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Teach them to fish

ELSEWHERE in this paper we carry a story about 250 Lebakeng villagers who received food and cash grants provided by the government in conjunction with the European Union and the United Nations Children’s Fund.
Given Lesotho’s dire situation of hunger, HIV and Aids and unemployment, we understand the motive of the government and its partners.
The situation is indeed desperate and assistance of any sort is welcome.
But we believe this is a short-term measure and therefore a perishable solution to an extremely serious problem.
The real solution lies in empowering these people to produce enough food for themselves so that they can earn a living without desperately looking forward to handouts.
The villagers of Lebakeng said they could not grow food last season because their cattle, the main source of draught power in Lesotho, had been stolen.
They complained that even if they had the draught power they still could not afford the fertilisers and treated seed for good yields.
Therein lies the problem that we believe cannot be solved by handouts — be they cash or food hampers.
The villagers said they could not produce because they did not have farming tools and inputs.
This is what the government and donor organisations should provide.
Grants are good for the short-term but a means of production is the best.
The government must deploy resources to boost agricultural production and improve food security.
It’s shocking that the government does not seem to realise this obvious reality.
The statistics are very clear.
Close to 86 percent of Lesotho’s population of 1.8 million rely on agriculture for their livelihood.
It is the primary source of income, or an important supplementary source, for more than half of the population in rural Lesotho.
That means for Lesotho’s poorest people living on less than US$1 a day agriculture is the best way out of the web of poverty.
Agriculture contributes 15.1 percent to the gross domestic product — the sum total of the country’s wealth. 
Yet for the past few years agriculture production has actually declined.
In the 2007 season agricultural production declined by about 8.1 percent.
We have increasingly relied on imports and aid.
In 1980, cereal production met about 80 percent of the national requirement but by the 1990s it was contributing only 50 percent, making us a country increasingly reliant on other countries for food. 
The problem however is that while our food production is declining our Aids orphans are increasing.
Lesotho had about 180 000 orphans at the last official count in 2006.
Recent figures are hard to get but it is safe to assume the number is increasing especially considering that there are 270 000 infected with HIV and a massive death toll of about 20 000 a year from Aids-related illnesses.
The number of hungry mouths is increasing every day.
It is therefore not hard to see that we are sitting on a time bomb if we continue to throw cash grants at every hungry mouth.
The government on its own does not make money.
It relies on taxes from workers who ironically are the very people hard hit by the HIV and Aids pandemic.
With each worker that dies, the government’s source of income dwindles.
Soon the government will not have the resources to cope with the growing number of orphans.
We need to mention that the donor organisations that we have relied on for years are also feeling the pressures of economic recession.
Organisations like Unesco rely on money from rich donor countries and other well-wishers.
Those countries cannot continue to be the good Samaritans forever.
Lesotho needs to prepare for such an eventuality by empowering its people to produce food.
This can be done through a provision of basic inputs in a programme that is strongly supported by training of the beneficiaries on proper agricultural methods. 
This provision must only be for a limited period until the farmers can stand on their own.

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