NUL/wetlands awareness in Lesotho

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Location and Physical environment

Lesotho is a land-locked country within South Africa with an estimated population of about 2 million Fig 1. It is mainly mountainous and has a total area of 30,355 sq km. Less than 40% of the total land area has potential for crop production and the remaining 60% has varying potentials for livestock production (MOFA, 2004). The agricultural sector employs between 70-80% of the total labor force and over 50% of these are resource-poor rural households who engage on a small-scale farming primarily for subsistence purposes, the remaining are small-scale semi-commercial and commercial farmers (on both medium and large farms) (MOFA, 2004). Soil erosion and land degradation are major problems regardless of nature and scale of agriculture practiced in Lesotho. The intensification of agriculture in small land holdings in Lesotho has typically not been accompanied by sufficient inputs of nutrients through biological nitrogen fixation, organic materials and mineral fertilizers to match the outputs of nutrients through harvested products and losses. The result has been widespread soil degradation through processes such as mining of soil nutrients and depletion of soil fertility, soil erosion, accelerated acidification and desertification throughout the country. This continued degradation reduces the capacity to food security. As such, the population is thus trapped in a vicious cycle between land degradation and poverty, and the lack of resources and knowledge to generate adequate income and opportunities to overcome the degradation.

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Objectives of this article:

  1. Creation of awareness on the wetlands of Lesotho
  2. To develop xxxx

Definition of wetlands

Wetlands are lands that has a predominance of hydric soils; or is inundated or saturated by surface or ground water at a frequency and duration sufficient to support a prevalence of hydrophytic vegetation typically adapted for life in saturated soil conditions; and under normal circumstances does support a prevalence of such vegetation (RAMSAR, 2006).

Wetland Types in Lesotho

Lesotho is well endowed with wetlands of varying types. Of the five wetland systems found in Southern Africa (marine, estuarine, riverine, lacustrine and palustrine), three systems are found in Lesotho (Cowan, 19xx). However, in Lesotho, the predominant typology of wetlans palustrine, lacustrine and riverine systems.

  • The Palustrine system is dominant, thus making wetlands in Lesotho unique in their own right. In Southern Africa, Lesotho contains some of the unique wetland ecosystems, the majority of which are associated with drainage systems. The Palustrine system in Lesotho comprise of mires in the highlands region with high organic soils.

  • The Lacustrine system on the other hand comprise of artificial impoundments for water supply and soil conservation works. Added recently to the list are Katse and Mohale. Natural lakes have been drained by erosion but have been restored by building dams- Letsa-la-Letsie and Tsa-Kholo.

  • The Riverine system, mainly found along the river systems are generally small in Lesotho and localized.

Wetlands in Lesotho have a wide distribution Fig 2. Almost all the wetlands in Lesotho are in the high precipitation area of the mountain region, and are found in the headwaters of catchments and are origins of the major river systems. Wetlands are variable in size, ranging from several square meters to square kilometers. In terms of types, the wetlands of Lesotho can be classified into five main types, i.e. mires, marshes, artificial impoundments, natural lakes and rivers.

Characteristics of Wetlands of Lesotho

The wetlands of Lesotho are quite distinct both floristically and structurally from those found in other parts of the region. The soils and vegetation found in these wetlands is different from that found in the surrounding areas. The wetlands are distinguished from the surrounding areas due to a number of features they posses. Several attempts have been made at characterizing these wetlands (Ref ), however, these have been limited to on the vegetation and biodiversity in these wetlands. In order to bridge these gaps, attempts at characterizing the land - soils, hydrology, vegetation, climate and the socio-economic conditions of these wetlands is already in progress (Olaleye personal communications).

Importance of Wetlands

Wetland ecosystems that are healthy have several functions which includes:

  1. climate regulation - carbon cycling;
  2. Absorption of toxins;
  3. Flood control/erosion reduction;
  4. Genetic and biological diversity;
  5. Provide a critical refuge and breeding ground for many species ;
  6. It often often contains a high diversity of species ;
  7. Maintain groundwater levels ; and
  8. Play a large role in water purification (particularly in urban and agricultural areas)

In addition to all these, wetlands are important to our society as subjects of scientific research and educational initiatives as well as recreational activities(i.e. photography, birdwatching and art). They are also sources of peat, fish, wild rice species, and wild animals game animals. However, wetlands are already at risk, as their ecological, economic and socio-cultural value having not been fully appreciated (Cox and Campbell, 1997).

