Climate Change, COVID- 19 double impact on farmers

Climate Change, COVID- 19 double impact on farmers

Date: July 15, 2020
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By Majara Molupe,

Maseru, 13 July: The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) says farmers in Lesotho have to cope with drought, rising temperatures and more frequent extreme weather events.

As the changing climate forces more people to migrate, new conflicts are being triggered.

Small – scale farmers feel more pinch of the changing climatic conditions because in most cases they cannot afford hybrids that can assist them produce food without any hassle.

With the deadly combination of successive droughts and the economic impact of the COVID- 19 pandemic, the consequences have become unbearable.

Farmers suffer consequences of the ecosystems that have been pushed to their limits by over-cultivation, overgrazing, and over-harvesting, as communities are forced to adopt measures that push the land beyond its capacity.

Lethoba Lets’ela, 77, from Leribe Ha Patlo on the northern part of the country has a story to share.

Over the years, Lets’ela, a small scale farmer, says  life has been devastated because of the COVID- 19 pandemic that has impacted negatively on the global economy.

He says he has been planting vegetables especially cabbage for sale as a source of living for his family from his small plot of land.

The cow manure was added to the land to make it more nourishing.

Because he produces in large quantities, this has opened a good market for him to the people who have won a tender to feed pupils at primary schools under Free Primary Education which was established by the government in 2000.

Lets’ela  was already struggling to plant the vegetables because he had to depend on rain-fed agriculture to produce.

Of late,production has decreased significantly because of unreliable rainfall patterns triggered by the climate change.

Lets’ela  soldiered on because he knew for sure that he had to live and be able to provide square meal for his children.

So when the COVID- 19 struck and Lesotho joined rest of the world to go for a total shut down, the schools were shut down.

That implied that he had to grapple with biting economic conditions.

“The schools were shut down and I had no one to produce for on a large scale,” he says.

He had to face a reality of life- poverty.

It has been difficult for him to cope with double challenges of climate change and the catastrophic pandemic.

The COVID- 19 restrictions frustrated his plans and brought everything to a standstill.

Lesotho was already struggling to produce enough for the people even before the COVID- 19 pandemic.

It already had problems related to economic and climate shocks and this has been exacerbated by the COVID- 19.

“At least if the schools were still open, I would go to South Africa to buy the vegetables so that life still goes on,” Lets’ela says.

“So the borders are closed. There is no movement across the borders,” he says with a sore heart.

Lets’ela says life is now caught between the rock and the hard place.

‘Mamatale Ntoa another farmer says her husband was locked  down in South Africa because of COVID- 19 global pandemic.

Ntoa says her husband used to send her some so that she could buy good seeds as advised by agriculture experts.

Good seeds are encouraged by the Ministry of Agriculture as another strategy to fight Climate change.

Now,  Ntoa’s husband failed to send her money for winter cropping because he is not employed.
And no remittances he has sent back home.

It is time to plant wheat and peas in Lesotho. It is a norm for Ntoa’s family to plant peas during this time so that they could sell to the street vendors who in turn sell to people in small quantities in town.

Since she is used to farming, Ntoa says she tried to do the planting but at this time around using just ordinary seed.

It has poorly germinated because there are no rains.

But if l had money to buy good seeds, we would be talking a different story, Ntoa says.

She says the good seeds are able to withstand drought triggered  by the climate change.

“I am now facing financial loss because there will be  nothing to sell this year,” Ntoa says.

Former Lesotho Prime Minister Thomas Thabane said the government has established a relief fund for M100 000 000 to assist farmers stay afloat during this difficult time.

The money, Thabane said, would help farmers to get agricultural subsidies to increase food production and nutrition situation and household food security whilst maintaining the right level of grain reserves.

Lets’ela says he was hoping they would get a share of the cake as the small farmers.

“We have been waiting to see this happens,” he says.

He says for years, he has been able to penetrate through Lesotho’s legendarily tough business climate but the COVID- 19 has thrown spanners to his plan.

There are mounting concerns that multi-dimensional impacts of the coronavirus pandemic in Lesotho could lead to a “hunger pandemic” if not addressed with urgency.

Street vendors who also used to buy the vegetables from Lets’ela’ s farm were also ordered to stay at home to save their lives.

That spelt more woes for Lets’ela.

The UNDP  collaborated with the government to help farmers adapt, and become more resilient, with innovative programmes aimed at transforming the way they plant crops, raise livestock, and manage their natural resources.

Lesotho Vulnerable Assessment Committee (LVAC) 2019 report shows that the majority of households in the country are struggling with a serious deficit of food and other basic items.

The report reveals that 349 000 people were facing acute food insecurity between May and September 2019.

The COVID- 19 has worsened the already fragile food insecurity.

World Food Programme (WFP) Country Director Mary Njoroge says the UN food agency came to the help of the community following a request from the government.

She says their aim is to achieve Goal 2 of Sustainable Development- zero hunger.

She says since 2001 Lesotho has been affected by different shocks but drought was the most frequent one.

Njoroge says this is the third consecutive year in which Lesotho has experienced poor harvest.

But she says people have to recognise that climate change is here to stay.

She says people have to understand that the climate change affects their livelihoods and they have to come with ways to adjust, adapt and adopt new ways of doing things.

Njoroge says food is the basic human right.

Majara Molupe, is a journalist from Lesotho

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