More on Lesotho

Lesotho is a small, landlocked country in Southern Africa. It occupies an area of 30,000 km2, and is surrounded on all sides by the Republic of South Africa – a state situated within a state. The entire country lies between 1,500 metres and nearly 3,400 metres above sea level. Its climate is temperate, ranging between 20°C and 32°C in summer, and -8.5°C to -1°C in winter.  

It has four distinct regions: a plateau that extends along the western border; the Senqu River valley; foothills; and the Maluti Mountains which are part of Southern Africa’s Drakensberg range. Of the total land mass, only 9 percent of the land is arable; 60 percent is rangelands; and the remainder is too mountainous for cultivation or development. 

Lesotho is classified by the World Bank as a lower middle income country. Its population numbers 2.1 million people, 57.1 percent of whom live below the national poverty line. Maize is the staple diet.

Key threats confining the country's development include chronic poverty, a high unemployment rate (25 percent) and food insecurity exacerbated by weather-related shocks. Health-related issues include: widespread chronic malnutrition with stunting for children under five years at 33 percent; iron deficiency anaemia at 51 percent; and HIV prevalence among adults at 23 percent - the second highest in the world. The elderly often need to provide and care for children whose parents have died. There are about 360,000 orphans in Lesotho, many or perhaps most  of whom lost their parents to AIDS-related illnesses. According to UNICEF, 36,000  children aged 14 or under were living with HIV in 2013. 

Facts about Lesotho

  • Population of around 2.109 million
  • 57.1 percent live below the poverty line
  • 23.4 percent of adults have HIV
  • Life expectancy is 49 years

Current issues in Lesotho

  • Food insecurity

Lesotho has faced the devastating effects of three successive crop failures, compounded by a litany of socio-economic adversities. The results of the 2014/15 Lesotho Vulnerability Assessment Committee (LVAC) showed a deteriorating food security situation for 464,000 people - an increase of 16,000 people from the previous season. Of those 464,000, a total of 284,000 are being supported through government safety nets such as school feeding, cash for land rehabilitation activities, child grant and pension for the elderly. This leaves a total of 180,000 people in need of food assistance between August 2015 and March 2016.

Less arable land is being cultivated for food as a result of weather conditions and poverty, with a 19 percent reduction in land cultivated in 2015 compared to 2014. In May 2015, results of the crop production assessment by the Bureau of Statistics also showed that the production of maize dropped by 14 percent, sorghum by 62 percent and wheat by 44 percent.

Although 80 percent of the population is engaged in agricultural activities in rural areas, this only contributes to about seven percent of the GDP (down from 12 percent in 2001 and 20 percent in 1983). A large proportion of poor rural households do not have access to agricultural land, and many of those who own land do not have the necessary agricultural inputs such as fertilizers and high-yield seeds.

  • Climate change

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) characterizes Lesotho as being one of the countries highly vulnerable to the impact of climate change. Already, droughts affect harvest yields and cause significant loss of livestock. It is anticipated that the climate will become warmer and drier, and that droughts and floods will become both more frequent and more intense.

With less precipitation being held in the mountains in the form of snow, run-off rates will increase, exacerbating soil erosion and depleting soils of nutrients. Climate adaptation measures are underway; however, Lesotho does not have the resources for extensive mitigation.

  • Limited access to education

Overall, adult literacy is fairly high (females, 88.3 percent; males, 79.4 percent); however, it is significantly lower in rural areas. Among the population as a whole, the literacy rate is rising, although UNESCO data for 2015 suggest that the gap between genders is widening: 78 percent of illiterate 15-to-24-year-olds are male.

Lesotho's Education Sector Strategic Plan 2005-2015, aims to expand access to basic education for all and improve the quality and efficiency of the education system by providing free school meals. However, many poor households cannot meet associated education costs.

Enrolment and attendance in lower grades increased significantly in the wake of the Government's introduction of free primary education, however, drop-out rates increase at higher grades.

  • Poverty

Lesotho’s Bureau of Statistics’ 2010/2011 Household Budget Survey found that throughout the country only 28.5 percent of household heads were in salaried employment. In rural areas, where 72 percent of the population live, subsistence farming was the second most common economic activity after other types of agricultural work.

Lesotho’s industrial capacity is limited, its principle exports being textiles (to the United States), water and hydroelectricity (to South Africa), and diamonds. All these sectors have been badly hit by the global economic slowdown, with layoffs of around 10 percent in garment manufacturing alone.

Between 2006 and 2011, the proportion of Lesotho’s GDP derived from manufacturing fell from 21 to 12.8 percent. Migrant workers have also suffered: many people who travelled from Lesotho to South Africa to work in mineral extraction have been laid off as a result of the contraction in the South African mining industry.

Lesotho’s Government relies heavily on revenue from the Southern African Customs Union (SACU), an economic alliance between Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa and Swaziland, in which customs revenues from international exports are shared between member states. However, this revenue stream has also been affected by the recession.

