More on Lesotho

Lesotho is a small, landlocked country in Southern Africa. It occupies an area of 30,000 km2, and the entire country lies between 1,500 and 3,400 metres above sea level. Its climate is temperate, ranging between 20°C and 32°C in summer, and -8.5°C to -1°C in winter. Maize is the staple diet of Lesotho. Of the total land mass, only 9 percent of the land is arable; 60 percent is rangelands, and the remainder is too mountainous for cultivation or development.  Although 80 percent of the population is engaged in agricultural activities in rural areas, this only contributes to about seven percent of the GDP. A large proportion of poor rural households do not have access to agricultural land, and many of those who own land do not have the necessary agricultural inputs such as fertilisers and high-yield seeds. 

Lesotho is classified by the World Bank as a lower middle-income country. Its population numbers 2.1 million people, 57.1 percent of whom live below the national poverty line. The country has one of the highest literacy rates on the continent, with 85% of its adult population being literate.

Facts about Lesotho

  • Population of around 2.109 million

  •  57.1 percent live below the poverty line

  • 709,394  people are food insecure and in urgent need of food assistance

  • 24.6 percent of adults aged 15-49 years have HIV

  •  Life expectancy is 49 years

  • 33.2 percent of children under the age of five years are stunted

  • Lesotho loses 1.9 Billion Maloti – equivalent to 7.13 percent of the country’s GDP – through chronic malnutrition

Current issues in Lesotho

  • Food insecurity and Malnutrition

Lesotho faces a major food security crisis due to the impact of the El-Niño induced drought. The country faces the worst food insecurity situation since 2012, exacerbated by two successive crop failures, low incomes, and high food prices. The Government of Lesotho declared a state of drought emergency in December 2015 and appealed for assistance from the international humanitarian community in February 2016. WFP declared Lesotho as a Level-3 emergency in June 2016. 

Findings from a recent vulnerability assessment conducted by the Lesotho Vulnerability Assessment Committee (LVAC 2016) indicate a deterioration in the food security situation with over 709, 000 people in urgent need of food assistance. In particular, eight of the country’s 10 districts will experience high food deficit in the 2016/17 period. According to the LVAC findings, 41 percent of rural households are spending more than half of their income on food because of high food prices.  Communities are already adopting a range of detrimental coping strategies, including migration, skipping meals, eating less nutritious food that's lacking in dietary diversity, and selling off assets. 

  • Climate change

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) characterises Lesotho as being one of the countries highly vulnerable to the impact of climate change. Already, droughts affect harvest yields and cause significant loss of livestock. It is anticipated that the climate will become warmer and drier and that droughts and floods will become both more frequent and more intense. With less precipitation being held in the mountains in the form of snow, run-off rates will increase, exacerbating soil erosion and depleting soils of nutrients. Climate adaptation measures are underway, although, Lesotho does not have the resources for extensive mitigation.

Overall, adult literacy is fairly high (females, 88.3 percent; males, 79.4 percent); however, it is significantly lower in rural areas. Among the population as a whole, the literacy rate is rising, although UNESCO data for 2015 suggest that the gap between genders is widening: 78 percent of illiterate 15-to-24-year-olds are male.

  • Climate change

Overall, adult literacy is fairly high (females, 88.3 percent; males, 79.4 percent); it is significantly lower in rural areas. Among the population as a whole, the literacy rate is rising, although UNESCO data for 2015 suggest that the gap between genders is widening: 78 percent of illiterate 15-to-24-year-olds are male.

Enrollment and attendance in lower grades increased significantly in the wake of the Government's introduction of free primary education, however, drop-out rates continue to increase at higher grades.

  • Poverty

In rural areas, where 72 percent of the population live, subsistence farming was the second most common economic activity after other types of agricultural work. Lesotho’s industrial capacity is limited. The principal exports are textiles to the USA, followed by water and hydroelectricity to South Africa, and diamonds. The textile water and hydro-electricity sectors have been badly hit by the global economic slowdown, with layoffs of around 10 percent in garment manufacturing alone.

The government relies heavily on revenue from the Southern African Customs Union (SACU), an economic alliance between Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa and Swaziland, in which customs revenues from international exports are shared between member states. This revenue stream has also been affected by the recent economic slump.

  • HIV and TB

Almost a quarter of the population is infected with HIV, with women being disproportionately affected. Gender-based violence is a significant driver for this disparity. Treatment coverage for people living with HIV remains low. Nevertheless, Lesotho’s Government is making substantial progress in preventing mother-to-child transmission. The aim is to eventually reach all affected women who are pregnant.

Around 80 percent of those living with HIV also have tuberculosis (TB). With the increase in South Africa of cases of Multidrug-Resistant and Extensively Drug-Resistant TB, in Lesotho prompt treatment of TB and ensuring patient compliance are urgent priorities.

