Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security, Sectoral issues and interventions
1. How does climate change affect your sector?
The two determinants of the impact of climate change in Lesotho are the degree of exposure to climate change stresses and the underlying sensitivity of the natural and social systems. Exposure includes climate variability both within and between years, the frequency, magnitude and duration of extreme climate events (draught, floods, frost, hail storm, winds, heat waves, cold snaps), and long term climate change (rising temperatures, changing rainfall regimes FAO, 2011). The impacts on land-based economic activities and associated livelihoods are usually significant, through effects on critical natural resource such as soil and water. Drought is a frequent scenery in the temperate climatic zones including Lesotho, especially in winter and spring when the level of precipitation decreases. Several studies revealed that in dry soils, the activities of soil microorganisms decreases tremendously, and as a consequence, soil biology is further reduced.
The suboptimal, spatial and erratic distribution of rainfall and recurring droughts and rising temperatures experienced in the southern lowlands and highlands further reduces available soil moisture during times of inadequate rainfall. The high proportions of high altitude rangeland, thin and highly erodible soils of varying fertility, make the country particularly sensitive to climatic events. Longer dry spells punctuated by heavy rainfall events have disastrous consequences for the escalation of soil erosion.
Degraded soils have poor infiltration capacity and the resulting run off, particularly during heavy rain that wash away with vast amounts of nutrients and organic matter rich top soil. Recharge to ground water diminishes and the excess surface water causes flooding, as a result reduces availability of safe water for people, home gardens, and livestock. Land degradation has seriously reduced the productive capacity of Lesotho’s croplands and rangelands. In terms of crop production, changing climatic conditions are associated with stress factors resulting in annual yield losses. Change in climate has encouraged growth of and multiplication of new disease, insect and weed pests. Continued and likely escalating soil degradation would hamstring performance of rangelands to support livestock species utilizing range resources, by reducing composition and amount of forage. Extreme temperature ranges affect livestock feed intake, which will in turn result in lower productivity. Efforts to improve production efficiencies and total production in the face of climate change impacts are a serious challenge (FAO, 2009c). The negative impact of climate change on crop production includes that of drought which has promoted crop diversification so as to minimize the risk of harvest failure (many varieties of crops with differing susceptibilities to droughts, floods, pest etc. are grown). Additionally, the maximal yield can be achieved only when the density of a crop population is optimal.
However the positive side of climate change lies in the fact that it brings about production of crops on areas that did not grow before, and hence affects the sector in a positive way. On the other hand, climate change brings about high concentration of carbon dioxide, hence higher crop production as crops need more CO2 for higher productivity. Various factors are required for plant growth irrespective of climate change e.g. light, Co2, water and mineral nutrients. The highest yield can only be achieved if all these factors are provided at the optimal levels. In farming situation, interactions between mineral nutrients and environmental factors are very important. Under field conditions, the interactions, between water availability and nitrogen supply is of particular importance. Example: large supply of nitrogen in combination with low soil moisture causes the depression of yield in maize, particularly in Lesotho where maize is a staple crop.
2. What can be done to adapt to climate change?
It is clear that in order to adapt to climate change, Basotho need to view their resources (soil and water) management practices differently, and start conserving them for the future generations. As they do that, they need to introduce improved production system which will; (i) reduce and reverse soil loss; (ii) improve soil chemical, physical and biological properties; (iii) increase water infiltration and reduce evaporation from the soil and (iv)protect vast and degraded watershed particularly in the mountain areas.
The answer to the above challenges is Conservation agriculture (CA) which opposed to conventional way of production has three principles; (i) minimal soil disturbances; (ii) permanent soil cover and (iii) crop rotations and associated practices. Through CA soil and moisture are conserved by not disturbing the soil. Crop residues on the soil surface facilitate water infiltration while suppressing weeds at the same time. Organic matter buildup improve soil fertility, thus enhancing sustainable agricultural production reduces inputs costs.
