Next time you’re checking the weather forecast, spare a thought for Lesotho’s farmers. The tiny mountainous African country experiences some of the most extreme and unpredictable weather on the planet.

Farmers face snow, frost, drought and hailstones the size of golf balls. That’s not all; rocky soils on eroding hillsides are tough to farm and the topsoil regularly washed away in the heavy rains that alternate with periods of prolonged drought. 

Like their counterparts in the UK, farmers also face hardship in the home. Young people see no future in agricultural life, and travel to South Africa in search of work. They rarely return. HIV has taken a brutal toll on the country, which has the second highest infection levels in the world. Farming is hard at the best of times. Combine it with strength-sapping regular illness and people find themselves in a trap of being unable to grow enough to eat, which in turn weakens their ability to farm. 

A life of isolation and hardship

This is a hidden Africa. To pass through the country, you would see wide-open landscapes, snow-capped mountains and beautiful round mud huts. People wear traditional woven blankets against the cold, and they seem content and at home in their surroundings; the houses all have bright flowers in their gardens.

As a visitor you would think it was a place of peace and tranquillity, just like the English countryside. But like the English countryside, there are tough market forces at work and people struggling to scrape a living from the land. Farmers are isolated, with poor or non-existent roads, no phone or internet infrastructure and, often, conflict with neighbours. It is near impossible to get information about how to farm better.

The old methods no longer work

Grandmother Mamorena is typical of the nation’s poor farmers. She has two hectares which have become less and less productive over the last 15 years. The land is on a steep hill with crumbling soil that is easily washed away. Aged 70 and with sole charge of her 11 year old grandson, Malefetsane, Mamorena is increasingly finding that the old farming methods no longer work in a changing climate. She has no support or even radio or television to help her work out what to do. They rarely eat more than two meals a day of plan maize pap and boiled greens.

Mamorena said: “I have lost hope of being able to use this land productively, unless you can give me a suggestion on how to restore it.”

Hope of a better future

Although the world food system faces formidable challenges, for farmers like Mamorena, there are very many techniques that can make a difference. International development charity Send a Cow has been providing training, seeds and tools to revitalise the farm. Double-dug beds, contouring and tree planting are stabilising the soil, while compost systems are slowly improving quality.

The farm is becoming more productive and Mamorena has hopes of being able to earn a reliable living from selling produce soon. She dreams of being able to help her grandson fulfil his dream of becoming a policeman, but knows he will need a good start in life and a solid education for this to be a possibility. By investing in the land, the dream of a better future might just come true. 

To support the Lesotho appeal please visit this page.