GIEWS Country Brief: Lesotho 10-July-2020

News and Press Release
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• Near-average cereal output expected in 2020

• Cereal imports estimated at above-average level in 2020/21

• Prices of bread and cereals increased in April 2020 and were higher year on year

• Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, 433 000 people estimated to be food insecure in early 2020

Near-average cereal output expected in 2020

Harvesting of the 2020 main season cereal crops is virtually complete and production is anticipated to recover from the drought-reduced output in 2019, but remains below the five-year average level. The production upturn mostly reflects an increase in yields compared to the reduced levels of 2019. Despite early rainfall deficits, increased precipitation since December 2019 until May 2020 replenished soil moisture reserves and helped lift yields to near-average levels. However, the late onset of conducive seasonal rains and the constrained access to agricultural inputs limited some farmers’ capacity to expand the sown area and, consequently, the area planted to cereals is estimated to be just under the five-year average level. Reports from the country also indicate that farmers in localized areas, on account of the delay in plantings, harvested their crops before they reached full maturity in order to avoid losses to frost.

Regarding winter crops, mainly wheat and pulses, reports from the country indicate that planting operations, which normally take place in May, were delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic-induced movement restrictions and stricter sanitary measures that impeded normal access to imported seeds and fertilizers.

Aggregate 2020 cereal production, including an estimated average output of winter crops to be harvested at the end of the year, is forecast at near-average level of 98 000 tonnes. Maize production is forecast at 70 000 tonnes, nearly double the 2019 output, but still slightly below the five-year average, while production of sorghum is anticipated at an above-average level of 20 000 tonnes.

Cereal imports estimated above average in 2020/21

In the 2020/21 marketing year (April/March), cereal import requirements are estimated at an above-average level of 230 000 tonnes. The import requirement for maize is estimated at 120 000 tonnes, nearly 40 percent above the previous five-year average.
The high volume reflects the country´s need to bolster supplies, following the reduced harvest in 2019 and a consequent drawdown in stocks, while also benefiting from lower prices in South Africa, the country’s main trading partner. Imports of wheat are expected to remain stable at an average level of 80 000 tonnes.

Prices of bread and cereals increased in April 2020

Prices of bread and cereals were stable between January and March 2020, mainly reflecting an adequate supply situation and generally constant prices in South Africa. In April, prices of bread and cereals started to increase and were about 13 percent higher on a yearly basis. Some of the increase is partly attributed to an uptick in consumer demand as the effects of pandemic-related lockdown measures took hold and consumers sought to purchase in bulk in preparation of the movement restrictions.

Food insecurity expected to worsen in 2020

Prior to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, about 433 000 people in rural areas were estimated to be in IPC Phase 3: “Crisis” and Phase 4: “Emergency” in the October 2019-March 2020 period, according to the last IPC acute food insecurity analysis. This figure was nearly 60 percent higher than the number of food insecure in the same period in 2018/19, reflecting the impact of the 2019 reduced cereal harvest and higher food prices.

Notwithstanding the positive effects of the recovery in cereal production in 2020 on rural households’ food availability and access, the COVID-19 pandemic is anticipated to trigger an increase in the prevalence of food insecurity from the third quarter of 2020 to early 2021. The effects of the pandemic on rural household’s livelihoods, who are heavily dependent on causal labor, remittances and petty trade, are foreseen to be primarily channeled through a reduction in economic activities and associated income losses. As a measure to provide relief to households, the government launched an economic mitigation package, which includes LSL 1.2 billion (about USD 58 million) for emergency assistance and the expansion of social protection programmes, such as the Child Grant Programme.