erosion lesotho
A 52-year-old farmer in the village of Tebellong-Ha-Abisae near Qachaís Nek in Lesotho practicing conservation farming techniques. Photo: Pim Techamuanvivit/Flickr.

Lesotho seeks to renew outdated land degradation laws

Outdated land laws in Lesotho are threatening the country’s efforts to restore degraded lands and mitigate climate change’s impacts in the country.

To date the country still uses the obsolete Land Husbandry Act of 1969, a piece of legislation described as failing to respond to challenges the country faces due to climate change.

As a result, the country continues to experience extreme land degradation, especially in the southern parts of the country. Despite rehabilitation efforts the impacts outweigh the work put in.

The country has no all-encompassing national legislation directed to land degradation. Because of this lack of regulation, communities are free to abuse and misuse land and resources, as government officials cannot hold them accountable for their actions.

However, there might be hope as the country’s Ministry of Forestry, Range and Soil Conservation is currently working on a Range Resources Management Bill (2021), which when enacted will repeal the outdated Land Husbandry Act of 1969.

The forestry, range and soil conversation minister, Motlohi Maliehe, said that the Bill, that is currently being interrogated by parliament and will, among others, address issues surrounding protection and rehabilitation of range and wet lands.

“The absence of a land legislation has seen herd boys in the rural parts of the country starting unprescribed fires while communities practice unsustainable farming and exploit resources through illegal harvest,” the minister said.

Currently, land degradation is one of Lesotho’s main environmental challenges. Around 46.000 people were living in degraded land in 2010, which accounts to about 3% of the rural population, according to a UN report.

Degraded lands also reduce wool quality, the country’s main exportation product, and makes this industry country more vulnerable to climate change’s impacts.

At a global scale, land degradation is a major contributor to climate change and biodiversity loss. A report by the UN biodiversity panel says that by 2050, land degradation and climate change will reduce crop yields by an average of 10% globally, and up to 50% in certain regions.

Benefit for production

The new law is envisaged to empower efforts to rehabilitate the country’s land that has depleted due to climate change and land mismanagement. The enactment of the Range Resources Management Bill is also expected to promote the wool and mohair industry in Lesotho.

Rangelands provide primary feeding for most of Lesotho’s wool and mohair producers. The new legislation will seek to promote sustainable use of range land resources, in the manner that would preserve the ecological character of an area and benefit its people.

It will further protect rangeland against unprecedented issues such as unsustainable grazing, encroachment and exploitation or illegal harvesting of range resources. The bill will aim to increase the monitoring of the rangelands for illegal activities.

Protection of rangelands means the wool and mohair industry, already one of the leading commodity exports in Lesotho could produce even more quality fibre, as the rangelands provide primary feeding for wool and mohair producers.

With over 1.2 million sheep and 845 000 goats in Lesotho, there is potential to develop the industry, according to the 2019 statistics by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). Wool is already the leading commodity exported by Lesotho and mohair is the fifth largest.

The quality and quantity of wool and mohair are influenced by a number of factors, in particular animal nutrition, access to genetic material, animal health and livestock extension services. According to IFAD, on average, one sheep yields almost 3kg of wool, and in the case of mohair, one goat yields under 1kg of wool.

With the new legislation, production in the already lucrative industry could improve in the long run. Lesotho’s government initiated programs to increase the quality of wool and mohair with the Wool and Mohair Promotion (WAMPP) project.

The director of the WAMPP, Retšelisitsoe Khoalenyane, said that the new legislation could go a long way towards improving livestock production and management as well as helping producers to generate higher income.

“We go against low productivity of rangelands because it subsequently results in low production. So absence of proper laws is really a challenge in this day and age,” Khoalenyane said.

This story was originally published in Public Eye as part of our Restoring Africa’s Drylands Journalism Fellowship.