Peach blossoming in Lesotho
The white-edged black clouds embrace the craggy green tops of the Maluti Mountains with patches of blue sky in between them. The late afternoon setting sun gives a golden glow to this mountain panorama. This is the setting for my farewell to Lesotho. My two year placement with Phelisanong as part of Australia’s support of southern Africa is coming to an end. It has been the best of times with many memories to keep and stories to tell. It is hard to know where to start this farewell from somewhere on the road less travelled.
There are three parts to this story — the people, the landscape, and myself.
The people of Lesotho are very kind and supportive to strangers when they make an effort to communicate with them. This is very evident when using public transport which is an adventure in itself. They have a wicked sense of humour and have an optimistic attitude to life — an attitude that is needed in this country where events seldom go as planned or happen within western timelines. In the countries where Australian Volunteers International (AVI) volunteers are placed the limited government services rarely reach the rural population. And there can be very high levels of corruption in the government and the business sector. The AVI volunteers are simply amazing, giving two years of their lives to help improve the lives of others in often very difficult environments. The relationships formed between them tend to be very strong and can be long lasting. They support each other in the hard times which occur as part of living in a very different country and culture. This very high level of caring and sharing reflects their outstanding personal qualities. It is essential for their survival and for completing their placement in the country.
The landscape of Lesotho is simply stunning, featuring basalt and sandstone mountain ranges up to 3,500 metres. The Orange River is one of many which have carved deep valleys through the mountains over millions of years. The Lesotho Mountain ranges are a major watershed for Southern Africa. These ranges contained very high levels of natural bio-diversity and indigenous culture. The movement of people, agriculture and their livestock into the mountain ranges has had profound and severe negative environmental effects. The resulting soil erosion is on a massive and extensive level. It has been estimated that by 2040 there will be little if any arable soil remaining. Over 80% of the population depends on subsistence farming for survival and it contributes less then 10% of the country’s GNP. The far reaching poverty, hunger and malnutrition are directly linked with a much degraded environment. However despite currently being in dire straits it does have great permaculture design potential, having an abundance of human and natural resources.
My role in Lesotho’s Agriculture was to be that of a Permaculture Advisor and Trainer. The vision of Phelisanong, as a caring community for disadvantage children, includes the growing of food and fuel. An important part of this vision is the construction of a plant nursery. This has multiple functions — the propagation of vegetable, herbs and tree seedlings, seed collection and storage, and the training of horticultural skills. I have designed and constructed the plant nursery and garden centre with input from the staff of Phelisanong. The design and implementation of a permaculture system has been put on the back burner.
There is an opportunity for a permaculture designer take up the reins to design and implement a much needed permaculture design for Phelisanong. The plant nursery within the garden centre is the most suitable base to work from, and it can provide the thousands of plants needed for the site. There is the possibility of producing an income from the sale of surplus plants.
From the experience of my two years in the Maluti Mountains of Lesotho I have learnt how to overcome the many difficulties that occur in these distant fields. I find myself less critical of other people’s efforts and I have gained some acceptance of less than perfect results. My attitude to sustainable development in the less developed world has been influenced by my Lesotho experience. The AVI time period of two years is far too short to make a profound and lasting difference in agriculture. A more realistic time frame for such joint ventures is shown with the PRI farm in Jordan and Strawberry Fields Eco-lodge in Ethiopia.
Was this journey on the road to somewhere less travelled worthwhile? Are trees green?