NEARLY A QUARTER OF LESOTHO’S POPULATION FACES SEVERE ACUTE FOOD INSECURITY
Nearly a quarter of Lesotho’s population (around 350,000 people) are facing severe acute food insecurity (IPC Phases 3 and 4) and require urgent humanitarian action. These include around 69,000 people in Emergency (Phase 4) and nearly 280,000 people in Crisis (Phase 3) conditions between May and September 2019. Households in these phases have moderate to large food consumption gaps and above usual acute malnutrition or are only marginally able to meet minimum food needs by depleting essential assets or employing crisis and emergency coping strategies. Almost 470,000 people are also in stressed conditions (Phase 2) and require livelihood support.
Between October 2019 and March 2020, it is projected that 30% of the population (over 430,000 people) will likely face severe acute food insecurity. The majority of households already lack food stocks due to poor crop production, and the lean season is expected to start earlier than usual. There is also a projected El Nino, that is likely to negatively impact agricultural activities. The purchasing power for the poor households is also expected to reduce due to the limited agricultural labour opportunities.
CURRENT SITUATION OVERVIEW
The current season shows a deteriorating food security, as the number of acutely food insecure households has been increasing steadily since last year. Nearly a quarter of the rural population (349,000 people) are estimated to be experiencing severe acute food insecurity (IPC Phase 3+), with around 69,000 people being in Emergency (Phase 4) and nearly 280,000 people in Crisis (Phase 3). Six districts, namely; Maseru, Mafeteng, Mohale’s Hoek, Quthing, Qacha’s Nek and Thaba-Tseka, have been classified to be in Phase 3, and the other four districts in Phase 2 (Stressed), namely: Berea, Butha Buthe, Leribe, and Mokhotlong. Last year, all ten districts were classified in Phase 2 in the current period, and four out of these moved into Phase 3 by the November update. This means two more districts have now slipped into a Crisis situation. Having districts classified in Phase 2 or worse, at the time when households are supposed to have enough food stocks, is an indication that household ability to cover food consumption needs has weakened.
The country experienced a late onset of rains coupled with high temperatures, and resulted in late planting. For the districts which planted on time there was poor germination due to low moisture content, while for those which planted late the crops did not reach maturity. Other shocks that affected crops negatively include hailstorms and pests. Although in the highlands planting was done on time, prolonged dry spells resulted in poor germination and crop conditions. Crop estimates show a declining trend over two consecutive years, with production of maize declining by 70% compared to last year, which already had a 36% decline in the same crop that year. Sorghum production declined by almost 98%, while wheat production increased by 18% compared to last year.
A significant drop in crop production in two successive years has resulted in low or no household food stocks, and has also negatively affected livelihood and income sources, especially for households which depend mainly on agricultural labour activities. Opportunities for other income sources such as self- employment (beer brewing) and non-agricultural casual labour, especially those that offer payment in-kind, also declined as food stocks declined. Prolonged dry spells further affected the grazelands adversely and led to poor livestock and livestock products conditions. The majority of households rely on unreliable livelihood sources that are prone to small shocks, thus reducing household purchasing power and widening food gaps.
Although food production has declined significantly compared to last year, food availability remains a minor limiting factor. This is attributed to the fact that the country has proven to have the ability to import food from South Africa over the years and the markets are fully functional. Prices of staple food remain slightly higher than last year, but are stable and below the five-year average. Food access becomes a major limiting factor for most districts, due to reduced own production and purchasing power to buy food.
Low purchasing power has also resulted in some households consuming less diversified meals. Most of these households employed stress coping strategies in responding to the food gaps. Even though there were low levels of water from main water sources, food utilization was not compromised in most districts, except for Maseru where it was a minor limiting factor, since some households accessed water from unprotected sources as well as used open defecation.