Course:FRST370/Projects/The Management of Indigenous Forests in Lesotho, Southern Africa

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The study site of this case study is in Lesotho, which is located in Southern Africa. First of all, a brief introduction of Lesotho is provided including the geographic area and location, total population as well as planting categories. Besides, the history of Lesotho is illustrated in the form of timeline and it’s separated into three parts in chronological order. The most essential part of the cast study is to analyze different categories of arrangements and stakeholders in this area. As a result, the body part of the paper includes four parts: the analysis of tenure arrangement, administrative arrangements, affected stakeholders and interested stakeholders. At the meanwhile, key issues and conflicts in Lesotho are determined. Finally, two journals from other scholars are listed as recommendations in order to help the readers understand the topic better.


Introduction of Lesotho

Lesotho, officially the Kingdom of Lesotho, was previously known as Basutoland. According to the statistics from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations back to 2010, Lesotho holds a land area of approximately 30,000 square kilometers with a population of around 2 million. (World Bank Group, 2016). Besides, there are lots of mountains in Lesotho including Maloti Mountains. Furthermore, the Prime Minister, which is the head of government, has executive authority. Therefore, it’s regarded as a “small, very mountainous, constitutional Monarchy.” (FAO, 2010). Most of the people living in Lesotho are recognized as Basotho, and the main languages using in Lesotho are Sesotho and English. 

Plantings in Lesotho

“Woody vegetation” is the best word to describe the natural forest on non-arable land in Lesotho and “74 percent of the land in Lesotho is non- arable” (FAO, 2010). Currently, there are two categories of plantations appear in Lesotho based on the Country Reports of Lesotho. The first category is grown primarily for wood production owned by the government and the second category is planted for erosion stabilization by the government but use as firewood and poles by rural people.


Frescura (2011) illustrates that the history of Lesotho can be separated into three stages from the origin of this country including the period under the control of King Moshoeshoe I, the recognition as a British Colony and the independence. 

King Moshoshoe I

When people talk about the establishment of Basutoland, King Moshoeshoe I is always an important figure. Due to the invasion of Zulu in 1822, the Basuto “had little choice when they first sought a country in which to live” (Sillery, 1955). To make matters worse, there were a series of “inconclusive territorial wars” between the Basotho and Dutch “after the first formal contact” between European immigrants and the indigenous people in the year of 1833. (Frescura, 2011). Landholding issues in Basotho occurred soon and the Orange Free State was introduced as a solution. At the meanwhile, the intervention of the British at the cape was presented. Finally, Moshoeshoe suggested “an alliance should be formed between the two territories” in 1862 and that was the turning point of the history. (Frescura, 2011). 

Recognition as a British Colony

In 1868, Basutoland was finally declared as a British Protectorate through a proclamation issued by Wodehouse and the conflicts between the invaders and the indigenous people ended with the boundary negotiations. After ten years, Basutoland was annexed into the Cape Colony and it became a British Colony called Territory of Basutoland in 1959.

The independence

On 4 October 1966, Lesotho gained its independence from the British and it comes into “being in the place of the High Commissions Territory of Basutoland” (Spence, 1966). Moreover, a Westminster type constitution was inherited, which regarded a prime minister as “the leader and the majority party and exercised executive power as the head of government” (Dube, 2008). After 23 years of authoritarian rule, constitutional government was restored finally.

Tenure arrangements

In Lesotho, the King holds the land due to the executive power as the head of government and all the lands are belong to the nation. The King is “entrusted with the power to administer the land on behalf of the people” and the land administration and distribution at local land is under the control of the king. (Mbata, 2001). However, the “power to allocate and revoke land” is exercised by the chiefs on his behalf, not the King who vests the land. The power is passed from the King to the village chief. (Kingdom of Lesotho, 1989). As a result, Thabane (1998). indicated that chiefs and commoners are two main social groups acting in the traditional or customary land tenure, without too much intervention from the King. 

