MASERU — Consumers must brace themselves for what might be a miserable Christmas this year.
By year-end local consumers are likely to be paying more for basic foodstuffs such as maize-meal, bread and cooking oil.
Lesotho Flour Mills, the country’s biggest producer of grain-based foods, has warned of the looming increase in the prices of maize, sunflower, wheat and soyabean.
The company said the impending price increases had been necessitated by global grain shortages.
Rising transport, electricity, labour and packaging costs have also dictated the imminent price increases, the company said.
Lesotho Flour Mills makes the staple maize-meal and flour.
The company has also warned that there will be increases in the prices of sunflower and soyabean.
That is likely to spell misery for consumers who are already struggling to afford basic foodstuffs.
The increase in the prices of the grains will in turn see the prices of products such as maize-meal and bread going up.
Bread is currently retailing at about M6.
A 5kg packet of flour — which many people buy to bake their own bread — is sold for about M38.
Mealie-meal retails at about M50 for 10kg.
Samp, crushed maize considered an affordable starch especially for traditional festivities, sells at about M14 for a 2.5kg packet.
At those prices, these basics are already considered too expensive by the majority of Basotho.
About 60 percent of Lesotho’s 1.8 million people live on less than US$1 a day.
Although Lesotho Flour Mills managing director Ron Mills did not say by how much the prices of the grain products will increase he said the prices were likely to change within the “coming months”.
“As I said earlier there is no need to panic but price increases in the coming months will be occurring and you should prepare for them,” Mills said in a statement addressed to customers.
He said prices will be pushed by the current grain shortage in the world that has been caused by severe droughts and floods.
Mills said countries like Russia, Pakistan and China have experienced a slump in grain harvests because of either severe droughts or floods.
He said Germany, Canada and Argentina had also been affected.
The shortages in these countries, Mills added, have left a deficit on the world market that could push grain prices up.
South Africa, which supplies Lesotho with most of its food imports, experienced a 15 to 20 percent dip in grain production compared to last year.
Lesotho cannot produce enough food to meet domestic demand — and the country imports almost 70 percent of its annual cereal requirements.
In 1980 Lesotho could produce 80 percent of its cereal needs but with the population increasing and the agricultural output plunging the country can only produce a third of what it consumes.
Last year Lesotho saw a decline in maize production.
Only 62 528 metric tons of maize was harvested.
Information from the ministry of agriculture and food security said Lesotho needed at least 125 00 metric for the population until the next harvest.
This leaves poor Lesotho vulnerable to the tremors on the world market.
Mills’ warning is based on recent trends on the world grain market.
“The events of the last 60 days have had a dramatic impact on the situation,” he said.
“In June and July all grain traders and trading houses were advising their clients to stay short as prices were low and stocks were abundant.
“This means keep your stock levels low at one to two months’ supply.”
“Then a series of events occurred which have changed this position quickly as they are now advising to take a position of four to six months and see what happens in 2011 which is five months away,” Mills added.
“Ocean, rail and road transport rates for grains have been increasing.
“The border situation on transport is not helping and road haulers are considering adding demurrage charges for long waits.
“Local transporters who deliver finished goods are now agitating for an increase in haulage rates.
“There will be some type of increase before 2010 ends.”
The looming price increases come at a time when consumers have already been buffeted by huge food price increases over the past three years.
The year 2008 saw a huge leap in the prices of fuel and foodstuffs.
That pushed more households into poverty and threatened the food security of thousands other families.
There are over 200 000 orphans in Lesotho and with food prices on the rise many of them are in for a torrid time.
Increases in food prices also threaten the well-being of the 23.2 percent of the adult population who are infected with HIV, the virus that causes Aids.
HIV-positive people have to eat well to remain healthy.
Last week Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili told world leaders at a United Nations summit in New York that Lesotho was struggling to meet its Millennium Development Goals targets.
He said Lesotho’s efforts to eradicate extreme poverty were off track.