Lesotho’s chronic food insecurity becomes a crisis

Years of bad luck and record-breaking maize prices have led land-locked Lesotho into a crisis. Prime Minister Tom Thabane declared a food security emergency on Aug. 10, and a national vulnerability assessment warns that nearly 45 percent of the nation’s 2.2 million people will face moderate to severe food insecurity in the next few months.

Agriculture in Lesotho faces a catastrophic future.

Photo by Damien du Toit

While the crisis can be mitigated in the short term, Lesotho will need ongoing food support: It’s one of four countries in the world where nearly 100 percent of the population is projected to remain food insecure for the next ten years.

A multisector emergency and recovery response plan is currently in the works to mitigate the impact of the food crisis, bringing together United Nations agencies, NGOs, and the Disaster Management Authority of Lesotho.

More than 725,500 people will need humanitarian assistance this year, as the DMA projects a sorghum and maize harvest that meets just 20 percent of the country’s food requirements.

In his emergency declaration, Thabane predicted that women, people living with HIV, orphans, and children under the age of five would suffer the most. He urged development partners to provide humanitarian assistance and help break Lesotho’s cycle of food insecurity.

The Millennium Challenge Corp. has a compact with Lesotho, due to expire this year, focused in part on improving water supply. The World Bank and African Development Bank are currently financing water, agriculture and electricity projects there, and a moderate contingent of international NGOs and bilateral donors also have a presence.

For its part, the government of Lesotho plans to improve agricultural productivity by subsidizing inputs and promoting drought-resistant crops, scale up conservation farming and home gardening, and promote nutrition services for mothers, among other future initiatives.

Growing food is challenging in mountainous Lesotho, where a mere tenth of the land is arable. Poor soil created by over-grazing, over-farming and severe erosion coupled with extreme flooding over the last two years has left people in a state of food insecurity and chronic vulnerability to hunger according to CARE. Increasingly erratic weather and a high HIV rate further detract from the country’s ability to produce its own food.

The World Food Program has been feeding people in the “Kingdom in the Sky,” as Lesotho’s monarchy is nicknamed, since 1965, and the U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization has been there for nearly 30 years. Projects to increase food security and reduce poverty and vulnerability have largely been replaced by emergency aid, IRIN reports in 2009.

Despite the dreary outlook for food production, most people in Lesotho work as subsistence farmers. The rest try to find work in the mines and industries of encapsulating neighbour South Africa, an outflow of labour that has been blamed in part for the country’s “development inertia”.

Article by Jennifer Brookland

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