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Extreme Weather events pose danger to agriculture in Lesotho

Liapeng Raliengoane

Lesotho- The recent extreme weather events which include heavy rains and strong winds are said to be posing problems of destroying standing crops and fruits as well as causing other impacts such as land degradation, infrastructure damage and food insecurity.

In an interview with a farmer, Reverend Motipi Ranthimo said his crops: potatoes, red cabbage and maize plants were affected by heavy rains, though not very much.  He said the reason crops are affected by heavy rains is because they need moisture but not too much water from rain which does not give the soil and crops a chance to breathe.

Rev. Ranthimo further indicated that the fruit trees which bear peaches in October, November and December were badly affected, to a point where the fruits were fell down. He said he has observed that the peach trees are extremely susceptible to soil flooding so they drop the fruits to try to survive as peach trees cannot tolerate no oxygen conditions due to flooding.

A Climate Ambassador Letsatsi Lekhooa defined extreme weather events as weather conditions that are below and above normal. With an example of heavy prolonged rains, too much sunlight, strong winds and above normal snowfalls.

Lekhooa also disclosed that these extreme weather events which affect crop production exacerbate Gender Based Violence (GBV) as theydisrupt food availability, reduce access to food and affect food quality thus leading families into violence when there is no provision of food on the table, which in most cases is expected to be done by women.

He emphasized “Land degradation is another challenge brought about by heavy rainfalls. During floods, when rains batter the earth’s surface where it has been degraded, most of the water flows into the water bodies and becomes surface run-off. This in turn leads to low retention of moisture in the soil which leads to droughts.”

Lesotho Climate Ambassador and SDG advocate-Leysatsi Lekhooa

Lekhooa opined that in order to reduce vulnerability from the extreme weather events, he recommends the intervention of the Government and the community to have and profile climate change experts and other stakeholders and implement a National Disaster Recovery Committee, a team that will be dealing with recoveries from climatic disasters.

Conservation Agriculture Expert Bereng Mokete said during heavy rains soil does not become workable and its structure can be seriously destroyed by compaction. In addition, he indicated that majority of farm tools are not muddy user friendly.

Mokete further said heavy rains impact crops on weeds competition as majority of the weed species tolerate heavy rains hence grow fast while the crops’ growth is retarded by heavy rains and weeds out-compete them.

“Plants need air, moisture and nutrients to survive which all are found in the soil pores. Too much rain closes the soil pores hence no air circulation and as a results roots don’t grow,” Mokete highlighted.

According to the Report of Climate Risk Country Profile on the Climate Related Hazards by the World Bank Group, Lesotho has a high degree of risk to natural hazards, including floods, drought, frost, strong winds, and heavy snowfall. Drought is a recurring hazard, which results in disasters for communities and the wider economy. Key impacted sectors include agriculture and livestock, water, tourism, and health. Impacts of extreme rainfall events on public and private infrastructure has resulted in costly repairs, road closures, limited or no access to electricity, and complete failures of sewage and storm water systems.

Temperature increases are affecting infrastructure sensitive to temperature extremes, such as roads. Rainfall and temperature changes are impacting agriculture and food security and extreme weather events are affecting tourism and livelihoods that depend on the sector and have caused human and livestock deaths, property damage, and loss of crops.

Natural hazards are exacerbated in many mountain areas in Lesotho and the country is particularly vulnerable as more than 70% of the population live in remote and ecologically fragile mountainous terrain. The country is also severely impacted by drought. While drought conditions are generally a common phenomenon of the climate in southern Africa, Lesotho has experienced increasingly frequent occurrences of drought in recent years.

The country’s worst dry spells were experienced in 2002/3, when 760,000 people were affected, as well as in 2006/7 when rainfall levels for the critical months of January to March in which 45% of the expected precipitation. For the months of December 2010 and January 2011, Lesotho saw unprecedented rains, floods and rock slides that destroyed crops, livestock and property. These events resulted in significant impact upon key economic sectors including agriculture, transport, health, and education, with total losses and damages estimated at 3.2% of the GDP.

Heaviest damages were sustained by the roads sector, livestock, education, and housing. Heaviest losses in production were sustained by crops, road transport, and commerce sectors. Extreme rainfall has resulted in soil erosion, land degradation, loss of ecosystems and ecosystem services, alien species invasion, salinization of groundwater, and flood trails containing pesticides and fertilizer.

More than 90% of disasters in Lesotho are related to climate variability and change, specifically, drought, snowfall, hailstorms, strong wind, localized floods, and early frost and pest infestations. Recent hailstorms, heavy rains, and flash floods in Lesotho have resulted in significant damage to houses, vehicles, roads, schools, and health centers as well as key crops, maize, beans, and sorghum.

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