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FAO predicts food scarcity catastrophe

But farmers say they have already enough to last the country for half-a-year

Ntsoaki Motaung

Over a quarter of Lesotho’s population will require food aid between January and March as a result of Covid-19 restrictions, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has warned.

According to the FAO’s GIEWS Country Brief: Lesotho 22-December-2020 Report, more than 580,000 (about 26.4%) people out of a population of 2.2 million, are estimated to be food insecure, despite predictions of normal to above average rains this year and the potential for above average cereal production.

The report indicates that Covid-19 had reduced household incomes, harming people’s ability to buy fertiliser or to hire workers, which was “likely to limit the potential increases in yields”.

The situation in Lesotho has been exacerbated by extended lockdowns in neighbouring South Africa to curb the spread of the virus, which the agency said would prolong high levels of unemployment and loss of income.

“The number of people requiring food assistance this year is about 35% higher than the number between October 2019 and March 2020. In 2019, the UN appealed for $34 million (about M510 million) to provide food aid for half a million people until May last year, following poor rains over two consecutive seasons. It warned that thousands of people were close to famine.

“The increase in the prevalence and severity of food insecurity has been predominantly driven by the effects of the lockdown measures to contain the Covid-19 pandemic,” said the FAO.

“The restrictions on the movement of people and the closure of non-essential industries resulted in the loss of jobs and incomes, reducing people’s capacity to access adequate diets. The restrictions affected the workforce within the country, but also migrant workers in South Africa.”

The Famine Early Warning Systems Network (Fews Net) had also noted that below average incomes were being recorded in Lesotho due to Covid-19 restrictions and poor 2020 harvests, compounded by above-average staple food prices.

In its December report, Fews Net said some areas of the country were at crisis hunger levels because of “low food access driven by depleted own-produced food stocks, below-average incomes, and slightly above average staple food prices”.

It said: “Households are trying to mitigate existing food consumption gaps through market food purchases from earned income. Agricultural labour opportunities are seasonally increasing; however, wages are below average, and market food purchases are not expected to fully cover food consumption gaps.”

According to Fews Net, an estimated 93,000 migrant workers returned home to Lesotho at the beginning of lockdowns in South Africa last March. This resulted in a significant reduction in remittances, an essential source of income for a large proportion of people in Lesotho.

Although some people started returning to South Africa for work at the beginning of October, Fewsnet said labour migration was still below average as both countries’ economies had not yet recovered from the impact of the Covid-19 lockdowns. The requirement to produce a negative Covid-19 test at the border is also a limitation.

Fews Net had also noted that below average incomes were being recorded in Lesotho due to Covid-19 restrictions and poor 2020 harvests, compounded by above-average staple food prices.

the President of the Lesotho National Farmers Union (Lenafu) Lepoto Taoana told this publication that, most of the farmers had produced different types of food in large scale.

“I have not yet made a throrough research throughout the country, but a lot of farmers have produced maize, beans or vegetables. I personally have produced more than 50 hectors of beans,” he said.

Taoana stated that, while the government did not have seeds due to some problems, Lenafu had a subsidy for farmers and that helped farmers to produce on a large scale.

“In that way, within the said period of January to March, we will not be in severe hunger. We will only be troubled by lockdown, hence we are taking this opportunity to plead with government to classify agro-product businesses as essential so that they can be allowed to trade during lockdown,” Taoana said.

Taoana said the production that farmers have now could last the country to about six months.

“We could go beyond six months but the problem is that farmers struggle with storage for their produce. We appreciate that the government has started to buy our maize and beans but we plead that they increase their quantity, so that they will save food for hard times like this of Covid-19,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Minister of Agriculture and Food Security Tefo Mapesel, could not be brought to comment.

He simply said “No. I will not comment on the matter”.

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