What the World Food Programme is doing in Lesotho

WFP’s work in Lesotho includes the Protracted Relief and Recovery Operation (PRRO), a Country Programme with three components – disaster risk reduction, early childhood care and development, and support to nutrition and HIV - and a School Meals Programme.

Protracted Relief and Recovery Operation

In response to the drought emergency appeal, WFP is implementing a Protracted Relief and Recovery Operation (PRRO) while concurrently pursuing immediate life-saving objectives and a longer-term vision around recovery, resilience and strengthening national response capacities. The operation plans to support an estimated 263,236 vulnerable drought-affected people through: monthly food assistance in priority locations to stabilise or improve food security and dietary diversity during the lean season; food assistance for assets in areas recurrently affected by shocks to reduce disaster risks and strengthen resilience over time; and  technical assistance to the Government’s national public works programs to become a more effective and shock-responsive safety net in the longer-term.

In line with the results of a March 2016 market assessment, assistance is provided in the form of both food and cash-based transfers. This operation is aligned to the 2013-2017 Lesotho United Nations Development Assistance Plan and the 2012-2017 National Strategic Development Plan. It contributes to WFP Strategic Objectives 1, 2, and 3, and Sustainable Development Goals 2, 5 and 17.

Country Programme

  • Disaster risk reduction

WFP is working to enhance resilience and responsiveness to climate-induced shocks by supporting vulnerable communities to build assets that will improve their livelihoods.

As a long term strategy, WFP will seek to improve the operational and technical capacity of the current Government’s public works programme to maximise resource allocation for greater impact.  This will lead to a strengthened nationally-owned and implemented safety net that will be responsive to shocks while building resilience at scale.  

In 2017, WFP will provide technical assistance to the Ministry of Forestry, Range and Soil Conservation’s existing Cash Assistance for Asset public works programme. The assistance will focus on improving the project cycle processes including the design, targeting (with an emphasis on reaching the country’s most food insecure), identification of assets and implementation, monitoring and evaluation.  These activities will initially be implemented on a pilot basis with the aim of scaling up and replicating appropriately as part of a longer-term shift towards strengthening Government capacities to respond to chronic and acute food insecurity.  

  • Early Childhood Care and Development

WFP is providing Super Cereal porridge for breakfast and a lunch meal of staple food papa (thick maize meal porridge) and pulses to 50,000 learners in 2,053 preschools throughout the country. Support to preschools aims to enhance the preparedness of learners for primary education and contribute to reducing undernutrition in children below the age of 5 years. Improving nutrition will reduce stunting and will assist the children’s cognitive development.

  • Support to nutrition and HIV

WFP’s supplementary feeding activities in Lesotho target moderately malnourished vulnerable groups comprising; undernourished children aged 6 to 59 months, pregnant and lactating women, and clients who are on treatment for HIV and TB. Between January 2016 and August 2016, WFP provided food to 36,461 beneficiaries throughout the country.

Stunting affects 33 percent of children under the age of five years in Lesotho and it is more prevalent in the highlands districts. To treat moderate acute malnutrition (MAM), families with children between the ages of 6 to 23 months receive a 6kg monthly ration of Super Cereal Plus while pregnant and nursing mothers receive a 7.5kg monthly ration. 

Beneficiaries on ART and TB treatment from vulnerable households are provided with household rations to improve household food security. People living with HIV are reached through targeted supplementary feeding in clinics. The support to people on ART is helping to achieve nutrition rehabilitation and adherence to treatment. 

The Cost of Hunger in Africa (COHA) study was conducted by WFP in collaboration with the Government of Lesotho and other agencies. The research, released in October 2016, highlights that the country is losing 1.9 billion Maloti (US$ 200 million) a year to the effects of child undernutrition. This amounts to more than 7 percent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The money is lost through increased healthcare costs, additional burdens to the education system and lower productivity of the workforce. 

  • School meals programme

Since January 2015, WFP has been working in partnership with the Government of Lesotho to provide 250,000 learners in 1,173 primary schools with morning maize meal porridge and a lunchtime meal of the staple food papa served with either pulses or fish. The meals are an opportunity to alleviate micronutrient deficiencies. The aim is to improve the learning environment, increase enrolment, stabilise attendance, and reduce dropout rates of primary school children. A secondary aim is to help the Government improve its capacity and extend its own School Meals Programme to schools in inaccessible areas.

WFP is targeting primary schools in the lowlands, foothills, and highland areas as these were previously not covered by the Government’s school feeding programme. The Government is still managing school feeding in other schools. A transition phase between 2015 and 2017 will see WFP providing capacity development support to the Government in preparation for a handover in 2018.


World Food Programme partners in Lesotho

WFP cannot fight global hunger and poverty alone. These are our partners in Lesotho:

Featured Lesotho publications

  • Lesotho: WFP Country Brief (PDF, 545 KB)

    A Country Brief provides the latest snapshot of the country strategy, operations, operational highlights (achievements and issues/challenges), partnerships and country background.

Looking for more publications on Lesotho? Visit the Lesotho publications archive.