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Tough times as hunger bites



NAZARETH – THE deadly combination of climate change, Covid-19 and the war in Ukraine has left many Basotho in dire straits, with thousands struggling with food insecurity.

’Mamojapoho Mahloane, a subsistence farmer involved in block farming (lihalefothe) is one of them. She said torrential rains affected her harvest so much this year that she has been forced to scrounge for food.

“I got less than two bags of maize from the three fields I planted. I used to get at least two Sabu-sabu (bags) of maize from the same piece of land,” she said.

She said she is still planting crops on the land but fertiliser is a challenge.

“We have been looking for it with no luck…there is nothing in the shops,” she said.

She added: “We just planted hoping history will not repeat itself as my family is already struggling to put food on the table. At times we eat papa only because we are broke and the little we get goes

to buy mealie-meal. Relish and cooking oil are now a luxury.”
‘Maneo Sehlabaka, from Ha-Ramotšoane village, said life is unbearable, especially with piece jobs hard to find after losing her job as a factory worker.

“I am stranded as to how my family will navigate through this struggle. I wish I didn’t have children. Neighbours do help with food but it is hard for me to walk around with a basin asking for mealie-mealie daily,” she said, adding, “I feel like I am annoying them because they too are struggling to make ends meet. It is very painful.”

She said it’s been six months since she was retrenched.

“This has badly affected my family since I was the only breadwinner,” she said.

Ramotšoane Chief, Motšoane Ramotšoane, said the proportion of households with extreme food consumption gaps have drastically increased in his village though he doesn’t have the exact numbers.

“Things are tough now that even those who relied on farming didn’t harvest enough to sustain them. There is a dire need for support,” he said, adding that skyrocketing food prices are worsening the situation.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has warned that food insecurity could get worse unless policies to mitigate the effects of climate change are implemented.

“Climate change can exacerbate weather conditions that hinder agriculture, thus leading to food insecurity,” said the global lender in a study titled ‘Climate Change and Chronic Food Insecurity in Sub-Saharan Africa’ that was released in September.

The 2021/22 summer season experienced extreme wet conditions as most areas received above normal rains from October 2021 to March 2022, which resulted in Lesotho recording lower summer cropping harvests compared to the previous farming season.

The rains continued, with the period extending from April to June also receiving above normal rainfall.

Two months ago, former Agriculture and Food Security Minister, Keketso Sello, attributed problems with food production to climate change.

Many farmers did not succeed in weeding and the yield was greatly affected. Rains also affected the wheat crop as the fields were submerged and harvesting machines couldn’t enter these fields.”

According to the Lesotho Vulnerability Assessment Committee (LVAC) report released in July, crop production for the current year has declined and the national crop estimates will only meet 17 percent of the usual demand. This is slightly lower than the previous season’s production, which met about 30 percent of demand.

Further, more households with members living with HIV recorded inadequate diet, with figures standing at 72 percent, far more than 59 percent recorded for households with no people living with HIV.

The report estimates 521 000 people to be food insecure for the 2022/23 season compared to 470 000 in 2021/22.

“Food insecurity is likely to increase due to decreased livelihood opportunities of remittances, loss of employment, decreased income from livestock and livestock products sales as well as increased food and non-food commodity prices,” noted the report.

“Further, increases in food prices will worsen the food insecurity situation,” the report stated, noting that if immediate action is not taken poorer households would be forced to employ unfathomable coping strategies.

The Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWSNet)’s January report noted that widespread favourable rainfall had facilitated engagement in the agricultural season and crop growth since the beginning of December last year.

According to the report, high prices of fertiliser, agrochemicals and fuel were limiting households’ ability to grow enough food.

Meanwhile, household food reserves are fast depleting, putting a strain on many families.

Reliance on markets for food remains a challenge for poor families as persistently high food prices and below-average income hinder household economic capacity to access food, according to the report.

Below-average labour migration and off-farm labour opportunities reduced domestic and Southern African Customs Union remittances, states the report.

To ease the woes, the World Food Programme (WFP) says it has included Lesotho as part of a four-country project to pilot the Regional Urban Preparedness project.

The project is funded by the European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO).

The WFP says it is working with the Disaster Management Authority (DMA) to pilot the project in five selected urban councils in Lesotho.

The project is pursuing five objectives to create a better understanding on the context of vulnerabilities of urban residents and create a set of tools that can provide a swift and effective response system.

“Currently, the coordination team continues to conduct discussions with district teams, community key informants and other community entities to identify drivers of vulnerability and establish a minimum expenditure basket,” notes the report.

Helping Basotho farmers mitigate the effects of harsh weather conditions is vital, given the reduced harvests.

The Global Information and Early Warning System on Food and Agriculture (GIEWS) Country Report released in July states that cereal production in 2022 is estimated to be well below average.

It forecast import requirements for cereals to increase in the 2022/23 marketing year amid elevated global prices that are contributing to domestic inflationary pressures.

The report states that the total amount of cereal imports needed to maintain stable national consumption levels is 237 000 tonnes, composed of 146 000 tonnes of maize and 86 000 tonnes of wheat.

Most imports are expected to be sourced from South Africa.

According to the Consumer Price Index (CPI), prices of bread and cereals increased by about four percent on a yearly basis in May.

In addition to the expectations of a poor 2022 harvest, the increase in food inflation is mainly driven by high international prices of food and energy, including in South Africa, the main source of

Lesotho’s cereal imports. GIEWS says food insecurity is expected to increase in late 2022.

It refers to the latest national food security assessment, which forecasts that 22 percent of the rural population is expected to face acute food insecurity between October 2022 and March 2023, compared to 15 percent between July and September 2022.

This means 320 000 people in rural areas and 201 000 people in urban areas would be in dire need of assistance.

The increase of acute food insecurity levels is primarily due to reduced harvests, high food prices in basic food and non-food commodities and a slow recovery of households’ income reflecting a downturn economic growth, states GIEWS.

“This has compromised the purchasing power of very poor and poor households, resulting in some households engaging in negative livelihood coping strategies.”

’Mapule Motsopa

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