Lesotho food crisis: A never-ending story

By CARE Australia July 17, 2013 0 comments

The current food crisis in Lesotho means that more than one-third of the population doesn’t have enough to eat. Drought, late rains, early frost and a recent pest infestation have destroyed vital crops. Adding to the issue of food insecurity are crippling health problems; every fourth person in Lesotho is HIV positive.

By Michelle Carter, Country Director, CARE Lesotho

A small landlocked country completely surrounded by South Africa, Lesotho receives little attention from the international community and media. But far away from the major humanitarian disasters occurring in the Middle East or in populous African countries, the people in Lesotho have been facing serious food insecurity for the last couple of years, adding to their chronic vulnerability to ill-health, climate change and gender-based violence.

In the cropping season of 2011/2012, a series of droughts, late rains and early frost had a destructive impact on the food situation, especially affecting the rural population. At the time, agricultural production dropped 70 per cent and led to Lesotho’s worst harvest in 10 years. As a consequence, there are currently about 725,000 people suffering from hunger and in need of assistance according to the Lesotho Vulnerability Assessment Committee. For one of the smallest countries in the world with a population of 2.2 million, this represents one-third of the total population.

Agricultural production dropped 70 per cent in the 2011/12 cropping season, Lesotho’s worst harvest in ten years.
Agricultural production dropped 70 per cent in the 2011/12 cropping season, Lesotho’s worst harvest in ten years. ©CARE

In August 2012, Prime Minister H.E. Thomas Thabane declared a food crisis situation and called for assistance to help people manage this period of enhanced food shortage and the resulting price increase. Indeed, the situation has been improving and CARE Lesotho has put much effort into alleviating hunger experienced by many Basotho people. Luckily, this year’s harvest also enhanced food availability for the people of Lesotho.

But in February and March 2013, an outbreak of so-called armyworms caused further trouble for the farmers and the entire population. Armyworms are known to wreak havoc with crops, attacking anything eatable in an area before moving altogether – like an army – to the next spot.

In Lesotho, numbers show that a total of over 35,000 hectares of cropped land had been affected by armyworms up to March 2013. Some farmers will not be able to harvest anything this year because their fields were completely wiped out. Thus I have to caution against too much early optimism; this emergency isn’t over yet. People’s reserves and safety nets have been exhausted due to the fall in agricultural production during the last years. The implication of these encouraging production estimates in reducing vulnerability will remain unknown until a detailed assessment is completed and the damage caused by the armyworms assessed.

More than 725,000 people in Lesotho - over one third of the population - are short of food.
More than 725,000 people in Lesotho – over one-third of the population – are short of food. ©CARE

Even if the food situation does improve again and people are able to feed themselves and their families, many issues remain unsolved in Lesotho. The small country has the third-highest prevalence of HIV positive people worldwide, with every fourth person in Lesotho infected. This aggravates the situation of the families living in food insecurity even more since they have to decide whether to buy food or medication.

About CARE in Lesotho

CARE began working in Lesotho in 1968 and in 2001 it merged offices with CARE South Africa. Although different, the countries share many of the same causes and manifestations of poverty and inequality, including high rates of HIV/AIDS and a lack of access to basic health care and education, which perpetuates cycles of underdevelopment. Young people and women disproportionately share the burden of disease, and lack food, education and livelihoods.

CARE works with communities and local organisations within Lesotho and South Africa to implement programs in the areas of health care and HIV/Aids, economic empowerment, democratic governance and food security.

Donate to CARE’s Global Emergency Fund.

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