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Govt preparing ‘multifaceted’ response to drought 



Makhopotso Mothusi


Government is preparing “a multifaceted” response to the current El Niño-induced drought which the state has declared to be the worst in over 40 years.

The drought has severely impacted water and agricultural sectors, with a sharp decline in land preparation and planting in October and November, raising the spectre of acute food shortages and high food prices in 2016.

Most towns are already struggling for drinking water, with strict rationing of the precious liquid activated in some areas in an effort to ensure the reserves last as long as possible.

In areas where the taps have run dry, the Ministry of Water Affairs, Rural Water Supply as well as the Water and Sewerage Company are providing water in tanks to communities and hospitals.

Leribe, the country’s second largest town, is struggling after several weeks without drinking water. Businesses have been hit hard while cases of water-borne diseases have been reported in various parts of the country.

Yet what makes the situation even more dire is the drought comes at a time the food security situation in Lesotho has further deteriorated following two successive crop failures.

After the last harvest early this year which was also impacted by low rainfall,  cereal production declined by 21 percent, worsening the country’s already fragile food-security situation.

In addition, high inflation is triggering food price increases that are eroding incomes.

The Disaster Management Authority (DMA) estimates that more than 650 000 people, including those in urban areas, will need food support in 2016.

In a preliminary drought plan presented to the government a fortnight ago, the DMA is requesting M269 million (US$ 19 million) for resilience-building and drought-mitigation support. This intervention is designed to alleviate the impact of drought on the water, agriculture, food, health and nutrition sectors.

According to Puseletso Thobileng, a nutritionist in the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security, while farmers have lost the first two months of the farming season, there is hope for crops such as beans if the rainfall pattern improves in January 2016.

“Farmers should also start preparing for the production of winter wheat which is quite drought-resistant,” says Ms Thobileng.

Ms Thobileng warned tougher times ahead would demand climate-smart food-production techniques, food rationing and preservation, stringent water conservation and resourceful budgeting, including prioritising needs at both national and household levels.

She believes however, that the primary focus should be on ensuring affected people have drinking water.

“Lesotho has abundant water sources, including ground water. The challenge is harnessing it to ensure accessibility by all sectors, including agriculture,” she says.

Ms Thobileng further explains with the provision of water, people could grow food at home using keyhole and trench garden techniques which require less water and can improve the quality and quantity of vegetables.

“In a few weeks, the increasing price of food will affect many people, and growing what we can in home gardens will come in handy,” she says. “The Ministry is promoting the production of quick-maturing vegetables such as spinach, mustard, rape, carrots and beetroot. That people should watch their spending does not mean they should not eat a balanced diet. They can still grow their own food and rear chickens for eggs and meat. These too can generate income.”

Ms Thobileng recognises that knowledge of the nutritional value of food is essential for the welfare of children, pregnant and breastfeeding mothers and the infirm.

The Ministry of Agriculture this year produced a complementary feeding recipe book with support from the World Food Programme (WFP). The book promotes nutritious feeding practices for children under the age of five years. The 5000 printed copies would be distributed in all 10 districts of the country.

Ms Thobileng urges families to ration food according to needs and make dishes without leftovers instead of throwing food away.

She also cautions against improper food-handling and safety practices, saying the prevailing high temperatures could make it spoil easily.


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