GIEWS Country Brief: Lesotho 06-January-2012

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  • Insufficient rains during the first half of the 2011/12 agricultural season

  • Maize meal prices spiked in September and October, but declined sharply in November

  • Number of persons in need of food assistance estimated at 514 000, as a result of the poor 2011 cereal harvest

Water deficits recorded during the first half of the 2011/12 agricultural season

Following average rains at the very start of the 2011/12 agricultural season (October-June), a prolonged dry spell set in from mid-October stretching for four dekads, which hindered and delayed plantings activities. Although above normal rains were recorded at the end of November and December, allowing planting to take place, cumulative rainfall levels are still about half of the long-term average. Maize however, is relatively tolerant to water deficits during the initial stages of development and therefore an improvement in rains (as is forecast for January-March) could offset the negative effects emanating from poor moisture levels. Although no official estimates of the area planted are available, preliminary indications point to smaller plantings compared to the same time last year. Planting is expected to continue until early January. The dry spell also came at an important stage for the 2011 winter wheat crop, which could impede the crop’s yield. Excessive rains reduce 2011 cereal crop

In contrast to the current situation, a period of abundant rains and flooding during December 2010 and January 2011, caused a 60 percent drop in maize production compared to 2010’s harvest, and at an estimated 51 507 tonnes is about one-third lower than the previous five-year average (2005/06-2009/10). Similarly, sorghum production, estimated at 4 838 tonnes, is nearly 80 percent below 2010’s output. Aggregate national cereal production is put at about 73 000 tonnes for the 2010/11 agricultural campaign, including 16 000 tonnes of wheat. Increased import requirements for maize estimated in 2011/12 marketing year

To compensate for the reduced harvest earlier in 2011, maize import requirements are estimated at 140 000 for current 2011/12 marketing year (April/March), compared to an average of 100 000 tonnes in previous five years. Despite a sluggish rate at the start of the year, maize imports from South Africa, Lesotho’s main trading partner, have accelerated since July and total imports between April and November 2011 are comparable to the previous year. If the current monthly rate continues, the country is on target to meet the estimated import requirement by the end of the marketing year. Maize meal prices spiked in September

Following relatively constant levels during most of 2011, prices of maize meal increased rapidly, by almost 60 percent, in September mirroring high prices in South Africa. Prices however, dropped by the same proportion in November to LSL 5 per kg. Large number of food insecure due to low cereal production

Reduced cereal production in 2011 negatively impacted food security conditions, through both a reduction in households’ food supplies and resulting loss of income from the limited seasonal/causal farm employment; approximately one quarter of the national population derive their income from the agriculture sector (Household Budget Survey 2002/03). Results from the 2011 Lesotho Vulnerability Assessment Committee (LVAC) indicated that 514 000 people require food assistance during the 2011/12 marketing year, with the majority located in the southern lowlands.