Lesotho buys S.Africa food, fears aid may not come

By Ntsau Lekhetho

MASERU, July 8 (Reuters) - Lesotho is buying food from South Africa to help alleviate food shortages but there are worries aid may not arrive, while low prices in its larger neighbour may drive local farmers out of business, an official said.

Lesotho needs 354,000 tonnes of cereals a year, senior Disaster Management Authority economic planner Mateboho Motemekoane told Reuters late on Thursday, but only 177,300 tonnes were available in the poverty-struck mountain kingdom.

"Total planned cereal imports by the major commercial grain handlers and food aid... stand at 199,500 tonnes," she said.

"The planned imports of grain should be able to cover any deficits. However we are concerned about the 54,645 tonnes of food aid expected from donor agencies. We understand Lesotho might not get it due to the aftermath of the Tsunami disaster."

Aid agencies such as the United Nations World Food Programme say donations -- particularly for southern Africa, where some 10 million are at risk of shortages -- have dried up after many donors gave huge sums to rebuild after the Asian tidal wave.

In June, the WFP's Lesotho deputy country director told Reuters lack of funds were forcing the agency to cut back distribution in Lesotho, a nation of roughly two million entirely enclosed within the borders of South Africa.

Around 30 percent of Lesotho's adult population are HIV positive, and aid workers and officials say illness may be preventing farmers from growing crops.

An annual vulnerability report found that maize yields had fallen to 450-500 kg per hectare from 1400 in the 1970s.

But across the border in South Africa's Free State grain bowl, good rains and new seed varieties have led to the largest crop in over a decade, causing prices to slump and creating further problems for Lesotho's farmers.

"Given the low maize price in South Africa, it is likely that local maize producers will not be able to sell their produce to the milling companies, who will opt to purchase from South Africa only," Motemekoane said.

Some farmers were reported to be selling off old stocks of maize at a loss, she said, adding that better monitoring of informal imports was necessary to assess the situation.


Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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