LESOTHO: 500,000 people in need of food aid
A large percentage of crops have failed
JOHANNESBURG, 29 May 2002 (IRIN) - Nearly half a million people urgently require emergency food aid in Lesotho, according to a joint assessment by the World Food Programme (WFP) and Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO).
The FAO and WFP warned that "agriculture in Lesotho faces a catastrophic future". Crop production was declining and "could cease altogether over large tracts of the country " should urgent steps not be taken to reverse soil erosion. It is estimated that just between nine and 13 percent of the country is arable land.
The report, based on a crop and food supply assessment mission conducted during April, said domestic cereal supply in 2002/03 is estimated at 74,000 mt, while the total national consumption requirement was estimated at 412,000 mt.
"This results in an import requirement of 338,000 mt. Commercial imports are estimated at 191,000 mt and food aid at 147,000 mt which needs to be met by the government and external assistance," the report said.
The districts hardest hit by this year's poor harvest are Qacha's Nek, Quthing and Mohale's Hoek, in the southern parts of the country. "Not all individuals will require food assistance for the whole year and, therefore, assistance needs to be carefully targeted and phased so as to avoid disruption of domestic markets," the organisations warned.
The assessment mission recommended targeted emergency assistance of about 68,955 mt of food, including maize, pulses (such as peas and beans), vegetable oil and iodised salt.
Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili in April declared a state of famine and the government has already allocated about 5,400 mt of maize for distribution to the most vulnerable.
"Emergency provision of agricultural inputs, such as seeds, is recommended to enable disaster-affected farming families to restart agricultural production during the next main planting season starting in October 2002. Promotion of seed multiplication and horticultural production are recommended measures to further improve food security at household level," the report said.
Erratic and adverse weather conditions contributed to the low agricultural ouput.
The report said: "The erratic timings of rainfall and frosts severely affected crops at planting time and during their critical development stages. Heavy rainfall in October and November delayed or prevented planting of crops in many areas and frost in March curtailed the end of the growing season."
The government of Lesotho had requested FAO and WFP assistance in reviewing the country's food situation and the outlook for 2002/03. The FAO and WFP assessment mission took place from 25 April to 4 May, covering all 10 districts of the country.
"Different approaches to food distributions need to be examined. In less affected areas, self-targeting through food-for-work may be more appropriate than free distribution. In the worst affected areas free distribution will be required," the report said.
Lesotho is a landlocked country completely surrounded by South Africa, with a population of about 2 million - more than half of whom live in poverty.
The high rate of unemployment and inflation due to the depreciation of the rand against the dollar has meant that although food is available at markets, "the purchasing power of most households is very low".
The FAO/WFP report said: "People, particularly in the foothills and mountain areas are surviving through bartering, home brewing, selling livestock, reducing consumption, and taking children out of school. Individuals infected with HIV/AIDS are also forced to reduce consumption, when they should be increasing their intake."
Market interventions, such as a 20 percent price subsidy on unsifted maize funded by the Lesotho government, were urgently required.
For the full FAO/WFP mission reports: http://www.fao.org/WAICENT/faoinfo/economic/giews/english/alertes/sptochtm