  • HIV and TB

Almost a quarter of the population is infected by HIV, with women being disproportionately affected. Gender-based violence is a significant driver for this disparity. Treatment coverage for people living with HIV remains low. Nevertheless, Lesotho’s Government is making substantial progress in preventing mother-to-child transmission: in 2013, around half of 16,000 pregnant women living with HIV were receiving antiretroviral treatment (ART).

The aim is to eventually reach all affected women who are pregnant. Around 80 percent of those living with HIV also have tuberculosis (TB). With the increase in South Africa of cases of Multidrug-Resistant and Extensively Drug-Resistant TB, in Lesotho prompt treatment of TB and ensuring patient compliance are urgent priorities.>/p>

What the World Food Programme is doing in Lesotho

WFP’s work in Lesotho includes a Country Programme, which has three components – disaster risk reduction, early childhood care and development, and support to nutrition and HIV - and a School Meals Programme.

  • Disaster risk reduction

WFP is working to enhance resilience and responsiveness to climate-induced shocks by supporting vulnerable communities to build assets that will improve their livelihoods.

We are targeting 25,000 people through cash and food transfers in the districts of Mafeteng, Maseru, Mohale’s Hoek and Quthing. Between March and August 2015, the disaster risk reduction Food and Cash Transfer schemes provided monthly household food rations to 15,000 people, and cash (US$60) per household to 5,250 people in Mafeteng and Mohale’s Hoek districts. Six water tanks, one community dam, 2,300 peach trees, three community pigsties and community vegetable gardens were created. The workers also rehabilitated gullies, constructed silt traps to prevent soil erosion, and planted trees for fuel.

WFP and its partners provided technical guidance and other essential inputs, such as agro forest seedlings, grass seeds and wire for reinforcement, to support land rehabilitation activities.

  • Early Childhood Care and Development

WFP is providing Super Cereal porridge for breakfast and a lunch meal of staple food papa (thick maize meal porridge) and pulses to 50,000 learners in 2,053 preschools throughout the country. Support to preschools aims to enhance the preparedness of learners for primary education and contribute to reducing undernutrition in children below the age of five years. Improving nutrition will reduce stunting and will assist the children’s cognitive development.

  • Support to nutrition and HIV

WFP’s Supplementary Feeding activities in Lesotho target undernourished children age 6 to 59 months, pregnant and nursing mothers and clients who are being treated for HIV and TB. 
Beneficiaries on ART and TB treatment from poor families are provided with household rations to improve household food security. 
Children between the ages of 6 to 23 months and pregnant and nursing mothers are targeted for Complementary Feeding. 
Families with children between the ages of 6 and 23 months receive a 6kg monthly ration of Super Cereal while pregnant and nursing mothers receive a 7.5kg monthly ration of Super Cereal.  

Between January 2015 and August 2015, WFP provided food to 39,903 vulnerable people throughout the country. People living with HIV were reached through targeted supplementary feeding in clinics and pre-schools. The support to people on ART is helping to achieve nutrition rehabilitation and adherence to treatment. 
WFP is providing super cereal plus to prevent and treat stunting in children under the age of two years. Stunting affects 33 percent of all children in Lesotho; in the highland districts, 44 percent of children are affected.

  • School meals programme

WFP is working in partnership with the Government of Lesotho to provide school feeding. The aim is to increase enrolment, stabilise attendance, and reduce dropout rates of primary school children. The meals are also an opportunity to alleviate micronutrient deficiencies. A secondary aim is to help the Government improve its capacity and extend its own School Meals Programme to schools in inaccessible areas.

Since January 2015, WFP has been providing 250,000 learners in 1,173 primary schools with morning maize meal porridge and a lunchtime meal of the staple food papa (thick maize meal porridge) served with either pulses or fish. The Government of Lesotho is providing funding under Trust Fund 200771. 

In Lesotho, there are 390,000 learners in 1,478 primary schools. WFP is targeting primary schools in the lowlands, foothills and highland areas because these were not previously not covered by the Government’s school feeding programme. The Government is still managing school feeding in other schools.
Between January 2013 and April 2015, WFP reached 200,000 students through a contribution from the Government of South Africa. 

A transition phase between 2015 and 2017 will see WFP providing capacity development support to the Government in preparation for a handover in 2018.

For more information, please see our factsheet School Feeding Factsheet Lesotho, 2014

World Food Programme partners in Lesotho

WFP cannot fight global hunger and poverty alone. These are our partners in Lesotho:

Featured Lesotho publications

  • Lesotho: WFP Country Brief (PDF, 545 KB)

    A Country Brief provides the latest snapshot of the country strategy, operations, operational highlights (achievements and issues/challenges), partnerships and country background.

Looking for more publications on Lesotho? Visit the Lesotho publications archive.