The chiefs hold administrate rights, which primarily reflected on their role on matters of land. (Thabane, 1998). They are the person who has the assessment to allocate agricultural and residential lands to individuals. In other words, they make decisions on who has access to the use of the land. By contrast, the commoners hold usufructuary rights, which represent the right of access. (Thabane, 1998). The land is available for the commoners’ use, but they don’t own the land. That is to say, the land is not under the system of freehold. FAO (2010). also determines that people have full rights on the existing trees, nonetheless, ownership of trees doesn’t mean that they have the property of the land which trees are situated as well. Both the public and private ownership are determined and private ownership can be categorized into several groups such as individuals, private business entities and institutions, local communities and indigenous communities. (FAO, 2010). Moreover, the central government have management rights in forest reserves as they own the woodlots. However, in other plantings other than forest reverses, the management rights are mainly with the communities. 

The last thing about the tenure system can be considered as the eligibility to land. Not everyone can have access to the land. Determined by Mbata (2001), several criteria must be met in order to have the eligibility for accessing the land. First of all, the applicant has to be Mosotho and they should be male and married. The supreme power of the King should be acknowledged and people agree to perform and observe social obligations as expected by the community.

Administrative arrangements

Due to the country report done by Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, there are three criterial components in policy and legal framework in Lesotho: Forestry policy statement with national scope, National forest program and Law on forest with national scape, with specific forest law exists.

The traditional land tenure system in Lesotho is different from a freehold system, no one has the right to land or own the land. Therefore, few cherished practices present and that has led to “the depletion of soil fertility and uncontrolled overgrazing” (Mbata, 2001). The loss of agriculture land has occurred as another consequence as well. To solve these situations, several Land Reform Acts were initiated by the Government to improve the soil conservation and management in Lesotho. 

The 1979 Land Act was the most recognizable one and it was set for granting the rights of agriculture to specific groups of people in order to improve cherished practices. For instance: it can be given to “a cooperative or any legally recognized farmers’ association either for a short or indefinite period” (Mbata, 2001). Furthermore, Mbata also makes a conclusion that no rent is needed for allocating and the transfer of the land is not allowable in any situations under this act, even if the land is inheritable. In addition, the land regulation act of 1980 helped to solve the issue as well. Under the 1980 Land Act, it was clearly stated that land allocation can be terminated under certain conditions. Some examples could be “failure to combat soil erosion and failure to cultivate arable land over three years” (Mbata, 2001). This proclamation, which was made up with lists of conditions, forced people to contribute more to the soil conservation. If people were not paying attention to the land improvements, they would lose their rights to allocations for agriculture as punishments. These land acts were considered as efficient ways for engaging Basotho to invest in land improvement and soil management. (Mbata, 2001). 

The last part of the administrative arrangement is the institutional framework in Lesotho. Two main levels of the government are pointed out by FAO (2010). The first level of the framework is the minister, responsible for forest policy-making. The “main responsibility for forest issues and the formulations of the forest policy” is under the control of the minister. (FAO, 2001). Head of Forestry is the next level of the governance and FAO defines the head of forestry as the government officer responsible for implementing the mandate of the public administration related to the forests.

Affected Stakeholders

In this case study, the government and the commoners are considered as the affected stakeholders. Issues related to the conflicts between the chiefs and the commoners occurred resulted from the tenure system in Lesotho, primarily reflected in the chiefly land disputes from the late 19th to the early 20th centuries and the land disputes from 1940 to 1994 between the commoners and chiefs. (Thabane, 1998). Additionally, reported by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the Forestry Department under the new Ministry of Forestry and Land Reclamation is the central government body responsible for coordinating forestry affairs.

