Southern parts of Lesotho in a food crisis: report

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Herbert Moyo

AT least four out of the country’s 10 districts, including Maseru, are currently experiencing a “food crisis” due to the depletion of grain from the 2020/21 harvest. The crisis is expected to continue until April 2022 when most households begin harvesting grain from their subsistence farming activities. Until then, most families will be heavily dependent on food aid to prevent outright starvation.

This according to the October 2021 Lesotho Remote Monitoring Report produced by the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET).

FEWS NET is a leading provider of early warning and analysis on food insecurity. Created by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in 1985 to help decision-makers plan for humanitarian crises, FEWS NET provides reports on the food situation in 28 countries including Lesotho.

FEWS NET uses the Integrated Phase Classification (IPC) system which has different categories for the classification of the food security situation in different countries.

Countries in IPC Phase 1 are those with minimal food insecurity while those in IPC Phase 2 are said to be in a “stressed” situation. Those in IPC Phase 3 are in a “crisis” while those in Phase 4 are experiencing a “famine”.

In its October 2021 report on the food situation in Lesotho published this week, FEWS NET said “Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes emerge and are expected to persist during the 2021/22 lean season” in some parts of Lesotho.

It names Maseru, Mafeteng, Quthing and Qacha’s Nek as the districts which have been worst affected by the depletion of food stocks from the 2020/21 season. The situation is slightly better in other districts as they are in the “stressed” IPC Phase 2 category, the report states.

FEWS NET says the current anomalies being experienced in the crisis-hit districts are “the depletion of own-produced foods and the increased reliance on purchased food”.

“Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are expected from October through to the next harvest expected in April/May. With the (next) harvest beginning in April 2022, food security is expected to improve with households consuming food from their own production,” FEWS NET states.

The report indicates that unlike in previous years, the current food crisis has been compounded by the high prices for maize meal which are beyond the reach of vulnerable households.

“As of September 2021, maize meal prices in Maseru were 10 percent higher than the same time last year and nearly 20 percent above the five-year average. The current increases are due to the price transmission from the high maize prices in South Africa.”

The negative impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has been cited as another factor compounding the food crisis.

In previous years, many Basotho families would cushion themselves by migrating across the border into South Africa to seek casual jobs to augment their incomes and purchase food.

However, the report notes that due to Covid-19 induced restrictions on cross-border travel at different periods this year, such opportunities for casual labour have generally been limited.

“Non-agricultural casual and migrant employment opportunities are below normal. There will be prolonged high levels of unemployment in Lesotho and South Africa due to the economic slowdown associated with the Covid-19 pandemic,” the report states.

Although the situation is expected to improve when the next harvest begins in April 2022, FEWS NET warns that planting will be negatively affected by the high costs of inputs.

“Land preparation activities for the 2021/22 agricultural season are underway and will continue through December (2021). As rainfall is expected to be above average between October 2021 to March 2022, this is expected to facilitate household engagement in the planting season.

“However, this year, significant increases in international prices for fertilisers, herbicides, and insecticides will restrict engagement in planting. Covid-19 related movement restrictions at the border will prohibit farmers from crossing into South Africa, where poor households typically source cheaper inputs,” the report states.

It remains to be seen how much food assistance the government will be able to mobilise from international development partners.

Last month, the World Food Programme (WFP) said it had secured US$2 million to assist 44 000 Basotho who were experiencing food shortages in Mokhotlong, Thaba Tseka, Maseru and Qacha’s Nek.

The German government and the European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO) each contributed US$1 million to enable the WFP to launch the lean season assistance programme for the food insecure households in the four districts from October 2021 to March 2022.

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