MASERU - Just when Lesotho and Southern Africa as a whole are reeling from the effects of two consecutive years of El Nino-induced drought between 2015 and 2016 that affected the majority of people in the country, the threat to the food security still remains - largely due to the after-effects of the drought as well as climate change.
It has been reported that the drought has affected over 40 million people in Southern Africa and reduced food availability by 15 percent and caused a cereal deficit of 9 million tons and Lesotho is no exception. The government declared a state-of-food-emergency in December 2015 and the 2016 harvest was forecasted to be much lower as the drought affected 2015/16 agricultural year. Government still continues to subsidise the pricing of basis commodities such as maize, beans and other cereals.
However, the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security (MAFS) expects good summer cropping due to the good rains that befell the country of late. Director in the Department of Crops Dr Lebone Molahlehi recently stated that the effects of drought were likely to wane out although there were other problems hindering growth of crops in the country.
He said the heavy rains experienced over the past few weeks have had a positive impact on the plants as they would gather enough moisture to sustain them for a long period. However, he indicated that the incessant downpours could also slow down the process as the plants also needed enough sunlight for photosynthesis to take place.
The Ministry of Agriculture has also been on the lookout for the fall armyworm and red locust - pests that have destroyed crops, particularly maize - in other parts of the world and were recently spotted in Southern Africa.
The fall armyworm is known to cause extensive crop losses of up to 73 percent depending on existing conditions and is difficult to control with a single type of pesticide, reports the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) regional office in Harare, Zimbabwe.
In fact FAO, together with the Southern African Development Committee (SADC) and the International Red Locust Control Organization for Central and Southern Africa (IRLCO-CSA), organized an emergency regional meeting of key stakeholders from 14 to 16 February 2017 in Harare to discuss the strengthening of surveillance, preparedness and coordinated emergency responses to trans-boundary crop pests and livestock diseases, including the fall armyworm that pose danger to the region’s food security situation.
Part of the meeting’s resolutions were that the region needs to be more proactive to such calamities by being prepared on time. FAO also supported a delegation, comprising of relevant government officials, to the meeting with the hope that the country cold implement strategies of preparedness for such an eventuality, should it take place.
FAO Lesotho says they and other players in national food security issues were crossing their fingers in the hope that the menace does not come to Lesotho. However, FAO believes current signs show that Lesotho is likely to see increased agricultural output in the next harvest after some good rains.
“Should we be exposed to any emergency in the form of the current pest menace that has been reported, that would be disastrous,” said Assistant FAO Representative (Head of Programmes) Mokitinyane Nthimo.
“We have had a similar threat before, there was an outbreak of armyworm a few years back which prompted our support for developing an early warning system (EWS) for migratory pests. We supported the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security (MAFS) in putting up early warning systems,” he explained.
Nthimo said the EWS has been activated with information that has been filtering through the FAO structures across the sub-region so that the country will not be caught unawares as happened in the past. As a technical agencies on issues relating to agriculture and food security FAO has also been involved in supporting the emergency response plan to last year’s drought.
FAO programmes in Lesotho are largely project-based and the support comes from different resource partners ranging from US$500k to US$3 million, depending on the nature and size of the project. The support has fluctuated in many years.
“Some 10 years ago we hardly delivered beyond US$600k per annum therefore we have seen some growth, but that growth has been the result of recurring emergencies. If you look at our project portfolio you’ll find out that the bulk of our support comes from humanitarian donors.
“Therefore, we are not doing very well in terms of long-term development programmes and that tells you there is not yet an appetite for development support in the agriculture sector, for instance. We also do a lot of policy development as a technical [NM(1] [M2] agency in the area of agriculture and food security. FAO, like the rest of the UN agencies is not an NGO, but an intergovernmental organisation.
FAO also takes part in government’s own response programmes and social protection programmes to provide social safety nets through additional food production. In 2016, FAO Lesotho had programmes that were specifically intended for beneficiaries of the government social grants, who were engaged in the production of vegetables so that the money they got through government grants could go a long way in covering other family commitments.
“When you give them that money most of it goes to their primary needs such as food, soap, etc. If you give those people seeds and show them production technologies that are not so labour-demanding such as planting vegetables around their homesteads, you find that the money they get goes a long way in covering other areas for their needs,” explained Nthimo.
Apart from that FAO Lesotho also works in developmental projects that look into the operational and technical capacities of government institutions so that they can respond better to some of the challenges that the country may be facing such as the effects of climate change and its adaption methods in the country.
“For instance, climate change has affected a lot of natural resources management issues such as rangelands and the way we produce our food in agriculture. We have identified technologies that may enable them to do better under changing climatic conditions.
“We have introduced conservation agriculture and we have been engaging communities through the respective ministries to properly manage their natural resources. We are also looking to rehabilitate wetlands and promote other sustainable land management practices that critical for sustaining livelihoods and helping communities adapt to changing climate.
“For instance if people degrade the wetlands that provide them with water today this means tomorrow they will suffer the consequences. Some persons whose animals may be benefiting today may not have the same benefits tomorrow after the resources have been destroyed.
In order to do this, he said, FAO supports government to mobilise resources for such programmes to take place. “We help them develop the necessary capacity to so implement policies, programmes and plans.
Other FAO supported initiatives include analytical processes such as the Lesotho Vulnerability Assessment Committee (LVAC) exercises. Here the focus is to ensure that the country has the necessary capacity to do its own analysis. In Some cases FAO does its own technical analysis depending on the prevailing circumstances. For instance, in order to develop an evidence-based emergency response programme, FAO instituted two important assessments, namely, the Seed Security and livestock assessments. “
A fortnight ago, Lesotho Deputy Prime Minister Mothetjoa Metsing formally launched the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), commonly known by the acronym, ‘Agenda 2030’ in the country. This comes about after Lesotho has been blamed for not meeting the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) target for sustainable development by 2015.
Metsing acknowledged Lesotho’s failure as due to a number of problems, among them, lack of commitment by the authorities in implementing them. The Deputy Prime Minister did, however, encourage everyone to take part in making sure that the country moves forward together to accomplish the SDGs in parity with the rest of the world. The FAO too, believes that the county’s failure to accomplish some of the MDGs could be a catalyst to a better performance in the SDGs by 2030.
“We saw our failures in the MDGs and it is my hope that we learnt from those failures and the unfinished business under those SDGs. Now the world has asked us again to put our heads together so that a meaningful progress can be made towards achieving the espoused goals by 2030,” said Nthimo.
“The world is pushing everybody to do the right thing, some of the things that we have failed on were largely due to lack of commitment. We do a lot of work in developing policies and strategies but do very little in making sure that those policies are actually implemented and that there are budgetary processes aligned to implementing those policies.
“Consultations are currently taking place, we will see how the implementation goes next year. I would not be too pessimistic that we will fail but certainly, if we cannot draw from the lessons of the previous 15 years, we are likely to repeat the same mistakes. I am cautiously optimistic that everybody will do their part so that we deliver on these targets,” he further alluded.