Food shortages in Lesotho: the facts

Situation Report
Originally published
A second year of severe weather has left some 444,800 people requiring emergency food aid. The government declared a state of famine in April.
Lesotho has suffered severe weather variability for the second year in a row, including heavy rainfall, frost, hailstorms and tornadoes. This is affecting crops at planting and critical development stages.

Heavy rain last October / November delayed or prevented planting in many areas; frost in March curtailed the end of the growing season.

Agriculture in Lesotho faces a catastrophic future: crop production is declining and could cease altogether over large tracts of the country if steps are not taken to reverse soil erosion, degradation and the decline in soil fertility.

In the mid-1970s, average maize and sorghum yields were about 1400 kg/hectare, but they now average 450-550 kg/ha.

Cereal production estimated at 53,800 tonnes, 33% lower than last year's already reduced total.

Domestic cereal supply is estimated at 74,000 tonnes, against a national consumption of 412,000 tonnes.

The gap of 338,000 tonnes will be covered by an estimated 191,000 tonnes of commercial imports and food aid of 147,000 tonnes from June to June, until the next harvest.

Total cropped area was 60 percent of area in normal years, partly due to heavy, widespread rains during land preparation and planting period. When the optimum planting date for maize and sorghum was missed, farmers decided not to plant at all.

At the peak of the crisis, an estimated 444,800 people will require emergency food aid, particularly in the hardest hit districts of Quacha's Nek, Quthing and Mohale's Hoek.

Government reaction: in April, a state of famine was declared.

The Government has already allocated 5,400 metric tonnes of maize for distribution to the most vulnerable. A 20 percent subsidy on unsifted maize meal is being undertaken through normal market channels.

Hunger timetable: Lesotho

Period (2002-2003)
People in need of food aid
June-Aug 02
Sept-Nov 02
Dec 02-Mar 03
Total food aid needed:
68,955 metric tonnes

Lesotho food security: background

The Kingdom of Lesotho is a landlocked, rugged, mountainous country, completely surrounded by South Africa. Its mountain areas suffer the greatest food insecurity and the highest levels of vulnerability

There are no shortage of food products in the markets - just purchasing power problems

Even in years of reasonable harvest and stable prices, some two-thirds of households are estimated to live below the poverty line and nearly half are classified as destitute

The recent dramatic food price increases has pushed a greater proportion of people below the poverty line, and worsened the situation of those who were already struggling

Lesotho is a net importer of maize, wheat, pulses, dairy products etc

Typically, about half of the food consumed is imported (for maize, imports are 60-65% of national requirements. Except for wheat, imports come mainly from South Africa.

Inflation has increased, largely attributable to higher food prices caused by domestic and regional food shortages, increasing oil prices and the depreciation of the South African rand.

Prices for bread and cereal rose by 14% between Jan and Feb 2002. An 80 kg bag of maize has almost doubled since June 2001.

Agriculture accounts for less than 10% of income. Although insufficient to meet all food needs, agriculture provides a vital supplement to other food sources as well as employment opportunities.

A crisis in agricultural production reduces employment and cash opportunities, while forcing people to turn to the market for more of their food needs, at a time when market prices are very high.

Average unemployment rate is about 30 percent, but higher in rural areas.

The economy is only able to absorb about one-third of people entering the workforce every year.

Unemployment is exacerbated by continuing retrenchment of Basotho workers from South African mines; in the last 10 years, the number of Basotho working in South Africa has declined by about half.

People, particularly in the foothills and mountain areas, are surviving through bartering, home brewing, selling livestock, reducing meals and taking children out of school.

As purchasing power has fallen, certain families are facing acute food shortage, taking one meal a day if at all.

In some areas, it is reported that the food shortage is beginning to claim lives and malnutrition is worsening among children and pregnant mothers.

The majority of rural households (some 80% or more) own livestock, mainly cattle, sheep and goats. Many also have a horse, 2 or more donkeys and chickens.

Livestock theft has become a major problem which is getting worse and more dangerous - loss of livestock has a serious negative effect on household food security livestock are a vital source of cash for food purchase which crop production is low. Also important for draught power for cultivation.

People infected with HIV/AIDS are also forced to reduce food intake when in fact they should be increasing their energy intake (plus 10-15%) and place particular emphasis on consumption of protein (plus 50%) and micronutrient rich foods.