wind and/or water due to deterioration of the physical, chemical, and biological properties of the soil. All these are consequences of poor land use or from combination of processes including human infrastructural activities and settlement patterns. 

“In Lesotho, changes in land use and management practices accelerated soil erosion and have led to irrevocable land degradation, which is affecting the whole land surface from the lowlands to the mountains.  Soil erosion as a problem will not only impair the quality of land and water resources but will also harm agricultural production and socio-economic condition of farmers.

The report continues that, “Climate change projections make clear that changes in water availability, the timing and seasonality of precipitation, and warming, as well as the growing incidence and severity of floods and droughts, will require high levels of adaptive responses to address these issues so as to enhance the resilience of agricultural systems to produce enough food.  Better understanding of climate variability and extension of risk management approaches in agriculture to existing climate variability, can help build a more solid foundation for addressing climate change in the future.

It is detailed that approaches to water development in dry land areas include development of ground water resources through boreholes for domestic and productive uses, capturing more surface water in the soil, soil and water conservation, and water harvesting. It is said that development efforts in dry lands have focused on the construction of dams and irrigation schemes, as well as borehole construction to improve water supply mainly for agricultural production. However, these investments have not always achieved what was intended and have even had detrimental effects on the sustainability of both dry land and water management.

“Sustainably managed land and water resources can mean improved infiltration of water, reduced surface flow, and greater soil moisture, contributing to vegetation growth and cover, biodiversity, soil fertility and carbon sequestration in the dry land ecosystem itself, while recharging groundwater, increasing water flows downstream, providing safe drinking water, and in some cases reducing siltation of reservoirs can benefit consumers of water and of hydroelectric power.

Some of the approaches to revamp degraded lands as well as stopping soil erosion are under the Development of Climate Smart Soil and Water Conservation Strategies and Practices which are meant to reduce the effects of land use and management practices on accelerated soil erosion and land degradation on croplands.  

“This can be attained through the Climate smart cropping practices, Agricultural Water Management, Soil quality and health management, Intensification and agro-biodiversity management, Agroforestry, Biological and mechanical soil and water conservation    

“To reduce the effects of land use and management practices on accelerated soil erosion and land degradation on rangelands, Grazing management and control. While some of the aims is to reduce the effects of land use and management practices on accelerated soil erosion and degradation of water resources through Water harvesting, Rangeland management et al. 

The ministry continued in its report that some of their targets is to promote production through conservation of land and water resources for economic development and improvement of household incomes and food security through the Climate smart and productive cropping systems, Climate smart and productive livestock management and Productive landscape management.

 The report continues that Soil principles for climate change adaptation and mitigation and enhancing resilience can be accomplished through a well-tailored research on soil assessment as well as vegetation types.   

“Soil degradation and water shortage are among the major challenges facing farmers in Lesotho.   Agriculture and soil management practices play an important role in climate change mitigation, adaptation and crop production.  Soil is one of the major carbon sinks and improper soil management promotes global warming, reduces crop production and enhances loss of soil macro and micro biota. 

“Thus knowing the status and condition of soils and their properties is fundamental for making decisions about sustainable soil management practices that contribute to climate-smart land use. In this respect, it is crucial to carry out research on soil assessments and undertake the analysis and mapping of data and information through soil surveys.  Various conventional and digital mapping tools should be used to extrapolate the findings across a range of soil and terrain units, vegetation types, and/or agro-ecological zones. Ideally, soil information will be made available as continuous maps that emphasise soil’s attributes,” the report reads. 

“While soils store more carbon compared to both aquatic and vegetative terrestrial sinks combined, land degradation and poor soil management is associated with increased greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to the atmosphere hence enhancing climate change.  In turn climate change affects soils and water conservation and Lesotho, in particular, is highly vulnerable to the impact of climate change and the country has faced severe droughts and insufficient rainfall resulting into crop failure, poverty and food insecurity. The southern lowlands and Senqu River Valley is vulnerable to the impact of climate change, and the water and food sectors are negatively affected,” the report reads. 

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