About 225 000 Basotho or 11 percent of Lesotho’s 2, 1 million people urgently need food assistance, at least until the end of the 2017/2018 harvest season, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has said.
However, it is unlikely that the harvest, due at the end of next month, will bring much relief to the country as FAO said the current agricultural season had been blighted by excessive dry spells, resulting in reduced yields of cereals including the staple maize crop.
FAO listed Lesotho among 29 African countries that need external food assistance as a result of adverse “weather shocks that have intensified fragile conditions”.
“About 225 000 people are in need of food assistance…mostly in the southwestern areas (of the country), where dry spells adversely affected the 2017 production,” FAO said in the report titled ‘Crop Prospects and Food Situation’.
Although the situation is expected to be better than it was in 2016, the report said Lesotho is one of “several typically grain deficit countries in southern Africa”.
The report further notes that despite a recovery in cereal harvests in 2017, below average production is anticipated for the 2018 harvest.
“Food security conditions are expected to worsen in 2018 compared to the previous year, reflecting expectations of a reduced cereal harvest.”
“The current outlook mainly reflects a period of well below-average rains and higher-than-average temperatures in January 2018, following generally erratic rainfall since the beginning of the season in October 2017, which have caused water stress and adversely affected crop development.
“Following abundant precipitations since the end of January and with favourable weather forecasts until the harvest period from late March to early April, crop conditions are expected to partly recover. Nevertheless, cereal production is forecast to still remain well below 2017 levels,” the report said.
Besides Lesotho, there are 28 other African countries that FAO says will need external food assistance owing to “weather shocks that have intensified fragile conditions”.
“The most dry-weather-affected areas of the sub-region include key growing regions in Lesotho, southern and central areas of Mozambique, western South Africa, southern parts of Zambia, Malawi, eastern Zimbabwe and southwestern Madagascar,” the report said.
The report said since most of the affected areas represent the cereal-growing regions of their respective countries, the expected lower outputs could have a magnified impact on national maize production, the principal food staple.
Another report released by the Famine Early Warnings Network (Fews Net) in February also says Lesotho should expect below-average 2017/18 crop yields due to poor seasonal rainfall.
“In large parts of Mafeteng, Maseru, Berea, Leribe and part of the Butha-Buthe district, total cumulative rainfall has been 55-70 percent of normal. Some crops are reported to be stunted, but still growing because of recent February rainfall,” Fews Net said.
However, the report says the food security situation will improve as the harvests become available by the end of April this year.