Chalback Reg-Op Lesotho is the story about a sustainable farming system suitable for Lesotho and other similar regions of southern Africa. Chalback Reg-Op was the name of the donkey which J. J Machobane and his wife depended on to power the Machobane farming system in Lesotho. Chalback Reg-Op translated from the Sesotho as hardworking and straight up. This is a very suitable name for the unnoticed and humble donkey — hardworking and straight up. The donkey was the chosen mode of transport of Jesus Christ on entering Jerusalem and used by the ANZACs to save the lives of injured Australians during the first world war on the Gallipoli peninsula in Turkey. Chalback Re-Op enabled women, especially widows and children to grow food in Lesotho.
The philosophy, principles and practices contained in the Machobane farming system remain the hope for an environmental and economic sustainable agriculture in southern Africa. The world food programme has established three base principles for conservation farming: disturb the soil as little as possible, keep the soil covered as much as possible and most importantly, mix and rotate crops. A new generation of farmers need to practice the philosophy and principles of the Machobane farming system and the use of recent developments in farming technology.
The extensive damage to soil structure, health and fertility caused by annual ploughing is plain to see on the mountainous landscape of Lesotho. It has been shown that every ploughing run of the soil will cause the loss 25 mm of soil water to the atmosphere. And the essential organic matter content of the soil is destroyed by being exposed to the drying effects of the sun and wind. Overgrazing of the range lands is another cause, contributing to Lesotho having some of the worst soil erosion in Southern Africa. Soil eating dongas are spreading at an alarming rate. Huge amounts, in excess of 40 million tons of the country’s food producing top soil, are moving into the rivers and out of the country.
It has been over fifty years since Lesotho has been able to feed itself, and at current erosion rates, it has been estimated that by 2040 there will be no arable land available in Leostho. That is from 10% arable land to zero within 200 years. Reducing the number of domestic animals and the overgrazing of the mountainous rangeland and converting to no-till, conservation agriculture would have immediate and positive effects, including a reduction in soil erosion and an increase in food production.
Brazil has become a leading developer and manufacturer of conservation farming tools and equipment. The Knapik Company has developed a manual operated and no-till, single row seed planter suitable for beasts of burden. There are many donkeys like Chalback Reg-Op who will provide the power for the same. There are many single parent / widow families in the village, Ha Makhatha, where the Phelisanong Centre, my host NGO, is located.
The introduction of this new technology without a supporting structure is to be avoided. A failure to do so will see it fail to make any difference and it could thus discredit the concept of no tillage in cropping in Lesotho. An economically viable and sustainable farm model is needed to demonstrate the use of the Knapik no-till seed planter. It will take a number of years to establish a successful working model in the farmers’ fields of no-till seeding. There are business investment opportunities in being part of such a radical agricultural revolution in Lesotho. Creativity is with the people. Power is to the Donkey.
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