Lesotho Remote Monitoring Update, February 2019

Situation Report
Originally published
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Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes likely to persist due to anticipated delay and below average harvest

Key Messages

  • Despite adequately stocked markets, maize meal access remains restricted to poor households as they continue to earn significantly below average incomes and prices are trending near the five-year average. Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes persist and are likely to continue through April due to the delayed availability of green foods. Due to the anticipated below average harvest, limited availability of labor opportunities, and below average income from livestock production; Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are anticipated with the harvest.

  • Poor rainfall during the 2018/19 season has resulted in poor cropping conditions across Lesotho. Cumulative rainfall through February is significantly below-average. As of second week of February, the Water Requirement Satisfaction Index (WRSI) extended to the end of the season showed poor to mediocre maize cropping conditions in the majority of Lesotho. These conditions are likely to significantly impact the harvest.

  • Below average rains received to date are resulting in very slow regeneration of vegetation and recharge of water bodies. Lesotho is one of the Southern African countries with the most affected vegetation due to poor rains. The Normalized Vegetation Index (NDVI) as of first week of February show that vegetation in Lesotho was about 60 to 90 percent of normal. This has negative implications on availability of pastures and body conditions for livestock in future.


The 2018/19 rainfall season started over a month late with cumulative below average rainfall to date. CHIRPS preliminary data indicates cumulative rainfall for Lesotho has been 55 to 80 percent of normal from the October to February period, marking on of the driest years on record. The WRSI extended to end of season (Figure 1) indicates that the majority of maize crop are mostly in poor to mediocre condition. Below average and erratic rains have contributed to very slow regeneration of vegetation in Lesotho. This has resulted in very poor crop development in most parts of the country. Localized crop failure was informally reported in areas of the country, specifically in the Southern Lowlands. Despite some seasonal improvements in rainfall it is unlikely that crops will fully recover. Ground observations also confirm poor crop conditions, with stunted and pre-mature tasseling crops (Figure 2). The majority of maize crops are still at vegetative stage due to the lateness of the season. Typically, maize crops are expected to have reached the reproductive stage by this time of the year.

The current crop stage indicates the availability of green foods is likely to be delayed and some households are anticipated have below average access to green foods which typically reduces the severity and slowly the end of the lean season by a month. The harvest is anticipated to be below average and delayed. In April, households typically begin earning income from selling green crops such as beans and groundnuts, however this is unlikely this year due to poor season.

February is the peak of the wet season and vegetation typically fully regenerates, however this year it is likely vegetation will not reach its typical levels by the end of rainfall season. The normalized Vegetation Index (Figure 3) from the first ten days of February indicates vegetation was 60 to 90 percent of the long term mean. Poor vegetation conditions are affecting livestock pasture and is anticipated to have severe impacts beginning as early as July as pastures are expected to deteriorate earlier than normal. Livestock body conditions will likely not fully recover from this year’s lean season, which will not only affect livestock prices, but also the quantity and quality of wool and mohair produced from sheep and goats. This is a typical source of income for households in Lesotho however mostly for middle and better off households.

Maize meal prices in Maseru showed a slightly decreased in October 2018 and stabilized in November and December to trend 7 percent below the five-year average. Maize meal prices likely increase due to increases in local demand (from the poor harvest) as well as an increase in prices from the source markets in South Africa (Figure 3).

The majority of households in Lesotho are currently relying on markets to access food as the have exhausted their food stocks. Staple foods are well stocked in local markets as they are consistently supplied from South Africa. However, food access from the markets is currently limited for very poor and poor households due to poor incomes. Poor households’ income sources are limited as agriculture labor is atypically significantly below average for this time of year.

During the harvesting period, May to July, households are most likely to begin accessing incomes from agriculture labor, however this is expected to be significantly below average due to anticipated poor harvest. Also do to below average harvest income from crop sales is also likely to be below average and households are expected to rely more on income from off-farm activities between May and September 2019. Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are anticipated to emerge with the below average harvest in May and continue through the August. As households are likely to deplete their food stocks atypically early in September, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are likely to emerge in some districts.