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Food aid not the answer

THE rains have been pounding in the last few weeks, signalling the onset of the summer farming season.
All things being equal, it is safe to assume fields have been ploughed and seed is under soil, if not already germinating.
About 86 percent of Lesotho’s two million people are subsistence farmers.
However, the majority of them have over the years faced hunger because they have failed to grow enough to subsist on.
In fact, aid agencies estimate that about 450 000 people in the country will be in need of food assistance before harvest time in April next year.
In 2006 and 2007, we had an obvious excuse for failing to feed our selves.
The region was hit by one of the worst droughts in 30 years.
But the figures from last year’s farming season are quite disturbing.
There was no drought.
Yet the 2009 harvest saw a 10 percent drop in maize production compared to 2008, according to the World Food Programme (WFP).
Drought or no drought, Lesotho’s agricultural production has continued on a downward spiral.
The WFP says in 1980 cereal production met about 80 percent of national requirements, a figure that had come down to 50 percent by the 1990s.
By 2004, cereal production was estimated to contribute only 30 percent of national requirements.
The fall continues, according to the WFP.
The statistics are quite chilling.
And this comes at a time donor countries cannot be expected to continue doling out food aid to a country not at war or not facing a natural disaster.
What is undeniable is that our government is not getting its priorities right.
Granted, only 10 percent of Lesotho’s total area of three million hectares is arable.
Also, soil erosion and urban development have compromised the quality and quantity of land available for growing food.
Erratic weather patterns have compounded the situation.
But all these things are not news to the powers-that-be.
There is so much that can be done to maximise production under such debilitating conditions.
That means taking food security for our country seriously.
A government that allocates a small fraction of its national budget to agriculture cannot, sadly, be considered serious about food security.
In recent weeks we have seen the government teaming up with aid agencies to provide grants and food handouts to vulnerable people, especially orphans.
We understand the logic that the government cannot watch while people starve.
But for how long will these people continue to live on handouts?
What will happen when the donors run out of money?
What if the government fails to get food and grants to dole out?
It is clear that if any of these possibilities were to become a reality we will be doomed as a nation.
The solution to Lesotho’s gripping poverty lies in sustainable food production that in turn ensures self-sufficiency.
The government must ensure that there if enough fertiliser and seed as well as farming implements at subsidised prices.
Of course we understand the pitfalls of subsidies but we believe this is the only way we can teach our people to fish for themselves instead of giving them food handouts year after year.
It is ironic that these grants and food handouts are being distributed with pomp and fanfare well into the farming season.
We believe these gatherings should have been used as a platform to provide the critical agricultural inputs.
It was an opportunity for the authorities to spread the message of self-sustenance.
Yes, we must feed the hungry among us but we must accept that we lack the means and that donations are not infinite.
This message should also go to those donor organisations that want to remind the poor every time that without their generosity they would have starved to death.
The next time they really want to make a lasting impression on people’s lives they must consider giving them the means of production.
So we hope that next time vulnerable people will not be receiving a bag of mealie-meal but fertiliser and seed.
That way we won’t have to worry about 450 000 people facing starvation.

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