 As mentioned above, the commoners have usufructuary rights of the land. They have full rights on the trees, but ownership of trees doesn’t coincide with ownership of the land. By contrast, the chiefs hold administrate rights. Lands had economic importance and that resulted in giving “commensurate political power to those who controlled access to it, the chiefs” (Thabane, 1998). Hoverer, the commoners applied the conventions of the natural economy and they viewed their access to land as a right. Over time, it led to a result that the chiefs accumulated huge political power at the expense of the commoners and the competition for the land occurred. Another issue determined by Thabane was related to the application of land allocation rights. The chiefs became more and more oppressive and created their subjects in manners which were extremely excessive. Lots of complaints were made by “a series of grievances from the commoners” about the chiefs’ abuse of their administration of land. (Thabane, 1998).

Interested Stakeholders

As the presence of land disputes in Lesotho, interest aggregations such as The Progressive Association and Lekhotla La Bafo (The Council of Commoners) were established gradually. (Weisfelder, 1974).  The two examples given can be considered as stakeholders in this area and these groups play essential roles in establishing a heritage of political ideas as well as moderating conflicts between the government and the commoners. Before the existence of the stakeholders, there was no proper way for the commoners to present their suggestions to the government and “forces for reform were much stronger than the Administration realized” (Weisfelder, 1974). The establishment of these two groups was helpful for recognizing the social and political pressures including “certain dissatisfied segments of the chieftainship” (Weisfelder, 1974).

The Basutoland Progressive Association (BPA) was founded in 1907 by several commoners although some teacher had held formal meetings as early as 1904 to discuss shared problems. (Weisfelder, 1974). Weidfelder also defines it as the first such organization to attain real permanence and a significant following. The vital political goals of BPA is for achieving greater representation of commoners in the processes of decision-making as well as preventing the abuse of chiefly power in land allocation. Different from BPA, Lekhotla La Bafo was the “more authentic progenitor of radical ideology and militant political organization” (Weisfelder, 1974). The main contribution of this organization was related to the abuses of chiefly authority and the colonial pattern of racial discrimination. Both of these stakeholders had significant contributions in preventing the abuse of chiefly rights.


As above, the primary issues occurred in Lesotho can be separated into two categories. The first one is related to soil development and another category is regarding the rights. These issue might be caused by lots of factors, but the most significant one belongs to the traditional tenure system. For the commoners, they don't have land rights even though they are local people. They have nothing to do with the management of the land. By contrast, the chiefly rights are enlarged infinitely simultaneously. The system is out of balance and conflicts are easily caused due to this situation. Interested stakeholders in Lesotho such as BPA and Lekhotla La Bafo work as moderators and their involvements help to reduce conflicts, but that can't be considered as final solutions for the issues.


Land Tenure in Basutoland by Vernon Sheddick

History of the Basutus of South Africa by Orpen Joseph Millerd: the first published work to record the history of land competition between the Basotho and their European neighbors. The book strongly advocated the cause of Basotho


Dube, B. (2008). The Law and Legal Research in Lesotho. Retrieved from

Eldredge, E. (1988). Land, Politics, and Censorship: The Historiography of Nineteenth-Century Lesotho. History in Africa, 15, 191-209. doi:10.2307/3171859

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (2010). Global Forest Resources Assessment 2010. Country Report Lesotho. Retrieved from 

Frescura, F. (2011). Lesotho. Retrieved from South African History Online website:

Mbata, J. (2001). Land Use Practices in Lesotho: Implications for Sustainability in Agricultural Production. Journal of Sustainable Agriculture, 18:2-3, 5-24. doi:

Sillery, A. (1955). African Affairs [Review of the book Land Tenure in Basutoland, by V. Sheddick] 54(216), 238-239. Retrieved from

Spence, J. (1966). Basutoland Comes to Independence. The World Today, 22(10), 435-446. Retrieved from

Thabane, M. (1998). Who Owns The Land in Lesotho? Land Disputes and The Politics of Land Ownership in Lesotho. Retrieved from

Weisfelder, R. (1974). Early Voices of Protest in Basutoland: The Progressive Association and Lekhotla La Bafo. African Studies Review, 17(2), 397-409. doi:10.2307/523640

World Bank Group. (2016). Kingdom of Lesotho: Country Partnership Framework 2016-2020. Washington, D.C. : World Bank Group.

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