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Severe food shortage looms

Bongiwe Zihlangu

MASERU – Prime Minister Thomas Thabane says Lesotho is facing an emergency food crisis with about 40 percent of the country’s 1.8 million people needing food aid this year or will starve.
In an official statement on Thursday, Thabane painted a grim picture of the crisis saying the 2012 cropping season had produced just 16 788 metric tons “which comprises only 20 percent of the national food requirements”.
He attributed the poor harvest to the late onset of rains, insufficient rains and early frost.
“In the circumstances, I am obliged to declare a food crisis situation in Lesotho, and to call our development partners and all the friends of Lesotho to assist us to address and redress the situation,” Thabane said.
“In doing so, I wish to reiterate the government’s resolve to break the vicious circle of hunger and poverty.”
Thabane said unfavorable weather conditions had resulted in low yield per acre and an increase in fallow land.
“The overall effect of these factors is a very high prevalence of food insecurity” he said.
Thabane said although Lesotho had experienced declining levels of food production from 2005/06 to 2008/09 “the situation seemed to improve in 2010-2011”.
However, the premier said although the level of production peaked in 2009/20010 it started “to decline in 2010/11 due to the devastating heavy rains that destroyed infrastructure, crops and housing”.
Lesotho’s agriculture sector has been in free-fall for the past three decades.
Agriculture’s contribution to the GDP slumped from a high of 25 percent in the 1980s to around 10 percent in the 1990s.
And last year it contributed a mere 7.7 percent to the GDP.
This is despite the fact that about 82 percent of Lesotho’s 1.8 million people are involved in agriculture as subsistence farmers.
In the 1980s Lesotho used to produce 80 percent of its cereal needs but now it can only manage a measly 30 percent.
“In the circumstances, it is worth noting that it is the women, the HIV infected, the orphans and the children under the age of five years who suffer the most.”
The situation is likely to worsen if some safety nets are not put in place urgently, the premier added.
Thabane said in an attempt to address the food insecurity, the government had devised strategies “to address national food security in future”.
He said the government plans to implement the National Strategic Development Plan (NSDP) in which agriculture was key.
Thabane said the government will seek to “improve agricultural productivity and food security through maximum use of arable land, subsidised inputs and promotion of drought resistant crops”.
He added the government will also “scale up conservation and homestead farming as well as promote nutrition services to both expectant women and mothers of infants and young children”.
Thabane said because government was intent on curbing hunger and future instances of food shortages “the food crisis is temporary”.
He added the government however viewed “this declaration of food crisis and appeal for assistances as a short term measure to alleviate famine among our vulnerable socio-economic groups”.
“As indicated above, government requires increased assistance from its development partners and friends in order to translate into action, plans for addressing the food insecurity situation in the country,” he said.
Thabane said the government will continue to revitalise the agriculture sector so that “we can attain food security for our nation in the medium to long term”.
However, the odds seem heavily stacked against the premier’s ambitions to revitalise Lesotho’s agricultural sector.
An International Food Security Assessment Report for 2010-2022 by the United States Department of Agriculture (Economic Research Service) on Sub-Saharan Africa which was released last month suggests that Lesotho will be rendered severely food insecure for the next decade.
According to the report, nearly 100 percent of the population in Lesotho, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi and Eritrea is “projected to remain food insecure throughout the projection period”.
The report adds this is because Lesotho has some of the lowest average grain yields in the world, whose agricultural output is characterised by wide swings in output due to rainfall variability. — HowweMadeitinAfrica

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