MORE than 491 000 people or one quarter of the country’s two million population will require food aid due to the El-Niño induced drought which has hit the country hard during the 2019/2020 farming season.
This was revealed by the Minister of Finance, Moeketsi Majoro during his budget speech in parliament on Tuesday.
Dr Majoro’s figures reflect an increase of 191 000 people from the 300 000 given in December 2018 by the International Research Institute
(IRI) for Climate and Society at the Columbia University in the United States as those that will be needing food assistance in Lesotho.
The IRI listed Lesotho among the seven Southern African countries that are likely to be hardest hit by the drought. The other countries likely to
be affected are the Democratic Republic of the Congo, eSwatini, Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe.
“Across most of Southern Africa, El Niño events typically result in anomalous reduction in precipitation between November and March coinciding with the main crop growing season,” the IRI report states.
“The weather forecast for the region is mixed, with more recent information pointing to lower precipitation than previously expected. A risk of seasonal floods – which often do occur across the region even with average rainfall – cannot be dismissed in areas where average rainfall will occur.”
Lesotho is already experiencing delayed rains which are signs of the El Niño conditions which are already affecting the summer cropping season.
And on Tuesday, Dr Majoro told parliamentarians that the country must brace for poor harvest and at least of the population will require food aid.
“The Honourable House is aware that in 2018, the (Southern African) region experienced episodes of dry weather and heat waves which hit hard on crop production. We therefore expect poor agricultural harvest this year and as a result it is estimated that 491 000 people will require emergency food assistance.”
The El Niño is a natural event that involves fluctuating ocean surface temperatures in the Pacific which influence the weather patterns all over the world.
The 2015-16 El Niño was one of the strongest ever recorded and had an impact on global temperatures, which saw 2016 enter the record books as one of the warmest years.
Dr Majoro said on its part, the government would continue subsidising seedlings and fertilisers to farmers and undertake other initiatives aimed at boosting agricultural production.
“As the government, we will continue to subsidise the seedlings and fertilisers to the farming community. During 2019/20 financial year, over 4000 hectares of land will be planted to grains in different areas of
the country, 107 hectares to vegetables and 120 hectares to deciduous fruits production. M703,8 million has been allocated to the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security.
“The government is implementing financial and business support to help start-ups and other small businesses. The Smallholder Agricultural Development Project (SADP) has during its life issued 757 small grants
to 22 agricultural businesses, 22 associations, and 9 cooperatives. Most of the recipients remain in business and will expand their operations in future. Supported enterprises include piggery, vegetables, a slaughtering plant and abattoir, fruit seedlings and production, poultry, sheep and goat production, woolshed equipment, processing and fruit drying, honey packaging, fish production and duck production.
“The criticism of this project and its competitive grants scheme is that, while it may transform lives of its beneficiaries, its reach is woefully inadequate.
“In collaboration with the Minister of Agriculture and Food Security and of Development, I have proposed that the project be scaled up to a national level, its scale be increased, and irrigation equipment be included as way to insulate climate disruptions. During the 2019/20 financial year, the project will be restructured to cater for scale and climate realities,” Dr Majoro said.