Visit Musi’s Reclaimed Donga – Revolutionary Conservation

It was January 20, 1986 and the rain was coming down in droves when Ntate Faneuel Musi had an idea that would change his life forever.

He was sloshing through mud and shouldering against the wind, determined to check on the state of his fields. He had just planted his crops, and as he watched the water that was rushing downhill, washing with it unthinkable quantities of fertile soil, he was gripped by the fear that his family would have nothing to eat.

He was unable to check on those fields. Near his home, where once there had been land, a roaring river flowed, blocking his path. It was a donga – a ditch caused by erosion. This donga was more than 10 meters deep, and it was just one of many.

Musi had recently retired to tend the land. He was not a farmer by profession but a mechanic who had studied engineering. As he watched all of that soil flow downhill, away from the crops upon which the people of his village so desperately relied, he realized that this was a grave problem, but a problem that he could solve.

Over the course of the next decade, he built more than 3000 walls out of rocks. He started by collecting them in a sack he tied around his waist. He built the walls loosely, so the runoff water could pass through them while the soil remained trapped behind. When enough land had filled in the donga, he would plant grass and trees in the new soil.

Along the way, Mick Jones introduced the engineers of GTZ (a German NGO now known as GIZ) to Musi, and they offered to help him install an irrigation system. His home is now the only one in Malealea to have running water. 

Albert Musi in his reed plot, photo by Kelly Benning
Albert Musi stands atop one of his father’s remaining walls, by his flourishing reed plot

The land is unrecognizable now from that day of the legendary storm. What were once vast scars of barren land are now fertile plots and grassy knolls.

Still, soil erosion is a grave problem in Malealea and Lesotho as a whole. The people of Malealea learned a lot from Musi’s success transforming the dongas, and donga reclamation projects like his are now more common.

Musi’s son Ntate Albert has managed the farm since Faneuel’s death in 1996, and he and his mother, M’e Maseretse, still live in the house that he built. They are passionate about telling Faneuel’s story and welcome visitors into their home every day to see the farm. They believe so much more can be done to protect and preserve the beautiful land of Malealea.

Maseretse and Albert Musi, photo by Kelly Benning
Maseretse and Albert Musi outside the home Faneuel built

The farm is a 20-minute walk from the Lodge, and you can arrange your visit at the reception office. You will get an hour tour of the farm and land and hear even more of Faneuel’s incredible story.