Lesotho needs urgent international assistance to avert a major food crisis because of high cereal prices after this year’s main cereal harvest was ravaged by one of the worst droughts in 30 years, says a new report by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the WFP.
The last thing Lesotho needed was another poor harvest since so many vulnerable people are already living on the edge
Amir Abdulla, WFP’s Regional Director for Southern Africa
Some 400,000 people across Lesotho -- or a fifth of the total population -- will face food shortages and will need assistance at the height of the crisis, in the first three months of 2008.
According to the report, serious food shortages will start to set in as early as the third quarter of this year, when about 140,000 people will require food assistance, particularly because of soaring cereal prices and few opportunities for casual labour in the aftermath of the failed season. Many farmers harvested little or nothing.
Impact on vulnerable
“The last thing Lesotho needed was another poor harvest since so many vulnerable people are already living on the edge, struggling to cope with the combined impact of successive crop failures, extreme poverty and HIV/AIDS,” said Amir Abdulla, WFP’s Regional Director for Southern Africa.
“Rapidly rising cereal prices are going to exacerbate the situation, leaving even more people in need of assistance because they won’t be able to buy enough food for their families.”
Overall, national cereal production in 2007 is estimated at just 72,000 tonnes – 40 percent less than the already-low average of the previous five years.
Lesotho’s estimated annual cereal requirements are 360,000 tonnes. Taking into consideration commercial imports and current food aid supplies, the report estimates that 30,000 tonnes of cereals and 6,700 tonnes of other foods, or the equivalent in cash, will be required to meet the minimum needs.
While average yields decreased dramatically because of drought, there was also a 20 percent reduction in the area planted in cereals compared to the last five-year average. Increasing amounts of arable land have been left uncultivated in the past two years because of unpredictable weather, a lack of cash for inputs, and a shortage of farm labour due to the impact of HIV/AIDS.
The report noted that the HIV/AIDS pandemic, with infection rates running as high as an estimated 31 percent, is increasingly undermining economic resources in Lesotho, resulting in a visible lack of labour in rural areas.
However, it added that the greatest concern was the loss of purchasing power because of a dramatic rise in maize prices. White maize prices in South Africa, the main supplier of maize in the region, have tripled in the last two years, and are currently over 50 percent higher than a year ago. Prices in Lesotho have also increased steeply.
“It is crucial that enough seeds, fertiliser, and credit facilities be available in time for the next cropping season to give Lesotho a chance to improve production in 2008, weather conditions permitting,” said Henri Josserand, Chief of FAO’s Global Information and Early Warning System.
The report also recommends that crop diversification and increased reliance on drought-tolerant crops be promoted.