By: Thandiwe Kubere

The Lesotho Highlands Development Authority (LHDA) in collaboration with the Department of Environment, held an Integrated Catchment Management (ICM) workshop for Mokhotlong Community leaders, to jointly protect Lesotho’s wetlands and preserve endangered plants and animals only found in the country. The event took place at Thaba-Bosiu Cultural Village, Maseru.

The workshop was attended by members from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, Principal Chiefs from Mokhotlong, Leribe and Thaba-Tseka, the Parliament Portfolio Committee on Natural Resources and Senior Officials from the department of Environment and LHDA.

The LHDA through the ICM, is implementing initiatives aimed at conserving wetlands within the Polihali and other Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP) catchments. The day workshop was intended to sensitize stakeholders on the adverse degradation of the wetlands in the highlands of Lesotho. According to LHDA, studies and field assessments reveal that the wetlands are characterized by decomposition resulting in loss of peat and soil erosion forming gullies and they are losing their water storage function due to unsustainable land use practices. Another challenge faced is the drastic changes in climate conditions.

Wetlands are key for water delivery in the Katse and Polihali catchments, concentrated on the head waters of the Motete, Khubelu, Senqu, Sehonghong, Mokhotlong and Moremoholo Rivers like many others across the country are suffering a similar fate.  These wetlands are found within the area that was proposed for establishment of the protected area by the Maloti-Drakensberg Trans frontier Project (MDTP) as it is a biodiversity hotspot.

LHDA Environment Manager Palesa Monongoaha, explained that the wetlands are ecosystems characterized by the presence of water, either permanently or seasonally. Wetlands are characterized by the accumulation of peat, a type of organic soil made up of partially decayed plant material. She further declared the LHDA deemed it wise to hold a workshop because it had been concerned by the deterioration of wetlands, which are seemingly in danger because of misuse and not being handled with the care they need.

Therefore, the workshop held was to seek ways and find strategies of protecting the wetlands, which hold great importance in the country. Some of the activities which endanger the wetlands are that the increasing number of livestock which graze on the wetlands exceed the carrying capacity, there is lack of understanding and stakeholders participation which leads to inadequate rest for grazing areas, and therefore resulting in overgrazing, there is also inadequate investment in educating headers, so this causes inappropriate grazing practices like trampling wetlands.

The proposed actions by the communities to protect wetlands include; using carrying capacity to inform stocking rates, ensuring better resting of grazing areas, improving permitting system for use of grazing areas, limiting the number of livestock that can be owned by each household, creating grazing association boundaries, sensitizing livestock owners and shepherds on safe practices for protecting wetlands and their significance.

Moreover, the proposed action for law enforcement & self-determination are to increase impoundment fees and fines on those who endanger wetlands, court proceedings over impoundment of animals need to move faster, demarcating areas for different regions or grazing associations so that each can manage and take responsibility of their areas, revamping grazing associations and assigning grazing areas, as well as excluding outsiders from grazing areas, limiting mining and other activities that pollute water resources. It was also proposed that government departments work alongside each other to align objectives.

For ensuring wetlands protection, the suggestions made were to establish a protected area, fencing wetlands to keep livestock out, banning cattle posts from setting up close to wetlands and setting up water points away from wetlands to prevent trampling.

While the LHDA, NGO’s, development partners, local authorities and conservation associations are designing and implementing appropriate restorations interventions to improve the condition of the wetlands, more efforts are required in ensuring that these mitigations are sustainable. LHDA declared it was through this workshop it sought the support and guidance of the Department of Environment, legislators and key stakeholders in implementing more interventions to protect the wetlands against soil erosion, compaction and further loss of their functionality.

Therefore, the LHDA ICM programme is implemented in collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, local community authorities, conservation associations and other partners. The ICM interventions were said to focus on promoting sustainable land resources management for high-water quality production and forage for improvement of Project communities’ livelihoods. Activities under the programme include wetlands rehabilitations, soil erosion control, biodiversity management and alternative livelihoods initiatives.

From LHDA Department of Environment Bataung Mokhele, declared that another purpose was to deliberate on increasing the number of animals and plants reservation areas, like Sehlabathebe National Park. He further introduced the already running project of the Maluti Drakensburg Transfrontier Program (MDTP), which approximately supplies 1.5 million people with water. The MPDP conservation area mostly affects South Africa and Lesotho, so there was an agreement that water would be preserved to supply both the countries. The agreement further required that water running in the Senqu River be respectively shared so that there is peace and stability in the environment. “When we do not preserve the environment we live in, this water, which we call or white diamond, its purity will get depleted and once that happens, all the benefits we reap will run out and that will result in non-ending problems”, he said. He noted that to try and prevent that from happening, LHDA built dams and power channels for generating electricity.

The MDTP began mostly affecting the five districts in Lesotho being; Butha-Buthe, Leribe, Mokhotlong, Qacha and Quthing. The objective of the MDTP was to improve the wellbeing of citizens, preserve the environment and reserve water, as well as to ensure that natural resources are sustainable. He mentioned that the MDTP currently supplies more than 25% of water needs for South Africa’s Economic Hub and generates all of Lesotho’s power requirements.