‘Maliako has been living off subsistence farming since her husband passed away at the mines in South Africa. Fortunately, she had received an insurance settlement with which she was able to build a house, educate her five children, and buy an incubator for chicks. ‘Maliako applied the knowledge she had inherited from her parents on the ways of nature and relied on it to nurture her gardens. She had a spring on her property so she enlisted the help of her two sons to fashion a homemade irrigation system using old pipes and bamboo. She also collected rainwater in barrel drums situated strategically near the homestead.
‘Maliako had assumed that incubating baby chicks would be less maintenance than growing chickens or tending livestock, she reasoned that there was guaranteed demand since so many people sold live chickens across the country. What she had not anticipated was that her lack of training would result in a high mortality rate of the chicks due to inconsistent temperatures caused by leakages in the tin-roof, along with storage issues like keeping eggs for too long before incubation. She abandoned the project and focused entirely on her vegetables. For many years, ‘Maliako had grown the staple crops of Lesotho: sorghum, wheat, maize, pumpkin, greens of all kinds including spinach, tomatoes and some fruit trees as well. She knew that she always yielded enough to prepare fresh produce during the season, preserve some for the winter months, and have enough left to sell to vendors.
Extreme weather conditions interfered with this norm and yields began to drop, pests became more persistent, and crop sizes came out smaller and smaller. Out of concern, ‘Maliako teamed up with the women in her village to form a cooperative in pursuit of collaborative problem-solving and ways to educate themselves on how to manage the circumstances. They went the extra step of enlisting the help of an NGO which equipped them with innovative strategies they could use. Grateful for resolution, the women began interventions immediately through initiatives such as keyhole and trench gardens and sheltering water-sensitive plants to avoid drowning during heavy rains. ‘Maliako herself opted to diversify her crops by including options such as lettuce, green peppers, plantain, eggplants, okra, and others which were in demand at restaurants and other catering establishments.
Not only did the change allow ‘Maliako to make more money with the added business, she also gained additional skills on how to care for her soil and choose seeds, cost-effective options for storing produce, as well as the advantage of a wider knowledge base between her and her collaborators. One age-old Basotho tradition the cooperative has gone back to is bartering. Instead of spending their money at supermarkets, the women voted that it was better to empower each other by trading among themselves. ‘Maliako continues to monitor the effects of climate change around her, however, she is feeling more confident that farmers like herself will adapt and even help to reverse the effects through better practices.