WFP warns of severe food insecurity in Lesotho

Lesotho is facing a fourth successive year of severe food insecurity, according to the World Food Programme (WFP).

Early assessment of the 2004/05 harvest has shown there will be some improvement in the cereal yield, although it is expected to be below the five-year average.

According to the WFP, domestic cereal production in 2003/04 was estimated at only 49 000 tonnes, which was half of the previous year’s production and a third of the five-year average.

“The poor harvests led the government to declare a state of emergency in February 2004, appealing to the international community for food assistance,” said the WFP.

The most important factors resulting in poor food production are erratic rains, a reduction in the area cultivated and very limited use of fertilisers and improved seeds.

“In addition, new job opportunities have not been able to make up for the rising unemployment due to retrenchments in the South African mining industry,” said the WFP.

The population of Lesotho is struggling with extreme poverty and a HIV/Aids rate of 31%.

According to the WFP assessment unit, chronic illness and deaths of productive household members have a negative impact on crop production. The household members may be forced to give up their jobs and care for sick family members, and lease their fields to cover funeral expenses.

The WFP said even without the impact of HIV/Aids, the declining crop production will continue if steps are not taken to reverse soil erosion, soil degradation and declining soil fertility, “especially as only 10% of the land is suitable for cropping”.

“In the mid-1970s, average maize and sorghum yields across the country were about 1 400kg per hectare, but they now average only 450kg to 550kg/ha,” stated the WFP.

As in the previous year, the districts along the Senqu River Valley and the southern lowlands are the worst affected in terms of crop yields.

The situation in the mountain areas has improved slightly, but yields are still below those of last year. The high-production areas of the north-east, as a whole, also have below average yields.

The WFP has embarked on a protracted relief and recovery operation (PRRO) from January this year to December 2007 aimed at preventing severe food shortages in vulnerable households that have not yet recovered from recurrent shocks over the past three years of food insecurity.

The PRRO will be carried out through school feeding and take-home rations for vulnerable pupils, Food for Work, and support for tuberculosis patients and people on anti-retroviral treatment.

These activities aim to improve the livelihood of the poor, and safeguard the nutritional well-being of vulnerable segments of the population—such as people living with HIV/Aids, orphans and vulnerable children, expectant and nursing women and the elderly.

The operation plans to feed 600 000 beneficiaries per month from the first quarter of 2005—a figure that will gradually drop to 80 000 by the final quarter of 2007. However, due to lack of sufficient contributions and thus lack of food aid, during the second quarter, April to June, the WFP Lesotho plans to reach 447 070 beneficiaries.

Lesotho is part of the WFP’s regional PRRO, amounting to $404-million for 2005/06. Other countries covered by the PRRO include Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland and Zambia.—Sapa

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