Feature Story

Restoring landscapes for a greener future in Lesotho

May 13, 2021

Drakensberg mountains landscape
A new initiative supported by the GEF, IFAD, and the OPEC Fund aims to tackle unsustainable agricultural practices and the impact of climate change at both the community and landscape level in Lesotho. Photo: Radzimy/Shutterstock

The Global Environment Facility’s latest work program, approved by the GEF Council in December 2020, includes a series of projects designed to help countries protect and regenerate nature amid the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. This is one of these projects. For details on the Council proceedings, please click here.

Lesotho, a landlocked country located within South Africa, is investing in improved land use as a tool to build a greener and more prosperous post-pandemic future.

In recent years, unsustainable land management and pressure from a growing rural population has strained output from the limited arable land that exists in the small, high-altitude kingdom. More than three-quarters of Lesotho’s 2 million people live in rural areas, and 70 percent of households are wholly or partially dependent on agriculture for their livelihoods.

The low availability of land and the large share of population depending on it for subsistence are driving factors for overgrazing by livestock, over-cultivation, and other damaging practices such as the burning of rangelands. The effects of climate change have added to these strains, compounding damage to Lesotho’s landscapes. Soil erosion in rural areas has accelerated, wetlands have been lost, water retention capacity in the land has been reduced, and pests are on the rise.

To address these challenges and bolster landscape restoration and food security in the country, the Global Environment Facility is providing financing for a new Government of Lesotho initiative designed to tackle unsustainable agricultural practices and the impact of climate change at both the community and landscape level. The Lesotho Regeneration of Landscapes and Livelihoods (ROLL) project is also supported by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), and the OPEC Fund for International Development (OPEC Fund).

This project will support an integrated landscape approach to promote the sustainable land management and large-scale restoration of Lesotho’s natural resources, aiming to address both rural poverty and environmental degradation which can interact and together result in a downward spiral.

It will support more sustainable management of both natural and productive lands, using tools and methods that can improve the monitoring and measurement of biophysical and socioeconomic change, and promote the sharing of lessons and successes among and between communities.

Stanley Damane, Lesotho’s Operational Focal Point to the GEF, said he expected the ROLL project would make a meaningful long-term difference in the country, where wool and mohair are important exports that are primarily produced by smallholder farmers.

“The ROLL project importantly builds on lessons learnt in natural resources management and restoration activities. Its focus on capacitating local communities and ensuring a shift in mindset for appreciation of the value of natural resources and integrated planning are key factors for success,” he said. “The implementation approaches will be crucial to demonstrating multiple benefits for the different actors so communities will be able to continue with the regeneration activities after the project ends.” 

ROLL will have two interlinked parts: a facility to support coalitions of local groups and decision-makers to engage in landscape regeneration efforts, and a regeneration opportunities fund to invest in activities that have benefits for both the environment and the rural Basotho people.

Ultimately, the initiative aims to restore and bring 350,000 hectares of land under improved management, an achievement that would help the country meet more than half of its 600,000 hectare land degradation neutrality target under the UN Convention to Combat Desertification.

Philipp Baumgartner, IFAD Country Director for Lesotho, Namibia, and Botswana, stressed the importance of the project for the health of Lesotho’s agricultural lands, nature, and its water resources, which are among the most abundant in Southern Africa.

“By setting up a sustainable, innovative financing mechanism to channel investments in degraded landscapes to equally improve livelihoods and biophysical dimensions, ROLL will bring lasting change to Lesotho and strengthen its capacity as a water tower of Southern Africa.”