Lesotho's 2009 harvest saw a 10% drop in maize production compared to 2008 due primarily to more land being left fallow because of the high cost of inputs, such as seeds and fertiliser. However, there was a 57% increase in sorghum - the third annual increase in succession. Overall, Lesotho produced around 86,000 mt of cereals, which was slightly less than the previous year. Lesotho is the only country in southern Africa to harvest less in 2009 than in 2008.
The Lesotho Vulnerability Assessment Committee (LVAC) estimates that between 400,000-450,000 people will require some form of humanitarian assistance before the next harvest in April 2010 - compared to 352,000 in the months leading up to the 2009 harvest. The LVAC found that the increasing cost of essential items coupled with reduced opportunities for casual labour (such as weeding etc) had exacerbated the food security situation for many vulnerable households, leaving them dependent on assistance.
While erratic weather has affected Lesotho’s staple maize harvests in recent times, annual cereal production has been shrinking for years because of a combination of long-term soil erosion, lack of sufficient access to agricultural inputs and the impact of HIV/AIDS on farming families. In 1980, cereal production met about 80 percent of the national requirements; by the 1990s, it was contributing about 50 percent. By 2004, however, cereal production was estimated to contribute only 30 percent of national cereal requirements – and the percentage is still falling.
Farmers are starting to switch to sorghum, which is more resistant to the changing weather patterns. However, the increase in sorghum production cannot yet compensate for the substantial fall in maize production in recent years.
The declining maize harvests are exacerbating the country’s already-high levels of chronic vulnerability since extremely poor families are forced to purchase even more of their food needs – at a time when prices are high and household income is falling.
Studies indicate that HIV/AIDS is the leading factor in the drastic reduction of household income for much of the population. In addition, there is a decline in income opportunities outside the country, particularly in South Africa ’s mining industry. Lesotho has a population of around 1.8 million and a significant proportion endures chronic and persistent vulnerability to hunger and poverty.
According to the results of the national nutrition survey conducted in December 2007, 42 percent of children below the age of 5 suffer from stunting (chronic malnutrition), which indicates a lack of nutritious food for a long period of time. The HIV prevalence rate in Lesotho ranges from 24 percent in rural areas to 33 percent in urban areas.
HIV mainly affects individuals in their economically productive and family-rearing years. Grandparents often need to care for children who have been orphaned as their parents have died from HIV/AIDS. There are about 180,000 orphans in Lesotho.
WFP has been working in Lesotho since 1965. Currently, WFP has a Protracted Relief and Recovery Operation (PRRO) and Development Project (DP) in the country. WFP started the new PRRO in May 2008 with the main focus on social protection. WFP used the 2007 UNAIDS report on HIV prevalence and 2007 national nutrition survey to target 158,000 people in six districts with HIV prevalence above the national average. However, due to the combined impact of the financial crisis and high food prices,
WFP has scaled up its operations and is now targeting around 178,000 beneficiaries in 10 districts. Food assistance is targeted at chronically poor and food insecure beneficiaries involved in Prevention of Mother To Child Transmission (PMTCT), Anti-Retroviral Therapy (ART) and Tuberculosis (TB) treatment in remote, mountainous and inaccessible areas. To complement this programme, WFP has a joint partnership with UNFPA on ART counselling. Mother and child health (MCH) and orphaned and vulnerable children interventions are implemented throughout the country under UNICEF/WFP joint programming, the former targets malnourished children below 5 years and pregnant and lactating mothers in targeted health centres.
WFP supports the Government of Lesotho in providing two free meals a day (morning porridge and lunch) to 66,000 pupils in 400 primary schools located in remote and economically-disadvantaged highland and mountainous regions of the country. The project supports the government’s priorities as defined in the Poverty Reduction Strategy and Education Sector Strategic Plan 2005-2015 and contributes to outcome 2 of the United Nations Development Assistance Framework: ‘to achieve improved and expanded equitable access to quality basic health, education and social welfare services for all by 2012’. School meals provide a powerful incentive for parents to keep their children in class, while the food also improves their health and gives them the energy they need to concentrate on their lessons.