The Government of Lesotho (GOL) has been concerned about the degradation of rangelands for a considerable time now. Rangelands degradation has resulted in reduced livestock productivity and increased soil erosion. With support from a number of donor organizations, they have introduced a variety of policy measures to control numbers of livestock. Among these was the grazing fees introduced in 1992 under the Lesotho Agricultural Support Program (LAPSP) implemented with funding from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
Grazing fees were withdrawn in 1993 in the run up to the elections that ushered in a civilian administration in Lesotho as political opponents of the government turned the issue into an election issue accusing the government of imposing a tax on Basotho on a resource that was their inalienable birth-right. Since the withdrawal of grazing fees however, the problems of uncontrolled grazing resulting in increasing erosion and rangeland degradation have resurfaced.
The GOL has approached the Government of the United States through the Embassy in Maseru for assistance with the reintroduction of grazing fees as a way of controlling stocking levels on rangelands and stemming widespread soil erosion.
This report documents the findings of consultations held in Lesotho between May 17 and May 21, 2004 on the issue of the reintroduction of grazing fees. The list of people consulted in given in Annex 1 to this report.
Causes of Rangeland Degradation
“This fertile country, where the grass attains such a height that it is necessary to destroy it every winter by means of fire, possesses scarcely any large trees. The possession of pastureland is subject to rules, founded on the exigencies of good
neighbourhood. It is understood that, as far as possible, the inhabitants of one locality should prevent their flocks from grazing on ground which good sense and the first principles of equity pronounce to belong to another hamlet.”
E. Casalis, “The Basutos”, 1861
The above quotation from the nineteenth century clearly demonstrates the social and economic value of rangelands to the economy of Lesotho. Rangelands cover 63% of total national territory of 30,140 sq.km. Livestock farming is therefore a predominant
agricultural activity in Lesotho. Most of the country’s mountain regions are used primarily as rangelands as arable use is limited by both geography and climate. Crop farming in these regions is restricted to sheltered valleys. Most of the crop farming in
Lesotho takes place in the lowlands to the south and west of the country. The extent to which this sector can be developed is however limited by the fact that only 13% of the country’s land area is suitable for crop production while most soils across the country are amenable to serious erosion.
Access to and use of land has been guided first by the customary Laws of Lerotholi of 1903 that stated that access to land was a birthright to every Mosotho. Land was vested in the Basotho nation and could not be sold or bought. Subsequent land law has
largely maintained this status quo. Although the Land Law of 1979 took some bold steps towards changing land tenure in Lesotho through the introduction of leases and provisions for inheritance of land, there are still two primary forms of land holding in
the country- private land for fields and homesteads and communal land which is held in common by residents and provides access for all to the resources on such land. In urban and peri-urban areas land can be held under free or leasehold title. With up to
90% of Lesotho’s population resident in rural areas, the impact of these provisions for land holding on the population is minimal.