Misery dogs farming families  



Napo Ramalepe and what he has left of his livestockA combination of climate-related catastrophes and a freak of nature leaves many households facing acute food shortage.  

Makhopotso Mothusi

HA-MAKOATHI-Napo Ramalepe looks at a measly pile of maize-cobs he has just harvested from his field and shakes his head in exasperation.

“This cannot last my family a single month and only God knows how we are going to survive this drought,” says Mr Ramalepe.

Apart from the miserable produce, the 39-year-old father-of-three from Ha-Makoathi village outside Maseru, is expecting to harvest 100 kilogrammes of sorghum he hopes to process and used to make porridge for his family.

Mr Ramalepe is indeed a desperate man; he cannot sell any of his five cattle to raise much-needed income as he uses four of the animals for draught-power while the other one is just a calf. And neither can Mr Ramalepe risk selling his four lambs before they are fully grown because they would not fetch him much. But to alleviate the hunger his family is facing, Mr Ramalepe would have to sell some of his 11 chickens—his only option to provide for his family.

“I can sell each chicken for M50 and buy salt and sugar for porridge,” Mr Ramalepe said in an interview at his homestead last week.

After spending “weeks” roaming the streets of Maseru looking for employment in 2012 which however, never materialised, Mr Ramalepe decided to give up his search and return home.

A devastating drought had forced him to try his luck at formal employment but with the job prospects not getting any brighter, the then 36-year-old had no choice but to return to Ha-Makoathi and hope the next soon would bring better rainfall.

Since 1998, Mr Ramalepe’s family has been surviving on subsistence farming on their two-acre field. When the weather is favourable, the land gives the family enough food to last them until the next harvest, as well as some surplus to sell and pay for everyday expenses and necessities such as school uniforms for the children and groceries.

“It was not only the severe drought that affected our crops this year but also an outbreak of  mice which ate some of the maize-crop when it was still tender,” says Mr Ramalepe dejectedly. The community had to use some pesticides and set some traps to catch the mice, he added.

And just when the villagers had thought the worst was over, long dry spells came and devastated their crops between January and March this year. Helpless and realising the impending food crisis, the Ha-Makoathi farming community could no longer hope for the Gods to provide them with the desperately needed relief in the form of late rains, while the crops wilted right before their eyes.

The scorching conditions also affected other parts of the country, mercilessly destroying  once-promising crops in districts such as Berea, Leribe and Butha-Buthe.

“It was like looking at your sick child and not being able to do anything to help. It is that painful when you have to watch your crop die away and knowing fully well that what follows is nothing but untold suffering,” said Mr Ramalepe.

An official assessment aimed at establishing the impact of the drought was soon conducted, with the results of the Lesotho Vulnerability Assessment Committee (LVAC) released in June this year showing a seven-percent increase of people who would be in need of immediate food assistance—from 448 000 in the 2013/14 season to 464000.

The 464000 food-insecure people from around the country included those already supported through safety nets such as school-feeding, child-grants, old people’s pensions and cash-for-land rehabilitation activities.

With the exclusion of these safety nets, the number of people who will need food support between September 2015 and March 2016 declines to 180,000.

The Disaster Management Authority (DMA) recommends linking the immediate interventions and “at-risk” populations with medium and long-term resilience-building activities. The Authority has also urged the government to separate chronic and acute food-insecure individuals to ensure appropriate intervention planning. The United Nations humanitarian organisation against hunger, the World Food Programme (WFP), is implementing projects aimed at encouraging students in preschool and primary schools to attend classes and address malnutrition, prevent stunting in children below the age of two years, build the resilience of communities vulnerable to climate-induced shocks, improve the recovery and wellbeing of vulnerable people on HIV therapy and TB treatment and support pregnant and breastfeeding mothers. WFP is implementing a School Meals Programme targeting 250000 primary school students and 50000 preschool children and a Country Programme targeting 124000 people through three projects namely Disaster Risk Reduction, Early Childhood Care and Development and Nutrition and HIV.

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