She is 15 months old but Tlotliso still cannot walk like other children of her age.
Her worried mother, Mabataung Moletsane from Siloe Community Council, says her daughter suffered severe malnutrition early this year and for a month, received some special peanut butter (Plumpy Nut) from Mofumahali Oa Rosari Clinic, to help boost her health.
The Moletsane family of four survives on subsistence farming, but fell on hard times when the little food it harvested in 2015 was finished last November.
Over the years, the Moletsane household had managed to survive off their land but the drought which hit most parts of the country in the 2014/15 farming season left the family and many others in Siloe desperate just a few months after harvesting.
And when it was time to plant their fields between October and December 2015, the farmers faced yet another hurdle—only this time more severe due to the influence of a strong El Niño phenomenon. The harsh weather conditions rendered bumper harvests virtually impossible in the absence of resilience mechanisms such as irrigation and greenhouses not only in Lesotho but the entire southern African region.
Although local farmers are expected to be harvesting now, many fields lie bare, leaving families struggling to put food on the table. These households can only hope for better days in the next summer harvest season, which will be in May 2017.
But for many, the days before the next harvest will be much longer and the hunger life-threatening, if help does not come fast.
Already many children between six and 59 months from food-insecure households in Mohale’s Hoek district are solely depending on a low, diverse diet.
Tlotliso was only eight months old when her family ran out of food in November 2015. She had to depend on her mother’s breast milk, in addition to sharing with her family, maize meal served with vegetables whenever such food was available.
“I prayed for a miracle when I realised that my child’s health was poor,” Ms Mabataung Moletsane said. Her prayers were answered in April this year when her daughter started receiving nutrition assistance from the World Food Programme (WFP) through a contribution from the government of Japan.
Baby Tlotliso’s health has improved significantly since she started eating the WFP Super Cereal porridge—a corn-soya, highly nutritious blend. After receiving a monthly ration of six kilogrammes, she eats the porridge three times a day in addition to her mother’s breastmilk.
“I now have hope that my child will recover and soon start learning how to stand. Her health is improving and she is now a happy little girl,” says Ms Moletsane.
Another mother, Bonang Potsanne, also from Mohale’s Hoek, has an 18-month-old baby also receiving WFP nutrition support.
“I am feeding my son the porridge and I can see a lot of improvement in his health. He can talk and is much happier than before,” says Ms Potsanne.
A nurse at Mofumahali Oa Rosari, Ms Libolelo Makhube explains Lesotho could prevent stunting if every child under the age of two years is given the nutritious porridge for 18 months.
“We are grateful for the nutrition support because it will complement our efforts to prevent malnutrition-related complications that have been affecting children in Mohale’s Hoek,” says Ms Makhube, adding the clinic recently had to transfer a severely malnourished two-year-old child to Ntsekhe Hospital.
“Our challenge is when we start support and then suddenly stop. We need to continue supporting the children until they are at least two years old. Stopping will mean they will regress to depending only on a less diverse diet and end up malnourished.”
The nutrition support is assisting 128 people at Mofumahali Oa Rosari Clinic, including poor patients on Anti-Retroviral Therapy (ART) and TB treatment, pregnant and breastfeeding mothers and moderately malnourished children who are not on ART or TB cure.
Ms Makhube says since the nutrition support started, 12 ART and TB patients who had disappeared following the temporary stoppage of the assistance in 2015 are now coming for various services.
“It disturbed us to note that some were no longer adhering to their treatment as a result of hunger,” Ms Makhube says, further noting the support was also improving the immunisation coverage, as this was one of the requirements for benefitting from the assistance.
“Having many people in need of various services provides an opportunity for us to enhance our nutrition services and encourage activities and practices that can reduce food insecurity and malnutrition in the community,” says Ms Makhube.
The WFP Nutrition Officer, Ms Mamachobane Lephoto says her organisation is working closely with community-based organisations such as World Vision and Themba Lethu to help address food insecurity and malnutrition-related challenges.
Through these partnerships, WFP is linking beneficiaries and potential beneficiaries to the organisations in order for them to participate in food and nutrition security oriented projects that aim to improve household food security and also to help generate some income.
“The projects being undertaken by organisations include pig-rearing, poultry and vegetable production,” says Ms Lephoto. WFP is providing the similar nutrition support in the districts of Maseru, Leribe, Mafeteng and Berea, targeting vulnerable people. Lephoto says although the implementation of this assistance is under the WFP Country Programme and not the drought response, many of the people being reached are also affected by the El Nino drought. “We will provide this nutrition assistance for six months and realise the need to continue the support until the next harvest in 2017, because of the nutrition risks posed by the El Nino drought.”
WFP is appealing for additional contributions from partners that have supported nutrition interventions over the years, to be able to sustain and expand the programme to other districts with many people facing nutrition risks.
In a country where 33 percent of the children are stunted and 51 percent suffering from iron deficiency, anaemia, last year WFP had to temporarily suspend its nutrition assistance to nearly 40,000 vulnerable people due to lack of funding. This year the nutrition support is targeting 32, 650 vulnerable people, including very poor patients on ART and TB treatment and their families in order to discourage sharing food meant for the patient.
Ms Lephoto says through last year’s contribution from Japan, WFP has purchased maize meal, yellow split peas and two brands of the nutritious porridge – Super Cereal and Super Cereal Plus (with additional micronutrients). The Super Cereal Plus porridge, she explains, will each month be given to 14,850 children aged 6-59 months, in the five targeted districts, to assist in preventing and treating stunting.
“On a monthly basis, each child will receive 6 kgs of Super Cereal Plus porridge and a 7.5 kg ration of Super Cereal porridge will be provided to ART and TB adult patients each month. To enhance food security and prevent sharing the food intended for the patients, 10,000 families of vulnerable clients on ART and TB treatment will also each receive a monthly household food ration of 30 kgs of maize meal and 9 kgs of split yellow peas,” says Lephoto.
In an interview, a representative of the Government of Japan, Mr Fumiya Kadowaki said since 2008, his government had consistently supported WFP’s food and nutrition security and resilience building projects in Lesotho. ‘‘Food security has been a serious challenge for the people of Lesotho for a long time. This year, in particular, severe drought brought about serious humanitarian situation in Lesotho. Japan hopes that our latest contribution will alleviate current situation, and we promise that Japan will continue to stand by the people of Lesotho if they need assistance.’’