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Disastrous harvest angers statistics boss

 

‘It really shouldn’t be business as usual given the circumstances,’ says Director of Statistics Liengoane Lefosa

Pascalinah Kabi

The Director of Statistics, Liengoane Lefosa, has expressed frustration at policymakers’ failure to utilise crucial data from her office to plan for natural disasters such as drought.

Mr Lefosa voiced her disappointment on Friday as she announced, as expected, that Lesotho’s harvest for the 2015/16 cropping season is a disaster due to the El Niño-induced drought which made summer agriculture virtually impossible.

But according to Ms Lefosa, the situation would not have been this dire had the relevant authorities acted on the statistics her office has provided over the years, which warned of such weather shocks.

According to the 2015/2016 Crop Forecasting Report the Bureau of Statistics released on Friday in Maseru, Lesotho is going to experience a 47 percent decrease in maize yield, while wheat and sorghum will be down by 65.8 percent and 81.7 percent respectively compared to the 2014/15 agricultural year.

The decline, amongst other things, came as a result of the drought which delayed the summer cropping season by almost two months.

Instead of ploughing their fields in August, most farmers only began in October due to the severe drought, which was the country’s worst in 43 years.  The inadequate rainfall forced Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili to declare a state of drought emergency, to allow donors to come to the country’s rescue with food aid.

And with Lesotho in need of 358,142 metric-tonnes of maize, wheat and sorghum to feed its people before the 2016/17 harvest, the 2015/16 season is only going to yield 65, 152 metric-tonnes, leaving it with a shortfall of  292,990 metric-tonnes for the three staple foods, the Bureau of Statistics Report revealed.

Ms Lefosa said although these results are expected to inform government planners, policymakers and the private sector to make informed and effective decisions concerning the country’s food-security, this has not been the case in the past.

“Our job is to provide figures with the full trust that policymakers, all those who are responsible for planning, for advising policy, will use our statistics to push for change,” Ms Lefosa said.

“When you look at the reports that we have been submitting or presenting over the years, they are not showing a very good picture on agricultural production.

“The last time Lesotho experienced a good harvest was in the 2012/13 agricultural year, and there has been a decline ever since. This information has been brought to the attention of the policymakers but what is worrying is we do not see any policies being formulated to respond to the challenges painted in these reports.”

The recent El Niño-induced drought, which was at its peak between October 2015 and March 2016, is an indication that Lesotho, like any other country, is vulnerable to shifting weather conditions, Ms Lefosa said.

El Niño is a periodic climatic phenomenon characterised by inadequate rain in some parts of the world and floods in others.

Under El Niño, parts of South America experience heavy rainfall, while dry conditions prevail in Australia, south-east Asia and southern Africa. El Niño used to occur in varying degrees of severity after every five years, but since the 1990s, it has become more frequent due to global warming.

“People in this field know the cycle of El Niño and it should not come to us as a surprise or emergency anymore because it has happened before.

“I was listening to the news yesterday (Thursday) and heard the Deputy Minister of Agriculture saying there isn’t enough money for research in the Ministry of Agriculture.

“We hope planners in the Ministry of Agriculture can do something about this, and push for adequate financial resources for research so that we make preparations for a gloomy future which researches are able to tell,” she said.

“So for me, as a person, I am beginning to get discouraged and frustrated because I don’t see the degree in which our data is being used.”

Ms Lefosa said by now, Basotho should be seeing some improvement in agricultural output “because we are saying 70 percent of our population resides in the rural area and their livelihoods depend on agriculture.”

However, she said it was worrying the country’s policymakers were doing nothing about agriculture and not concerned about how these people survive.

“Can we safely say agriculture is providing even 10 percent of employment in the rural areas, particularly for the youth who are unemployed?” she asked.

“So there are a lot of questions that each one of us should ask ourselves individually when we go back to our respective ministries. I am aware we are all responsible where we are now. Let us use our influence so that we can see change in the manner in which things are done.

“It really shouldn’t be business as usual given the circumstances. Last year, when we were disseminating our crop forecasting, we said Lesotho was no exception when it came to the El Niño phenomena.

“We warned that Lesotho was going to face something like this very soon and it was important for policymakers to start getting ready, but nothing was done.

“Instead, we are always finding ourselves running on emergences. Now there is a big campaign of emergencies. The Disaster Management Authority (DMA) is very active and doing well on emergency calls, donors are coming in but we had already seen this thing coming.

“We see these figures, very discouraging numbers indeed but we could already foresee them coming even last year but we are always looking for mother-nature to come but it comes in cycles.”

National University of Lesotho (NUL) Agriculture Statistics lecturer, Thabo Sofonea, shared the same sentiments with Ms Lefosa, saying the authorities should not act surprised every time agricultural production goes down.

“I totally agree with her because every year, our agricultural production or yield goes down and they are always warning us about these forecasts,” Mr Sofonea said.

“Given the state of affairs, one even wonders if our policymakers ever use these statistics because our agricultural sector is deteriorating instead of improving.”

Although Mr Sofonea applauded government for the 30 percent subsidy on maize, beans and peas which came into effect on 1 June, he said it might not be the answer to Lesotho’s food security woes.

“We need to come up with practical solutions that will work for ordinary citizens because as things stand, these findings tell us there are going to be food price increases and people will still be spending more regardless of the subsidy.”

He further said the potential increase of other commodities such as petrol and diesel were going to make life harder for Basotho.

Mr Sofonea recommended the country must move away from rain-dependent agriculture as it had proved it no longer works for farmers.

“We need to swiftly shift to irrigation agriculture but at the moment, our farmers must start ploughing their fields to safeguard the little moisture from the late showers the country experienced,” he said.

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