Wetlands are increasingly gaining global attention, bringing together any scientists from different disciplines to study these unique ecosystems. In Lesotho wetlands are important for livestock grazing. The problems related to wetlands management, in particular soil erosion, are related to over-grazing. Land degradation in upland areas is a major contributing factor to and result of increased conversion of wetlands to croplands. As the uplands in most countries become increasingly degraded and lose productivity, wetlands are being used to compensate for the losses in productivity (i.e., in places where uplands become so degraded that they are no longer usable). However, if the wetlands also become irreversibly degraded, there will be no other alternatives for food production and livelihoods sustenance. It is therefore important that the wetlands are managed in a sustainable way, such that a balance can be achieved. Optimal or sustainable use will ensure positive benefits for both smallholders and conservation of wetland environment.

Climate Change and Wetlands

What is Climate Change?

The term climate change creates different images to each one of us, depending on a variety of factors such as our geographic location and our lifestyle . There are however, a number of initiatives to define the issues and develop scenarios based on a variety of complex models and these includes: the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) - a panel jointly established in 1988 by the World Meteorological Organization and the United Nations Environment Programme.

The purpose of the IPCC is to:

  • Assess available scientific information on climate change,
  • Assess the environmental and socio-economic impacts of climate change,
  • Formulate response strategies.

Based on the years of research, the IPCC concludes that "human activities, which includes:

  1. The burning of fossil fuels,
  1. Land-use change and agriculture, which are increasing the atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases (which tend to warm the atmosphere) and,
  1. Increase in aerosols concentrations (i.e. these are microscopic airborne particles,which tend to cool the atmosphere).

These are all projected to change regional and global climate and climate related parameters such as temperature, precipitation, soil moisture and sea level."

What are the effect of climate change on the wetlands of Lesotho?

Soil Chemistry and Wetlands


Alternating changes in drying and wetting in wetlands results in oxidation and reduction processes in oxide clay soils. These soils are characterized by reddish/yellowish mottled color resulting from some oxidized, dehydrated Fe oxide during drying and oxidized, hydrated Fe oxides during wet conditions. Wetland soil that are continously submerged have grayish color due to presence of reduced and hydrated oxides.

Chemical reactions in wetland soils

Fe and Mn solubility

Due to limitation of soluble oxygen in water saturated soils there is reduction of Fe/Mn oxides, which leads to solubility of these oxide compounds, increasing the concentration of Fe3+/2+ and Mn2+. This may lead to micronutrient toxicity, hence reduction of the soil productivity.

Phosphorus fixation

Phosphorus is fixed by the precipitation with Fe3+/2+ into very less soluble precipitates. This leads to P deficiency in these type of soils. Again, the freshly formed Fe-oxides which are a result of repeated oxidation - reduction processes, tend to fix phosphorus more than the aged precipitates. Thus, P retention is more pronounced in wetlands than in dry soils.

Environmental Law and Wetlands

Meaning and Significance in the context of Lesotho

Wetlands are key sources of water, pasture and livelihoods of large sections of the community anywhere. Importance of wetlands has over a long time been obscured by negative impressions associated with water-originated breeding pool of vectors for spreading diseaes like malaria and blind sickness and danger to livestock. Without undermining the importance of taking care of this problem, this older view of stereotyping wetlands as the source of disease, new realisation has dawned on the minds of the stakeholders about positive benefits derived from wetland systems such as biodiversity, provision of utility plants and water purification.The approach to convert the threat into opportunity now looms large on the mind's horizon of humanity at large. The growing creative and contructive role of local authorities in this new scenario is a welcome sign since it is important to dispel the old practices connected to wetland creating problems attributable to herders and poor governance. The greater involvement and participation of local actors in ratification, development of management plans and their implementation as collaborative effort with Department of Water Affairs, educational efforts concerning local authorities and livestock herders are sine qua non for any plan to succeed. Lesotho is part of RAMSAR and there is extensive bogs and spongelands in high rainfall area in the mountains which need the shades of protective umbrella of law.

1.1Core and Critical Issues

The major issues raised include, awareness of wetland ecosystems and their value and benefits, initiatives undertaken at national and local level to address wetland problems, policies that are in place to assist wetland management and compilation of a catalogue of strengths and weakness on the ground.

Understandably,there is an appreciable level of hieghtened general awareness of the wetlands ecosystem benefits but specific sections of the community are at different levels of awareness and needs to be strengthened and supported with well managed structures at all levels with a certain sense of synchronisation.

Changes in attitudes to wetland resources and uses particularly, the cultural ones seem to be on the decline especially among youth. However,continuous effort to increase education,awareness and level of knowledge of wetlands among the users on regular fashion, so as to ensure sustainability. Educational efforts that have been initiated so far seem to have had impacted marginally. This entails to the need for intensive research and development of appropriate strategies and methodologies to ensure constancy of awareness built into the day-to-day activities and life of the communities and stakeholders.

