Malisemelo battles climate change to feed her family in Lesotho

Wednesday, November 23, 2011 - 15:05
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Malisemelo Mosola struggles to feed her six dependants - a son, and five grandchildren, including an orphan. She is losing the battle against an ever deteriorating climate in the harsh conditions of mountainous Lesotho.

Malisemelo is a widow of 60, but isn't making any plans for retirement. She's head of the household responsible for feeding six others - her son, and five grandchildren, including one orphan.

Her biggest problem is the weather - there's been a disastrous crash in the harvests she gets. From eighteen 80kg sacks of maize, the yield has declined over the years, and in the last disastrous growing season she only got one sack. That's only enough to feed the family for two months. 

So she and her son have to take whatever casual work they can get to scrape by - she labours down the steep slopes to the stream near her village to do laundry for neighbours, and hopes to earn enough to feed the family for a day. It's an exhausting climb with the wet clothes back up the rough terrain in near gale force winds. If there isn't any work, she'll have to borrow food, and owe it to the next harvest.

A failed harvest also means no seed to grow this season, so she's had to borrow seed as well. The problem is that the rains haven't arrived and the ground is hard. In the mountains there's only a short growing season, so she can't delay planting but has little confidence in getting a decent harvest. Life seems a constant downward spiral for Malisemelo.

Her situation is typical of many poor farmers in the highlands of Lesotho - rain fed agriculture is failing, and there's barely any support to help people like her to adapt to this new situation.

There are solutions - there is potential for small community managed dams in the mountains to provide water for irrigation, for introducing new drought resistant crops, or varieties that will mature more quickly. But this needs investment and Lesotho is a poor country. 

The COP17 climate talks are taking place in Durban, little more than 100 miles away from Malisemelo's home. Will rich country negotiators realise the responsibility they have to reach a just climate deal, so that families like Malisemelo's can have some hope in the future?

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