Sometimes, whilst travelling, you come across people who touch you deeply and leave you feeling awed and humbled. We experienced that in Lesotho, Southern Africa.
The land is steep and rainfall high in this beautiful, mountainous little kingdom and soil erosion is a severe problem.
Deeply carved gullies are everywhere, like bleeding scars on the landscape and rich red topsoil is exposed in convoluted and fantastically shaped ravines, as if the lifeblood of the country is draining into the sea.
Saddened by the extent of the damage, we were particularly interested to see a tour leaflet whilst staying at Malealea Lodge, about a local farmer who was reclaiming his farm.
The surrounding area was a network of gullies with a few patches of sad looking maize, and some raggedy grass.
Suddenly we rounded a bend and ahead of us was what looked like an oasis in the desert.
Albert Musi, the owner, showed us around his farm. First stop was his father’s grave, which was very apt, as it was Fanuel Musi who had the vision and determination to start the project. Standing next to the grave, Albert pointed down the hill and began to tell his story.
One night 20 years ago, his father, already in his 60s, wanted to cross the valley to check on his cattle, but heavy rain had washed another deep gully across his land and he was unable to cross. He announced that the family would embark on a project to “put an end to this nonsense.”
The vision was to build dams of loose stone across the gullies, so that rainwater would drop the topsoil it was washing and gradually refill the gullies. It was extremely hard work. There was no mechanical equipment available, no money to hire help, so the family had to manually quarry the rock and cart it around the farm, while continuing to earn a living.
Over the years, the farm has been transformed, from a network of dead gullies, to usable land with one clear watercourse, which has been planted with willows, poplars and other water loving trees to bind and stabilize the banks. Rocks held together with chicken wire hold the steeper parts together and prevent wash-aways.
Fanuel Musi’s wisdom did not end in the practicalities of reclaiming his land. He knew that when a family labours together, it also needs time to rest. So once the work of quarrying and carting the stone had been done, they created a rest place on top of the rocky outcrop that had supplied the stone for the project. It is a wonderful spot, shaded by trees, with benches made of stone from the site, and a great view across the valley to Malealea lodge.
In a land mostly devoid of trees, Malealea Lodge and Musi’s farm stand out as beacons of hope. As the years have gone by, more and more reclaimed land has become available for planting and a careful choice of plants has meant that Albert is now able to provide everything his family needs, and only buys sugar, and cooking oil.
Fruit trees supply apples, apricots, chestnuts and peaches. Bulrushes grow in a moist patch, and pillows are made using the fluff from their seed heads. Sisal is grown, and the leaves sold to a company that uses the juice in face creams and cosmetics. Reeds that are grown in the watercourse supply thatching material for his family, and the surplus goes to the village. Barley is grown to feed his cattle and vegetables are grown to feed the family.
Bear in mind that you cannot judge this through the eyes of those accustomed to first world farms that run on huge budgets and with modern machinery. This is a subsistence farm that was so damaged it could barely support one family. It has been reclaimed and made productive enough to feed the family and generate an income, as well as jobs for others, with no capital whatsoever in the early years, and no machinery at all.
As it began to generate an income, they were able to buy extra items to help the productivity, like a water tank, which is gravity fed from the water-course higher up and in turn feeds a tap used to irrigate the good selection of vegetables. Crops are rotated regularly.
The farm now produces a crop surplus which supplies the nearby Tourist Lodge of Malealea, with whom they have a partnership. Malealea is run on ecotourism principles and works hand-in-hand with the community to uplift the villages around them.
They arrange guided tours into the villages so that the people can earn money as guides, or showing how traditional beer and wine are made. Local pony owners are employed to take tourists on Pony Treks through the mountains, thus bringing Malealea an interesting and authentic activity to offer their visitors, and providing income for the pony owners at the same time. They ask visitors to sponsor trees, so that more gullies can be planted and reclaimed, and they are involved in health programmes and schools. They buy as much of the produce as possible locally for the restaurant at the resort.
That is where the Musi’s farm comes in, they host tours of the farm on the one hand, and also supply produce to the resort.
Bouquets to the Musi family for showing what can be achieved with some vision and hard work, and to the management of Malealea, who add to the community in which they earn a living, instead of merely exploiting it. They give the industry a good name, and are the sort of tourist operators who, as visitors, we are delighted to support.