- Adaptation is needed to build resilience to multiple stresses, and that it should be focused on the most vulnerable people. Researches in breeding crop varieties and livestock breeds which will do well under wide range of temperatures are highly encouraged. Supplemental irrigation is the only strategy that farmers can minimize the impact of climate change. Soil and water conservation should be prioritized and advocated for in farming communities. Fallow and conservation tillage, water harvesting and temporal diversification are best strategies to adopt by farmers. Crop growth ceases at temperatures: Heat stress above 300C, cold stress below -20C and high rainfall. Production of crops that can tolerate water-logging situations as well as those that will cope under drought conditions can be grown.
- Protection of water bodies, wetlands and management of forests and rangelands for purpose of irrigation
- Promotion of specific coping strategies to extreme variations of weather
- More crops on land to utilize carbon dioxide
3. What are the current activities undertaken to deal with climate change in your sector?
For the country like Lesotho, the focus is primarily on adaptation to address immediate needs. In the long- term CA can bring synergistic agricultural adaptation and mitigation benefits (FAO, 2009d). Currently the department of agricultural research individually and with its development partners, is engaged in promotion of conservation agriculture as adaptation strategy to climate change. This the department achieves through extension officers and farmers training workshops and demonstrations. With demonstrations farmers provide their fields and the department demonstrates CA, and curry out regular monitoring at the same time advising the farmer on maintenance practices till harvesting.
- Conservation agriculture practices where no ploughing, no burning of residues and source of mulch for crop from last season’s crop residue or grass are encouraged. Farmers have a tendency of using crop residue from last season’s harvest for firewood. Planting date is another strategy used to mitigate climate change. furthermore; row spacing is also one crucial strategy in place. Farmers are encouraged to use less between row spacing in order to minimize moisture loss. Research findings have recommended a between row spacing of 90 cm in dry areas such as Lesotho. The following are some of the strategies undertaken to cope with climate change.
- Production of drought tolerant crop varieties
- Crop rotation and use of legume intercrop as a nitrogen source
- Conservation of genetic resources of traditional crops and livestock
- Timely planting and timely operations
4. What has already been completed?
In Lesotho, good results have been attained in some parts of the country with manual Conservation Agricultural (CA) using likoti (planting basins) (Silici et al., 2007). At the present moment, the Department of Agricultural Research is working on organic matter aclimate changeumulation under conservation agriculture. Initially, the study was intended to investigate moisture content regimes and soil physical properties, but that part could not be covered due to financial constraints. The study is still at an infant stage because it is in the second season this financial year. However, the preliminary results show no significant difference from the baseline, which is not surprising because the impacts of CA are mostly realized during the third and fourth season.
- Research is still on-going regarding appropriate species adaptation. Conservation agriculture is still at its infancy in Lesotho due to farming implements. CA requires special implements some of which are not available in Lesotho; hence the technology is not widespread. However, more demonstrations are conducted at districts level. Maize planted on 15 November under CA with good nutrient status, good stand and good weed management gives a better yield compared to conventional ploughing.
5. What are the future plans to address climate change?
Future plans are to have all these variables of the study covered and this would help the department to be in a better position to advice the Ministry accordingly because it would have collected as much data to back it.
- Upscaling of Conservation Agriculture is expected to prove to be the best practice in this era of climate change because it encourages minimal use of fertilizers which in turn may promote growth of organic matter accumulation. However, Weed control is one of the critical factors as weeds scavenge fertilizer faster than the crop, hence promotes competition between the crop and weed. In addition, CA allows for minimal disturbance of soil surface, and hence reduces the impact of raindrop to the soil.
- Increasing area under fodder production so as to utilize more CO2 and conservation of moisture.
- Breeding of crops varieties that are tolerant to varying climatic conditions including pest and diseases
- Planting more trees and re-seeding of pastures to minimize soil erosion and moisture loss
- Inventory of the existing local/traditional varieties and breeds
- Environmentally friendly and energy saving irrigation systems