Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are expected to continue through March as households begin consuming the green harvest, reducing food consumption gaps. Many households remain primarily dependent on market food purchases but are expected to access the dry harvest in April and May. The dry harvest is expected to improve most households' food security outcomes to Stressed (IPC Phase 2) in April and Minimal (IPC Phase 1) from May to August. Very poor households are likely to begin facing Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes in September as their own produced food stocks deplete.
In May, access to the anticipated near-normal dry harvest is expected to allow households to meet their essential food needs. Improved food access is expected to allow households to reallocate income currently used for food purchases for non-food needs, meeting Minimal (IPC Phase 1) thresholds through the harvest period. Increased access to cash and in-kind payments from agricultural labor, along with increased access to South Africa's labor market, is expected to improve household access to income.
The rainy season is expected to end on time in March, with average to above-average cumulative rainfall. Most of the maize crop is nearing maturity, with the harvest expected to start in April/May. The crop stand is average to good which is increasing confidence in a near-average harvest. Agriculture-based labor opportunities are seasonally declining as the maize crop matures. However, with the start of the dry harvest, labor opportunities are expected to increase cash and in-kind payments for very poor households.
On March 22, the government decreased the lockdown alert to "Blue Alert (Level 2)" loosening restrictions on public activities but maintaining general COVID-19 safety measures and a nationwide 10 pm to 4 am curfew. Economic activity in urban areas is near-normal, including petty trade and domestic work, as businesses operate in line with safety protocols. Labor migration and remittances are still below normal levels but are improving following the relaxation of restrictions in South Africa. Nonetheless, regional health analysts warn of the possibility of a third wave that could see a return of stricter protocols that limit economic activity.
Market food supplies are consistent across Lesotho. Maize meal and other staple food commodities are available on the market, most of which are imported from South Africa. However, due to high demand and border slowdowns, maize meal prices are above average, reducing market-dependent households' purchasing power. According to price projections by FEWS NET, maize meal prices in Maseru will likely fluctuate within 15 to 18 percent above the five-year average through August.
In February, FEWS NET anticipated COVID-19 economic impacts were expected to drive Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes between June and September, particularly in Mafeteng, Mohale's Hoek, Quthing, and Qacha's Nek during May and June. Based on recent information, local economic activity has returned to near-normal following the relaxation of COVID-19 restrictions along with improved access to South Africa's labor markets. This is likely to drive greater improvement in food security during the June-September period than previously anticipated, and Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes are now expected at the area-level, though some worst-affected households are still expected to be Stressed (IPC Phase 2) or in Crisis (IPC Phase 3).