GIEWS Country Brief: Lesotho 18-November-2016

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  • Favourable rainfall forecast for 2016/17 cropping season

  • Cereal production declined significantly in 2016 on account of El Niño-related drought conditions

  • Maize meal retail prices declined, but still remained above their year-earlier levels

  • Food security conditions worsen in 2016 reflecting impact of drought, with just under 0.5 million people requiring emergency assistance

Above-average rainfall conditions forecast for 2016/17 cropping season

Planting of the 2017 summer cereal crops is underway and is expected to be completed by the end of the year. Rainfall forecasts for the 2016/17 main summer cropping season (October-June) point to an increased likelihood of above-average rainfall conditions until early 2017. Heavy rains have already been received in northern parts of the country, including the main cereal-producing regions of Bera and Leribe, which boosted vegetation growth. This follows a season that was severely affected by El Niño-related dryness.

The early production outlook for the 2017 cereal crops are generally favourable. However, following the reduced 2016 harvest that constrained households food supplies and income opportunities, the productive capacities of farming households is expected to be lower than normal, particularly in regard to seed supplies and this may limit plantings; a recent FAO assessment indicated that farming households predominantly use own saved seed or seed from social networks, rather than market supplies. In response, FAO is targeting 25 000 households with agricultural inputs and technical support to improve farming practices and input access, in addition to distributing vegetable production packages to 22 000 households.

Cereal production dropped sharply in 2016

Total cereal production in 2016 is estimated at approximately 30 000 tonnes, two‑thirds lower than the previous five-year average. The bulk of this year’s decline reflects a sharply lower maize harvest, estimated at 25 000 tonnes, 68 percent down on last year, while sorghum production is estimated to be less than half of last year’s output. The steep production decline was mostly driven by the El Niño‑induced drought, further compounded by higher‑than‑normal temperatures.

The suppressed rainfall also adversely affected pastures and water availability for animals. This resulted in worsening livestock conditions and caused the loss of cattle; over two‑thirds of rural households reported the loss of one head of cattle.

Import needs inflate following drought-reduced harvest

Imports of maize in the 2016/17 marketing year (April/March), are forecast at approximately 160 000 tonnes, under the assumption that per capita consumption will be sustained. As of early November, just over the halfway point of the current marketing year, 75 000 tonnes of maize were imported from South Africa. This volume is about 50 percent more than the quantity imported in the corresponding period of the previous marketing year, reflecting increased import needs this year.

Maize prices declined, but remain higher than previous year’s level

The drought has adversely affected domestic and regional food supplies, contributing to inflationary pressure and pushing up food prices in 2016. Imports of maize, on average, satisfy about half of Lesotho’s domestic consumption requirement and, therefore, South African price trends tend to have a significant influence on domestic maize meal prices. Following a sharp increase at the start of the year, prices of maize meal in Maseru have fallen since mid-2016, largely mirroring the movement of South African prices. The implementation of the Government price subsidy programme for maize meal, beans and pulses in June, that aims to reduce the retail prices for consumers by 30 percent for a period of one year, is expected to have also contributed to the recent decreases.

As of October 2016, retail prices of maize meal in the capital were, however, still 25 percent higher compared to its year earlier level. The annual inflation rate in September was estimated at 6 percent, mostly driven by higher food prices.

Food security conditions deteriorate in 2016/17

Food security condition worsened in 2016 on account of the reduced agricultural output and higher food prices. As a result, the number of food insecure people in 2016/17 is estimated to have increased by 53 percent to 709 394 persons, according to the latest Lesotho Vulnerability Assessment Committee’s (LVAC) evaluation conducted earlier in the year. Of this number, approximately 491 000 people require emergency food assistance, with the remaining households requiring livelihood protection support. In response, the Government and humanitarian community are providing food assistance, with the current financial contributions covering the needs of about 337 000 people, leaving approximately 154 000 people in need.