Policies and legislation regulating wetland issues are generally weak in Lesotho, outdated and often-in conflict. There is need to harmonise these and strengthen their enforcement. One of the issues that has to be emphasized and accented is the poor governance relating to these resources held in common. New Initiatives should be designed to address wetlands issues that are many and complex but still requiring harmonisation and proper coordination in order to harvest optimal benefits.

Paradigm Shift in New Policy

New Policy need to embrace wetlands functions of storage, and purification of water storms, as sources of food, water, utility products, as well as places for recreation, and medium of transport. The ranges of wetland types that occur in southern Africa are wide and includes- sponges, swamps, and springs, rivers, flood plains and natural and artificial lakes. These systems support livelihood of communities in a variety of ways and contribute to national economies in general.

Legal Framework and National Commitment for protection of Wetlands

Commitment of the Government of the Kingdom of Lesotho to support of and involvement in environmental issues especially the wetlands is beyond doubt. This is shown by Lesotho's accession to relevant treaties and accords both at global and regional level, e.g. accession to RAMSAR, participation in SADC initiatives the choice of unique wetland sites in the region in [Okavango delta in Botswana, Dambos in Zimbabwe, Etosha pan in Namibia, Ngorongoro Basin in Tanzania and Alpine Wetlands in Lesotho] and the setting up of the Wetland Unit within the Department of Water Affairs.

The role of wetlands in the cultural heritage of Lesotho through inspiration to creative writing, poetry and music composition extolling the richness of flora and fauna exhibited by wetland systems; - "wetlands provide us with the answers to where we are, where we come from and where we are headed historically, lest place names derived from these become empty myths".But specific legislation covering and extending protection of wetlands for long term benefit is still to see the light of the day.

Need for Data Bank

Dependence of sustained river flows and clean water on wetland functions - the water crises currently facing the region points to the importance of well managed wetland systems as most of our rivers have wetlands as their sources.

Accurate and up to date water resources assessment in terms of both quality and quantity (insufficient data exists on this and needs update);

  • protection of water resources and aquatic systems,
  • reduction of pollution and proper management of waste,
  • improvement of sanitation system particularly in rural areas which currently endanger water quality;
  • integration of stakeholders in the planning and development of water related policies.

Among the major threats facing water resources and sustainable food production were mentioned drought and impacts of climate change.

Community Participation in Wetlands Management

The major and prime mover interest in bringing about changes in the wetland management had been the interest and commitment towards sustainable resource use for the benefit of the community.

The Strategy

Management Plan for Lesotho Should be a participatory process, which very much involves all stakeholders including local community. The process Includes :

i. Involvement of local villagers in afforestation through incentive systems;

ii. Providing access of local villagers to non-commercial farming practices such as , livestock grazing, duck keeping, grass and reed collecting;

iii. Establishing regulations to limit excessive use of these natural resources (based on consensus within the community, rather than on imposition of levies or threats);

iv. Community development projects, to improve health and alleviate rural poverty;

v. Restoration of the natural environment (e.g. replanting of swamp forest and reed beds, and re-stocking of fish); and

vi. Clear-cut roles for monitoring and implementation.

The implementation of the plan in its short and medium term horizon of around five years, will pave the way for the envisaged long-term option of community-based management.Islam, MA(1998) The rationale-which has been generally accepted world-wide-is that local communities are likely to be the best caretakers of the environment, as it is primarily in their own interest to manage these resources sustainable.


The trade-off for the local community is that they will regain access to natural resources and benefit from a poverty-alleviation programme, in return for which they have to abide by regulations for proper resource use,(Wetland) The Development NGO and the Local Community are to jointly formulate a "Development Plan" for the communities, aimed at poverty alleviation. Poverty alleviation will be achieved to some degree by involving local fishermen in the commercial fisheries, restoring access to other wetland resources, and by establishing village fuelwood and timber plots. In addition, the programme should include the establishing of fishponds, replanting of species , construction of latrines and tubewells (at least one per village), vocational training, and provision of low-interest or interest-free loans.

Without monitoring, the Management Plan stands little hope of success. sets clear targets, where possible, such as hectares of percentages, plus target dates, which are verifiable indicators of achievement. Apart from the Local Community , the following stakeholders are recognised as being principle actors in ensuring participation:

Ministry of Environment, which is to be responsible for overall implementation of the Management Plan taking initiatives to ensure implementation by involving other ministries, and selecting suitable NGOs for assisting implementation. . National Environment NGO, which is to be involved for developing resource use guidelines, monitoring of wildlife, training of FD field staff, and awareness campaigns. National Development NGO, which is to be responsible for monitoring of socio-economic activities, developing resource use guidelines, and the poverty-alleviation programme (Development Programme). International Environmental NGO, which is to perform external monitoring and evaluation.