- Domestic cereal supply in 2003/04 is estimated at 118 200 tonnes, while total national consumption requirement is estimated at 438 900 tonnes. This results in a cereal import requirement of 320 700 tonnes. Commercial imports are projected at 288 700 tonnes with food aid needs estimated at 32 000 tonnes. WFP has 12 000 tonnes in the pipeline, leaving a gap of 20 000 tonnes to be covered by additional external assistance.
- The Mission forecasts 2002/03 cereal production at 89 100 tonnes. Maize production is estimated at 61 400 tonnes, wheat at 24 300 tonnes and sorghum at 3 400 tonnes. Aggregate cereal production this year will be 66 percent higher than the very low production of 53 800 tonnes estimated by last year'sFAO/WFP Mission.
- A combination of better though below normal domestic cereal production and improved commercial import capacity suggests that there will be no serious cereal shortages at the national level. However, the key issue remains physical and economic access to food for certain segments of the population.
- The Mission estimates that 32 000 tonnes of cereals will need to be distributed as food aid to targeted households. The number of beneficiaries will vary from 125 000 to about 270 000 during the lean period. Targeted food assistance is recommended to households that have lost their crops entirely and have no livestock and those affected by HIV/AIDS. Emergency provision of agricultural inputs to these families for the next cropping season will be also necessary.
- Agriculture in Lesotho faces a long term decline if current trends continue. Severe soil and land degradation, lack of proper land and crop husbandry practices, inefficient use of improved seeds, fertilizers and pesticides, and an extension service without appropriate technical messages continue to hamper agricultural production.
Following two consecutive years of poor harvests, the Government of Lesotho requested FAO and WFP for assistance in reviewing the country's food situation and outlook for the 2003/04 marketing year. Consequently, an FAO/ WFP Crop and Food Supply Assessment Mission was fielded from 22 April to 1 May, 2003 to estimate the current season cereal production, assess the overall food supply situation and forecast import requirements for 2003/04 marketing year (April/March), including food assistance needs.
The Mission received full cooperation from the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security, the Ministry of Economic Planning, the Disaster Management Authority, the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Marketing, and the Bureau of Statistics. Discussions were also held with relevant UN agencies including UNICEF, WHO, UNDP, as well as donor representatives, NGOs, and grain importers. The Mission split into two groups and was able to cover all the ten districts of the country. Interviews were conducted with each District Agricultural Officer and staff from crops, livestock, extension, disaster management, nutrition, and health divisions to get information and their assessment of the situation within their districts. Interviews were also conducted with Village Chiefs, farmers, households and traders. Overall, more than 120 interviews were conducted during the course of the mission.
The Mission forecasts 2002/03 cereal production at 89 100 tonnes. Maize production is estimated at 61 400 tonnes, wheat at 24 300 tonnes and sorghum at 3 400 tonnes. Other crops such as beans, potatoes and peas were also observed on most farmers' fields and contribute to the diet of families and cash incomes when grown in larger quantities. The Government cereal production figures for the last few years appear to be biased upwards. The Mission therefore uses last year's FAO/WFP assessment mission figures for comparison. On this basis, production this year will be 66 percent higher than the very low production last year. The Mission estimated the total cropped area at 178 300 hectares, about 84 percent of the area in normal years and 33 percent higher than last year's figure. Some land was not planted because of the late arrival of subsidised inputs and the lack of tractors and machinery.
With an estimated total domestic cereal supply of 118 200 tonnes, and total utilization requirement of 438 900 tonnes, the country faces a shortfall of about 321 000 tonnes for 2003/04 marketing year. Commercial imports are forecast at 288 700 tonnes, leaving a gap of 32 000 tonnes to be covered as food aid. Against this requirement, WFP food aid in the pipeline for the current marketing year stands at 12 000 tonnes. Thus, there is an uncovered requirement of 20 000 tonnes which needs to be met by additional external food assistance.
A combination of better though below normal domestic cereal production and improved commercial import capacity suggests that there will be no serious cereal shortages at the national level. However, the key issue remains physical and economic access to food for certain segments of the population. High unemployment and inflation rates, particularly in the rural areas, coupled with the impact of HIV/AIDS means that certain segments of the population do not have the purchasing power to access food even if it is available in the market.
Inflationary pressures in 2002 were strong resulting in double-digit inflation for the first time in about 7 years. The food items that contribute about 36 percent of the consumer price index were the main drives of overall inflation. The food items index rose by an average of 26.3 percent during the year compared to an average increase of 6.7 percent in 2001. Timely Government interventions such as the Famine Relief Programme and food assistance from the international community contributed to mitigate the food crisis of last year.
Early this year the price of cereals began to decline as harvest prospects improved. It is expected that cereal prices will continue to decline over the course of the marketing year as millers exhaust their stocks of cereals bought at very high prices last year. Furthermore, a good maize production in South Africa will also contribute to the decline in prices. The maize SAFEX (South Africa Futures Exchange) prices have declined from a high of R2045/tonne in April 2002 to R782/tonne in April 2003. It is likely that the appreciation of the Rand will contribute to lower demand from other regional countries for South African grain as it has become relatively more expensive. Countries that normally import cereals from South Africa may look to international markets elsewhere. Swaziland and Lesotho are the only regional countries that are not impacted by the appreciation of the Rand as their currencies are pegged at par with it. UNAIDS estimates that the HIV prevalence in Lesotho is about 31 percent. It is likely that the infection rates may be even higher because HIV/AIDS remains a stigmatised disease and there is no real economic or medical incentive for people to disclose their infection. Infection rates are particularly high among young adults who form a large proportion of the economically active population. In addition to its humanitarian and social consequences, HIV/AIDS has severe economic costs, as it constrains output growth, eliminates work skills and knowledge, shrinks the tax base, raises health-related costs, reduces disposable income, and increases financial imbalance in the public pension funds. Serious and immediate interventions need to be designed and implemented to control this disease. In the absence of such measures the overall economic and social conditions in the country will continue to worsen.
The Mission estimates that 38 000 tonnes of mixed food commodities, including 32 000 tonnes of cereals, will need to be distributed as food aid to targeted households. The number of beneficiaries will vary from around 225 000 to about 432 000 during the lean period. The assistance for HIV/AIDS affected households will be implemented in all of the 10 districts. In addition, in some districts there will be emergency assistance targeting households that have lost their crops entirely and have neither livestock nor off-farm income with which to buy food from the market.
Agriculture in Lesotho faces a catastrophic future due to structural rather than seasonal constraints. Severe soil and land degradation, lack of proper land and crop husbandry practices, inefficient use of improved seeds, fertilizers and pesticides, and an ineffective extension service continue to hamper agricultural production and development. If long-term interventions are not introduced as a matter of urgency, it is highly probable that crop production will completely cease on large tracts of agricultural land.
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