Notimisi Masia stared out over his two-acre plot which he had planted with maize late last year and shook his head.
“I’m 75 years of age,” said the farmer in Quthing district in the southern highlands of Lesotho, “and, in all my life, I’ve never seen such bad crop failure. This is disastrous.”
The small mountain kingdom of Lesotho in southern Africa is currently facing the devastating effects of not one but two successive crop failures. These have been caused by a series of disasters including drought, floods, erratic rainfall and frost.
The impact has been severe: production of maize – the country’s staple – down by 77 percent from last year; sorghum production down by 80 percent; wheat production down by 52 percent. It is forecast that domestic agricultural production will contribute less than 10 percent of the annual national cereal requirements for 2012/2013. Even agricultural piece work, which has traditionally provided much-needed employment in rural areas, is no longer widely available.
Vulnerable to hunger
“I’m here trying to sell off two sheep to buy food for my family and fodder for my remaining animals,” said one semi-urban farmer sitting by the road on the outskirts of Quthing town. “They’ve hardly anything to graze on, no weeds, no shrubs, nothing.”
It has been estimated that more than a third of the population – some 725,000 people – will be food insecure in 2012/2013. Of these, 230,000 are judged to be especially vulnerable to hunger.
In August, Prime Minister Thomas Thabane declared a food crisis in the country and, the following month, his government made an appeal to the international community for urgent assistance. The flash appeal launched by UN and other international humanitarian agencies on 28 September calls for more than US $38 million to provide life-saving assistance to the most vulnerable as well as to meet longer-term needs by improving agricultural production, health, food security and nutrition.
For its part, WFP will assist some 210,000 of the most vulnerable over the next six months through various interventions. These include providing nutritional support to malnourished children under five; targeted food assistance for orphans, the elderly and HIV-AIDS affected households; and cash-for-work and cash-for-assets in environmentally degraded highland areas. In coordination with the Government, WFP will also extend the duration of its school meals programme for primary school children in the mountainous region.
“It’s vital we take immediate steps to prevent this food crisis from becoming worse,” says WFP Country Director Imadeldin Osman-Salih. “Our main priority now is to mobilize donors to raise the funds we so urgently need."
More than half the population of Lesotho lives on less than US $1.25 a day. Chronic malnutrition is widespread, and 39 per cent of children under 5 have stunted growth.