GIEWS Country Brief: Lesotho 06-December-2019

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Forecasts of reduced seasonal rainfall dampens production prospects for 2020 cereal crops

Cereal production in 2019 estimated well below‑average due to unfavourable weather conditions

Cereal import requirements estimated at high level in 2019/20, while prices of cereals strengthened on high import costs and tight domestic supplies

Food insecurity worsens and 433 410 severely food insecure people (30 percent of rural population) estimated in need of food assistance until March 2020

Unfavourable weather forecast curbs 2020 cereal production prospects

Planting of the 2020 cereal crops, to be harvested from April 2020, is ongoing. Since the start of the rainy season in October, rainfall amounts have been below average and temperatures have been higher‑than‑normal. As a result, soil moisture levels were at below‑normal levels in November, impeding early crop development. For the period December 2019‑March 2020, weather forecasts indicate a higher likelihood of below‑average rainfall that, together with the already unfavourable early cropping conditions, increase the probability of a second consecutive reduced harvest in 2020.

Cereal production in 2019 estimated well below‑average level

The 2019 maize and sorghum crops were harvested by June and production was severely affected by rainfall deficits between September 2018 and January 2019, which led to a decrease in both the area harvested and yields. Maize production, which accounts for the bulk of the national cereal output, is estimated at about 35 000 tonnes, over 60 percent below the previous five‑year average, while sorghum production is estimated at a negligible level of 1 000 tonnes.

The 2019 winter wheat output, which was harvested in November, is estimated at 2 000 tonnes, about 77 percent below the previous year’s near‑average level, reflecting a decline in both planted area and yields.

Imports anticipated at high levels in 2019/20

In the 2019/20 marketing year (April/March), total cereal import requirements are estimated at 272 000 tonnes, about 30 percent above the five‑year average. The import requirements for maize, which accounts for most of the increase, are estimated at an above‑average level of 150 000 tonnes, reflecting the reduced 2019 harvest.

Import volumes of wheat are expected to remain stable at an average 90 000 tonnes, while imports of rice, which is not produced in the country, are expected at an average 31 000 tonnes.

Cereal prices strengthened

According to the latest report of the Bureau of Statistics (BOS), as of September 2019, prices of bread and cereals increased by an average of 11 percent compared to the levels a year earlier. The growth in prices reflects the tight domestic supply as well as the high prices in South Africa, the country’s main supplier of grains.

Food insecurity situation worsens in 2019/20

According to the latest Vulnerability Assessment Committee’s (VAC) evaluation, about 433 410 people in rural areas are estimated to be food insecure and in urgent need of humanitarian assistance from October 2019 to March 2020. This figure is nearly 60 percent higher than the number of food insecure in the same period in 2018/19, reflecting the impact of the low harvest and high food prices.