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Lesotho’s Struggle for Land and Water Rights in the highlands of Lesotho

By Tshidy Phakoe

A landlocked kingdom nestled within the borders of South Africa, the struggle for peasant farmers is deeply intertwined with issues of land access and water rights. As the world commemorates the International Day of Peasant Struggle, it’s crucial to shine a light on the challenges faced by rural communities in Lesotho.One of the primary obstacles confronting peasant farmers in Lesotho is the issue of land ownership, particularly for rural women. Customary law dictates that women are married into their husband’s family, which often results in limited or no access to land for farming. In this patriarchal system, land rights are typically passed down to the husband and, upon his passing, to the first male child, leaving women marginalized in agricultural activities.Moreover, while Lesotho boasts abundant water resources and is a significant exporter of water to neighboring South Africa, peasant farmers struggle to access this vital resource for irrigation, especially during dry seasons. The irony of a nation rich in water resources but with farmers deprived of water for their crops underscores the systemic inequalities plaguing rural communities.Furthermore, the lack of access to farming inputs exacerbates the challenges faced by peasant farmers in Lesotho. Without essential resources such as seeds, fertilizers, and machinery, small-scale farmers find themselves trapped in a cycle of poverty and food insecurity, unable to maximize the potential of their land.Adding to the complexity of the situation is Lesotho’s failure to ratify the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas (UNDROP). This international instrument advocates for the protection of peasants’ rights, including access to land and clean water, among other fundamental freedoms. By not signing UNDROP, Lesotho neglects to uphold the rights of its peasant farmers, further marginalizing vulnerable communities.Addressing these challenges requires concerted efforts from both the government and civil society. Policies must be enacted to ensure equitable land distribution, with particular attention to gender-sensitive reforms that empower women in rural areas. Additionally, investments in water infrastructure and irrigation schemes are essential to harnessing Lesotho’s water resources for the benefit of smallholder farmers.Furthermore, Lesotho should reconsider its stance on UNDROP and take proactive measures to safeguard the rights of peasant farmers. By aligning its policies with international standards, Lesotho can demonstrate its commitment to promoting the well-being and livelihoods of its rural population.On this International Day of Peasant Struggle, let us stand in solidarity with the farmers of Lesotho and advocate for a future where land and water rights are not just aspirations but realities for all. Only through collective action can we cultivate a more just and sustainable agricultural sector that nourishes both the land and its people

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