MASERU — Lesotho’s heavy dependence on food imports is an embarrassment, Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili has said.
Mosisili made the remarks yesterday as he officially opened a two-day national forum on agriculture and food security at Manthabiseng Convention Centre in Maseru.
The forum was being held under the theme: Agriculture and Food Security for Improving Rural Livelihoods and Reducing Poverty.
It was organised by the Ministry of Agriculture to discuss ways of improving Lesotho’s food security situation and reduce poverty.
Mosisili said Lesotho’s sovereignty would be threatened if the country could not produce its own food.
“A nation that can produce its own food has its pride and dignity intact. It is a cause for concern when our country has to depend on exports,” Mosisili said.
“Where has the Mosotho man’s pride that he is not fed by another man gone?” he asked.
International relief agencies say food production has been on the decline for decades.
For instance, in 1980 Lesotho produced about 80 percent of its cereal requirements.
Now it produces just about 30 percent of its grain requirements.
The country imports virtually all its food from South Africa.
It even imports such basics as eggs, tomatoes and cabbages from its giant neighbour.
Mosisili said this needed to be changed.
“I therefore appeal to this forum to devise sustainable and cost-effective solutions. Lesotho should be food secure by 2015.
“We need to have reduced by half the proportion of people suffering from hunger by 2015.
“We are here because we know agriculture’s importance and the challenges we face with regard to food production,” Mosisili said.
“By the end of this forum we need to have established what works and what doesn’t. We should have sustainable food production mechanisms by 2020.
“We also need to ensure security for agricultural producers and make food security a top developmental priority. To achieve this we need to define overall strategies and work ethics,” he said.
Mosisili said the continued decline in food production despite the government’s efforts to save the day was quite worrying.
Aid agencies say at least three out of every 10 children under the age of five suffer from chronic malnutrition.
Mosisili said the chronic infant malnutrition rate stands at 41 percent while the rate for infants who are underweight stands at 12.6 percent.
“Not only is this a cause for concern. Women and children are suffering from acute malnutrition exacerbated by food shortage,” Mosisili said.
“Let us not wait until those babies are malnourished before we step in. Let us ensure mothers’ health.
“A good start has been with the so-called key-hole gardens which provide adequate vegetables for households. Conservation farming does indeed work.
“Because of our country’s topography, they are ideally suited for our situation. Our experts should be picking it up and helping to have these rolled out to all villages.”
Mosisili criticised the handling of the block farming scheme saying although the government had invested millions of maloti in the programme “there is nothing to show for it”.
“If our business community were to demand that they are given similar subsidies, in my opinion they would be justified,” Mosisili said.
“Block farming is a good programme with the potential to make Lesotho food secure. But it is beset by myriad problems which need to be rectified urgently.”
Speaking at the same forum, Finance Minister Timothy Thahane expressed concern over the decline in the agriculture sector.
Thahane said agriculture’s contribution to Lesotho’s economic growth had declined from 30 percent in 2008 to just seven percent this year.
“The challenge is how to use the limited land we have. Donor funds will not be here forever.
“It is time for introspection for the agriculture ministry and to devise the way forward. Agriculture is not for the weak but needs strength and persistence.
“My challenge to you is that you bring a plan forward. Let us define, as a country, the investment opportunities in agriculture, which can make things sustainable.”
Thahane said it would be wise for the government to “diversify agriculture into a business activity”.
“The plans we have must move from paper to land. My colleagues and I are prepared. Just challenge us with a viable project,” Thahane said.
Agriculture Minister Lesole Mokoma called for increased support to small scale-farmers “for brighter agricultural prospects in Lesotho”.