“I survive on growing and selling potatoes to my communities where I normally get paid in cash or grains from those who do not have cash. My biggest challenge is access to markets.”

“I started to venture into enterprise-based livelihoods three years ago when I bought large white pigs with the aim of rearing and selling piglets. I have seen more challenges than success, the biggest being the 2019 drought when I sadly saw three of my six pigs die as I could not afford to feed them.”

These are some of the challenges faced by small farmers who are struggling to expand their subsistence farm-based livelihoods to commercial production levels. The farmers shared their experiences during the Lesotho Highlands Development Authority (LHDA) livelihoods options awareness public gatherings for project affected communities.

The public gatherings were attended by over 900 community members in the seven electoral divisions along the Polihali Western Access Corridor (Ha Mating, Liseleng, Phakoeng, Ha Seshote, Ha Nts’eli, Ha Ts’ehla, Mphorosane) and five electoral divisions within the project area in the Menoaneng Community Council in Mokhotlong district namely Maluba-lube, Tsoenene , Libibing, Ha Rafolatsane and Molalalana.

The LHDA conducted the public gatherings in partnership with the Smallholder Agricultural Development Project (SADP), Basotho Enterprise Development Corporation (BEDCO) and the Youth Employment Promotion Unit of the Ministry of Gender, Youth, Sports and Recreation.

“The strategic relationships that LHDA has established with stakeholder agencies in livelihood restoration and improvement demonstrate our commitment to mitigating the impacts of the Project and ensuring sustainability of initiatives beyond the construction period. Promoting linkages with relevant organisations in the quest to improve the livelihoods of the affected communities remains key to our objectives,” states LHDA CE, Tente Tente.

With its holistic community awareness approach the programme is targeting all ages and genders in the communities within Phase II of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project area including: the youth, aspiring and existing entrepreneurs and subsistence producers with potential for surplus production and commercialisation. 

The programme is aimed at raising awareness of a menu of viable livelihood options that can be undertaken by community members within the project area to move from subsistence production to commercializing their small livelihood generation activities. These options include on-farm activities such as: raising poultry and pigs, wool and mohair production and vegetable and fruit production and off-farm activities, for example; developing handcrafts businesses to promote the tourism industry and grocery stores. 

The partner institutions raised awareness about the support that they provide to small farmers and business owners. These include facilitating access to finance, markets and capacity building. 

“BEDCO provides training, capacity building and guidance in formulating business plans. We even have an incubation programme where we provide intensive guidance to the start-up or a developing business until it is able to stand on its own two feet. Over the years we have seen that businesses that are sustainable are those that use the locally available resources, tap into existing skills sets and serve the needs of their markets,” advises an official from BEDCO.

The SADP officials informed community members that participated at the awareness gatherings that the project offers access to innovative and sustainable solutions to overcome the challenges brought about by climate change and lack of funding by offering matching grants for farmers who want to expand or diversify agricultural production for commercial purposes.  The project which was established by the Lesotho government in collaboration with the World Bank and IFAD to generate employment in the farming and small business sectors is still to be launched in Mokhotlong in 2020.  An estimated 794 small businesses and farmers have been assisted under this programme when it was piloted in Maseru, Berea, Leribe, Mohale’shoek and Quthing districts since 2012. 

The councillor for Tsoenene Electroral Division within the Menoaneng community council, Mr Buang Mochaba, states: “Our people have established society groups to raise funds for small projects, others invest a lot of their money and energy into crop farming or livestock at a commercial scale but the challenge has always been establishing linkages with the markets.”

“We have an increased awareness of a number of livelihood activities which we had always thought were not feasible, the insights we got from the public gathering will help us to initiate appropriate projects,” ‘Malikhabiso Tlhabi said when speaking on behalf of the Libibing community at a public gathering held in the area on 19 March. 

Community members who expressed interest in implementing or improving their existing enterprise-based livelihood options were profiled at each public gathering.  This information will inform the design of the capacity building and support programme which LHDA will implement in collaboration with relevant stakeholder organisations.

The public gatherings around livelihood restoration activities are part of the community engagement that underpins the broader Phase II socio-economic development programme, which aims to assist affected communities to be better prepared for the changes and opportunities that the Project will bring. The programme covers financial literacy, skills training and demonstration projects; all intended to support, restore and improve the livelihoods of those impacted by the Lesotho Highlands Water Project.