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A vocational school in the foothills of Lesotho is creating opportunities for rural youth and promoting sustainable farming and farmers’ associations amongst the mountain communities.
10 / 2006
Migration and unemployment in the “Kingdom in the Sky”
Lesotho is a small mountainous country in Southern Africa, which in the past was a large exporter of human labour to the neighbouring South Africa. The remittances from migrant labourers in South Africa constituted an important income for many households in the country. But today the demand for migrant labour has declined, and poverty in Lesotho is increasing. The reasons behind are the lack of income, unemployment and severe land degradation, which directly affects the livelihoods of 86% of the population, who depend on agriculture for subsistence. People in search of wage employment migrate from the rural areas, mainly mountains, to Lesotho’s urban areas, but there are insufficient employment opportunities.
In this context, education constitutes a key to access qualified employment, and non-formal education is becoming more and more useful in providing learning opportunities for the vast majority of children, youth and adults who are not reached by the formal education, which in Lesotho are mainly the people living in the highlands. Skills not only assist in gaining access to jobs in urban areas, but also can enhance the creation of income-generating activities in the mountains, allowing people to stay.
Bishop Allard Vocational School is an institution that has been training youths and adults on “life skills” for the past 36 years with a great success. Gladys Faku, a teacher by profession, is the Principal of the school, and a good representative of the philosophy that the centre has kept throughout time.
The dilemma of the youth and the decline of agriculture in the mountains
Young people in the highlands of Lesotho face a crucial dilemma today. If they choose to migrate to the lowlands they will not have the easy option of going to South Africa as former generations did in the past. It is likely that they will have to stay in Lesotho’s urban areas, which do not offer many job opportunities, especially for those who are unskilled. On the other hand, if they choose to stay in the mountains, their options are even narrower; agriculture production is in decline, so it is not a very attractive option, although, without any other professional skills, it is often seen as the only available option.
Around 86% of Lesotho’s labour force is engaged in subsistence agriculture, but the land is becoming less and less productive. Farmers in the mountains often lack the knowledge on techniques that could improve their land by using their own resources and without dependence on external inputs. Utilising new techniques such as the Machobane system can reduce pressure on land posed by over stocking of livestock, and diversifying their crops and income base, to insure sustainable livelihoods. One of the reasons for this situation is the extension services, who are supposed to approach and train farmers on best practices, are not reaching them. The lack of motivation and investment by the government is resulting in an under resourced and ineffective extension service unable to reach farmers, particularly in remote mountain areas. In the rare occasion that the service is provided, the messages tend to direct farmers to conventional agricultural practices (use of hybrid crops, fertilizers, or machinery) that are completely inappropriate for their mountain agriculture conditions.
A school for everyone
Located in the foothills of Lesotho, the Bishop Allard Vocational School seeks to give response to these two issues affecting rural communities, particularly in the mountains. On the one hand the school provides vocational education to youth, so they acquire the skills that they need to get a job or to be self-employed, either in the urban areas or staying in their villages. On the other hand, the school provides technical training for adults, including specific training for farmers on best agricultural practices, sustainable land management or livestock management, amongst others. The school is a resource centre, where farmers can go and ask for advice, in some way filling in the gap left by the extension service.
In the beginning of the 1970’s, the length of the primary education in Lesotho was reduced to one year, and the Ministry of Education encouraged missions to start “continuation schools”, in order to keep children finishing primary school, and serving as an alternative to high schools. Bishop Allard catholic mission started a school within this process, in 1970. Since the beginning the school had the “spirit of vocational training and training for life”, providing skills with a real life approach, both for youth and adults. Nowadays the centre has a small farm, with livestock and some crops, and keeps strong linkages with the nearby community. Students share their skills with the villagers and in return, the school can use some of their land for practical training.
Today the school offers full time and short term courses. The fields of training are mainly technical, such as building, carpentry, welding or plumbing. There are also courses on home economics, sowing and tailoring, home management, health services and catering. Besides, there is what the school calls educational agriculture, which is practical agricultural training. All the courses are supported by practical trainings, both inside and outside the campus. This year the school has 320 full-time students enrolled in courses that last three years. The majority of the full-time students come from the highlands, and the school has created an “outreach programme” in order to reach the people in the villages where the students come from. During their courses, students go back to their villages and contribute new skills to the community, such as helping building schools or training adults on tailoring or cooking. One of the aims of the school is to train its students for self-employment, so they can stay in their villages and start farmers associations or their own income-generating activities, such as tailoring or baking.
Alongside the young full-time students, the Bishop Allard School works closely with farmers. Starting with its “outreach programme”, which links young and adults, the centre also provides short term courses on specific topics, such as livestock management, soil conservation or forestry. The school is especially related to the mountain communities, and that is why a few years ago they created the “satellite centre”, located in the mountains. This centre allows the School to reach the mountain communities, providing training for adults on different income-generating activities and using a demonstration site for the training of farmers on production and processing of apples. The School emphasizes the importance of farmers’ organizations and has started various farmers associations specialized in different products, such as dairy, poultry or vegetable production. The centre networks with 30 farmers associations all over Lesotho, they share experiences and are creating a marketing network.
Mobilizing the communities as a starting point
Any actions directed to improve the situation of mountain people have to start by mobilizing the communities to identify key-problems and identify their solutions. After nurturing motivation and direction at the grass-roots, it is easier to engage the government, through lobbying and involving its agents in the activities.
An example is the case of seed security in Lesotho, particularly potato seed. The mountains of Lesotho produce the best quality of potato seed, as the climate conditions favour seeds free of diseases, but at the moment there is no certification system in place for them. South African companies are taking advantage of this and buying the seeds at very low prices from the farmers, they certify them in SA and then sell them at fivefold prices. To stop this, various community-based organizations, have got together and are lobbying the Government to obtain a certification system for the potato seeds in Lesotho. Their demand includes stopping the introduction of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in the country, which would badly affect seed production. Once the certification system is in place, farmers’ associations are independent and dynamic enough to mobilize their grassroots to raise funds locally and abroad for building the storage facilities for the potato seeds. Then, they will be able to sell their certified seeds at a higher price.
An opportunity to sustainable development in the mountains
Mountain people are those who have a personal link with the mountains, and are interested in protecting and maintaining the resources there. The people in the mountains of Lesotho have many ideas, and are keen to find structures that support them to improve their situation. That is why initiatives like this are a source of motivation and reflection, about what to do and which direction to take. Projects like this are a hope for the mountains.
The mountains have a huge economic potential, from agricultural development, to forestry, tourism or mineral resources. If development is done in an integrated participatory manner with the mountain communities, it can bring important benefits for them. This can range from community-based tourism to involving local people in manufacturing processes or in extracting activities.
This interview has been realized by ALMEDIO Consultores with the support of the Charles-Léopold Mayer Fondation during the regional meeting organised by the World Mountain People Association - APMM.
Interview to Gladys Faku, Principal of the Bishop Allard Vocational School and Chairperson of Participatory Ecological Land Use Management (PELUM) Lesotho, P.O. Box 0186, Boinyatso, LESOTHO - Phone: \(+266) 223 14 142 - email@example.com
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