AFTER several decades of fronting poverty alleviation programmes in Lesotho, the World Food Programme (WFP) has begun the process of handing over its programmes to the government.
This will see initiatives like the National School Feeding Programme and the annual food distribution exercise among others being combined with focus on erecting sustainable food systems, continuing to chip away at the harmful effects of HIV, while supporting traders and retailers.
According to a recently released WFP draft strategic plan on Lesotho for 2019 to 2024, the organisation will also integrate gender-transformative approaches and nutrition improvement.
“WFP will shift from direct implementation of programmes towards strengthening of national capacities and ownership in support of a gradual transition towards handover of WFP-supported programmes to the government,” the WFP states in its blueprint that was cobbled together at a recent workshop.
Official estimates show that 57 percent of Lesotho’s two million people live below the poverty datum line and eke out a patchy livelihood on the margins of the mainstream economy.
Rural communities bear the brunt of the country’s limping economy as more than 60 percent of rural dwellers are poor.
The situation is even bleaker for woman-headed households, says the plan.
“Extreme poverty is concentrated among elderly people, with the highest rates of poverty among adults aged 60 to 64 years, followed by children aged 14 years and adults aged 55 to 59 years.”
These grim statistics follow an underperforming economy which has suffered a monumental setback in 2017/18 after averaging a three percent annual growth rate since 2015.
As a result, a quarter of the country’s population is believed to have emigrated to economic powerhouse South Africa, which lures them to toil in low paying jobs while babysitting that country’s growth.
To halt this migration and bolster the local economy WFP, anchored by several international charity organisations, has been working lock-in-step with the government to lift dirt poor communities out of poverty.
This will be done via a four-pronged programme, namely;
- The shock-affected people in Lesotho are able to meet their basic food and nutrition needs during times of crisis.
- Vulnerable populations in Lesotho benefit from strengthened social protection systems that ensure access to adequate, safe and nutritious food all year round.
- Vulnerable populations in Lesotho have improved nutrition status at each stage of the lifecycle by 2024, in line with national targets.
- Communities in targeted areas, especially women and young people, would have resilient, efficient and inclusive food systems by 2024.
WFP Country Director Mary Njoroge said the plan was prepared in partnership with the government and other partners with whom it will be implemented.
“If you look at zero hunger, which ranges from ending hunger to improving the food system and other nutrition and all the problems that come with malnutrition, no single agency or organisation or government department can achieve that alone, so the whole idea of working together is extremely important,” she said.
She said in terms of zero hunger there are issues related to development and those that are related to the humanitarian side.
“Right now Lesotho is facing drought and people are not able to feed themselves and therefore the mandate of WFP is to look at the development side and see what they can do so that when shock comes, they are resilient enough to continue to feed themselves,” Ms Njoroge said.
She said there were certain issues that come up when one thinks about hunger in Lesotho among them that the number of people living below the poverty line is 57 percent, which is high.
“From 2003 we moved from 67 percent to where we are and if you calculate the annual change, you will see that we have not made progress,” Ms Njoroge said.
She also noted that looking at the future and achieving zero hunger in Lesotho, they have a lot of work ahead and they have to bear in mind that, as much as they have 17 sustainable development goals, these are interlinked because to achieve health they have to achieve zero hunger.
“We need to understand that there are certain priorities that are fundamental and food and good nutrition are the major ones.”
According to the Draft Lesotho Strategic Plan 2019-2024, one of the targets includes ending all forms of malnutrition, which is SDG target 2, 2.
“While the national average rate of stunting declined from 39, 2 percent in 2009 to 33, 2 percent in 2014, stunting remains a serious development challenge. It is more prevalent in rural areas than urban areas and among boys than girls,” the document notes.
Three percent of children under five years suffer from wasting, it adds. There is an alarming increase in the prevalence of overweight people and obesity, with seven percent of children under five overweight and 45 percent of women and 12 percent of men aged 15 to 49 years being overweight or obese.
Other challenges affecting nutrition outcomes include low intake of vitamins and micronutrients such as vitamin A, folic acid and iron. More than half of all children aged 6 to 59 months suffer from anemia.
The draft also states that the government’s priorities are articulated in Lesotho’s Vision 2020 which identifies seven pillars of development which are; democracy, unity, peace, education and training, economic growth, management of the environment and advances in technology.
“Lesotho’s national strategic development plan for 2019-2023 promotes inclusive and sustainable economic growth and private sector-led job creation, with a focus on strengthening human capital, building enabling infrastructure and strengthening national governance and accountability systems in order to address unemployment, poverty, gender inequalities and HIV and AIDS.”
It notes that sustaining the gains made in bridging gaps in gender equality requires practical enforcement mechanisms, many of which are enshrined in the national gender and development policy for 2016-2020, which provides equal rights to education, productive resources, employment and economic empowerment between men and women and between boys and girls.
The plan states that the Lesotho zero hunger strategic review identified gaps and challenges that lead to food and nutrition insecurity in the country which includes limited job opportunities, poor performance of the agriculture sector, high burden of malnutrition and gender inequalities and the impact of HIV and AIDS.
“Job opportunities, particularly for women and young people, are limited. Most households, especially in rural areas, face challenges in obtaining access to food and nutrition because of their limited incomes.
“Major factors constraining agricultural growth include exposure to climate shocks such as droughts, floods and frost, land degradation, soil infertility, the high cost of production and lack of access to financial services and structured markets,” reads the draft.
The draft also states that the annual cost associated with child under nutrition is US$133 million (about M2 billion), or 7, 13 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP).
It said food and nutrition insecurity is reflected in the high levels of undernourishment in the population and of stunting and micronutrient deficiencies among children under five adding that women and girls are more vulnerable to HIV than men and boys and they lack equal access to adequate food, income, financial and other services and land. It also says that gender inequality is exacerbated by discriminatory socio-cultural norms and economic practices.
The draft says the WFP can provide support to the government in strategic areas such as meeting the immediate food and nutrition needs of people in crisis.
“Emergency food assistance will continue to be provided in times of crisis as required. WFP will contribute to capacity development for emergency preparedness and response, including through the transfer of expertise in needs assessment.”
Working towards strengthening social protection systems, WFP will support the government in the design, consolidation and implementation of gender and shock-responsive programmes in the national social protection framework.
Technical support will be provided with a view to strengthen the equity and efficiency of beneficiary information management systems.
In partnership with other United Nations agencies, particularly FAO, WFP will support and build government capacity in the implementation of a sustainable home-grown school feeding programme.
Supporting agriculture value chains and mitigating post-harvest food losses for smallholder farmers will also be an area of focus. WFP will work with smallholders on reducing food losses in order to improve households’ food security and increase marketable surpluses, thereby enhancing farmers’ productivity and incomes and stimulating local markets and economies.
The WFP will support the government’s scale-up of evidence-based, cost-effective multi-sector nutrition interventions, including by providing government institutions, civil society organisations, communities and households with capacity strengthening and awareness raising activities aimed at informing their decision-making regarding nutrition.
In addition, the WFP will provide technical support to the government for the design and implementation of productive and integrated safety nets in support of climate adaptation efforts, resilience building and sustainable livelihoods.
Focusing on the district and community levels, the WFP will support the government in addressing gaps in institutional capacities to plan, co-ordinate, implement and monitor food and nutrition policies and establish and operate appropriate performance management and reporting systems for accountability purposes.