The 2006/07 cropping season was characterized by one of the most severe droughts of the last 30 years. The amount of rainfall in the critical months of January-March was well below normal, and temperatures were higher than the long-term average.
Average yields per hectare of maize and sorghum for the 2006/07 cropping season are estimated to have decreased dramatically by 42 percent and 25 percent respectively, as compared to the previous year. Furthermore, the decrease in area planted to these cereals in 2006/07, as compared to the last cropping season, was 15 and 20 percent down, respectively, compared to the last 5-years average.
2007 national cereal production is estimated at about 72 000 tonnes, which represents a drop of 42 percent from 2006, and 40 percent from the average of the previous 5-years. Maize production (50 825 tonnes) decreased by 51 percent, sorghum (11 182 tonnes) by 42 percent, and summer wheat (5 411 tonnes) by 4 percent compared to last year. A provisional forecast amount of 5 000 tonnes of winter wheat is also included.
Cereal import requirements for the 2007/08 marketing year (April/March) are estimated at about 256 000 tonnes, of which 219 000 tonnes are expected to be imported commercially. With food aid stocks and pipeline at 7 000 tonnes as of 1 April 2007, there remains an uncovered deficit of around 30 000 tonnes which needs to be covered by additional government and/or international assistance.
Many households have exhausted their coping capacity, and the escalation of grain prices, due to domestic shortages and rising maize prices in South Africa (the main supplier in the region), will further limit the access to market supplies by landless and urban populations, and deepen food insecurity.
The worsening HIV/AIDS pandemic is undermining the economic resource base. In rural/agricultural areas, a visible lack of labour is observed, which may explain why some fields are left idle.
The current situation is particularly serious for the poorest strata of the population. Crop failure not only reduces food supplies, it also reduces casual labour opportunities and thus, income earning opportunities to procure food from markets.
The Mission estimates that about 401 200 vulnerable people face food insecurity during the 2007/08 marketing year, and will require approximately 30 000 tonnes of cereals and 6 700 tonnes of other foods, or equivalent in cash, to meet their minimum food consumption needs.
Timely support is also needed with agricultural inputs, including seeds, fertilizers, and credit facilities, to rehabilitate production capacity for the 2007/08 cropping season.
Due to the accentuated drought conditions prevailing during the cropping season, the Government of Lesotho requested FAO and WFP to carry out a Crop and Food Supply Assessment (CFSAM) in order to estimate the 2007 cereal production, assess the overall food availability and forecast import requirements for the coming marketing year 2007/08 (April to March), including food assistance needs. The mission visited the country from 22 April to 5 May 2007.
The Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security, the Disaster Management Authority, the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Marketing, the Bureau of Statistics, and the Lesotho Vulnerability Assessment Committee (LVAC) cooperated fully with the mission. Discussions were also held with relevant UN agencies as well as with donor representatives, NGOs and grain importers. In close cooperation with the Government and the resident offices of FAO and WFP, the mission carried out an intensive field assessment covering all ten districts of the country. Observers from donor agencies (European Union, US embassy), SADC, and from NGOs accompanied the mission.
Meetings were held with District Agricultural Officers and staff from Government Divisions covering crops, livestock, extension, disaster management, nutrition and health divisions. Interviews and focus group discussions were conducted with village chiefs, farmers, households and traders. The field assessment obtained planted area and yield data for all major food crops from the district agricultural offices, which were cross-checked against information from farmers, traders, NGO and donor project staff and remote sensing data from FAO/GIEWS. Crop inspections, crop cutting experiments, and transect recordings of crop performance were conducted en route to audit the information received. Livestock and pasture conditions were observed and market surveys were carried out in selected markets to fine-tune the production estimates The Mission observed that a combination of high temperatures and low rainfall created one of the worst drought situations ever experienced in the country. Particularly, the months of January, February and March 2007 were found to be very dry causing large scale damage to growing crops. The drought was most severe in the lowlands, where the main production areas are located.
Overall crop yields of the 2006/07 cereal crops are expected to be even lower when compared to the already low yields of 2005/06. The average yields of maize, sorghum and wheat for the cropping season 2006/07 are estimated to be 0.43, 0.42, and 0.52 tonnes/ha, respectively. Compared to last years cropping season 2005/06, productivity in yields has decreased dramatically for maize and sorghum by 42 percent and 25 percent respectively, and just slightly by 4 percent for wheat.
The general trend also reveals a decline in planted area of cereals over the past few years, with potential farmland left uncultivated mainly due to the uncertainties of agro-climatic conditions, shortage of farm labour and lack of cash (capital) for inputs and investment. In the lowlands, in particular, large areas were not planted despite the distribution of seeds and subsidized fertilizers. The decrease in planted area in 2006/07 as compared to the previous cropping season was significant, estimated at some 15 percent, and some 20 percent compared to the 5-year average.
2007 national cereal production forecast is estimated at about 72 000 tonnes which represents a substantial shortfall of 42 percent as compared to 2006 harvest, and 40 percent as compared to the last 5-year average. Total cereal production is composed of 50 825 tonnes of maize, 11 182 tonnes of sorghum, 5 411 tonnes of summer wheat and a forecast of 5 000 tonnes of winter wheat to be harvested later this year.
The national food balance sheet for the marketing year 2007/08 (April/March) shows an uncovered deficit of 30 000 tonnes of cereals including 25 000 tonnes of maize and 5 000 tonnes of sorghum respectively which would need to be covered by government and/or donor assistance. Maize can be easily substituted for sorghum in the Lesotho diet.
Despite current very high prices for maize, farmers are not expected to respond by increasing production in the forthcoming secondary cropping season mainly due to lack of resources. In addition, production and marketing costs, particularly increasing transport costs, prevent many farmers to take advantage of the formal market, as the millers do not operate collection centres due to the small quantities of grain being produced for the formal market.
The current situation is particularly serious for the poorest households who depend heavily on in-kind payments and incomes from agricultural activities. These households purchase most of their food requirements in the open market, as their own production only provides a supplement in the months following the harvest period. This marketing year, the crop failure will not only impact the livelihoods of these vulnerable groups by reducing access to food from own produce, but also will reduce casual labour opportunities in agriculture.
Furthermore, while poverty in Lesotho is very closely associated with the absence of employment opportunities, the worsening HIV/AIDS pandemic is undermining the economic resource base. In the rural/agricultural areas, in particular, a visible lack of labour is observed which results in some fields being left idle, with direct consequences on deepening poverty and vulnerability.
The most serious concern from a food security perspective is the loss of purchasing power as a consequence of the dramatic escalation in maize prices. South African grain prices have increased by almost 400 percent in only two years. Analysis of prices at household level reveals that there has been a steep upward trend in the past two years, while the price of the South Africa maize, which Lesotho structurally imports, has increased even further reflecting two consecutive reduced harvests in that country. Furthermore, it is expected that this increasing price trend will continue as household stocks run out and the main importers adjust their prices to reflect rising import costs. Given that vulnerable households are the ones depending most heavily on markets to access food, the price situation will put serious stress on their livelihoods.
Together with the LVAC, the Mission estimates that a total of 401 200 people will be in a food deficit during the 2007/08 marketing year. Approximately 30 000 tonnes of cereals (mostly maize) and additional 6 700 tonnes of non-cereals, or cash equivalent, will be needed to meet the 2 100 kcal minimum daily requirement.