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WFP report digs up on food insecurity

Mapalesa Selia excitedly shows off her healthy backyard

Maseru-While most of the country is recovering from the consequences of the climate change induced drought that hit the country, some have recovered and are ready to stand up for themselves and survive.

A food security study by the Mobile Vulnerability Analysis and Mapping (mVAM) Bulletin No. 9 of February 2017 shows that because of drought, over a fifth of rural households withdrew children from school, a development that has deeply impacted on their future growth and livelihood opportunities.

The extent of the drought did not only affect farmers due to lack of rains but consumers in a larger spectrum as prices hiked. For a 78 year-old ‘Malefi Sepetla who has known nothing else but farming to put bread on the table and feed her family, life as she knew it had changed drastically over the years. Back in the days, most Basotho men went to South Africa to work, with most of them in the mining sector and ‘Malefi’s husband was no different.

After her husband left, of which as per norm, he would only return home after six months and above, ‘Malefi was left to care and nurture the family by herself. She had to take charge of all the household needs and that was when she ventured into farming.

Although the fields the family had were only used for subsistence and not commercial farming, she has had to improvise to make the land more productive. She quickly ventured into a fruit farming and peaches were the natural choice. ‘Malefi told this paper that with her variety of trees around her yard, she packages the peaches and sells them in small packets.

However, in 2015 when the drought hit, her efforts suffered greatly.  ‘Malefi explains that because there were no yields from her land the family did not even have maize meal which took a toll on them as they had never been without food due to the poor harvests.

“Drought is not a new thing, it has hit us many a times before but we were able to make harvests even though some seasons were not a good. This one was very severe and left us hungry,” she said.

The World Food Programme (WFP) then took from October 2016 to assist 200 000 food insecure people in seven of the 10 districts in Lesotho, these being Maseru, Mafeteng, Mohale’s Hoek, Butha-Buthe, Quthing, Thaba-Tseka and Berea. The assistance was in the form of food and cash distributions with food rations comprising of maize meal, pulses and fortified vegetable oil. The assistance as explained by the WFP Country Director Mary Njoroge was expected to end in June 2017, a time when all harvest would be guaranteed.

An update issued by the WFP on food security compiled in January 2017 states that purchases were the main source of food as the majority of households across the country had depleted their food stocks. The only exceptions were with those who had planted wheat because they were able to harvest. Some had to make use of wild vegetables to add to their households’ access to food as they were readily available.

‘Malefi admitted that the assistance bailed most of them out at a time when it was needed most. Post the assistance period that ends in June, ‘Malefi believes that by looking at her yard and fields, she will be able to feed her 19 grandchildren and 11 great grandchildren, some of whom some stay with her.

“I have a big family but I am not intimidated because we had very good rains which, by the look of things, have guaranteed us good harvests,” she said confidently.

Aside from the maize that she to harvest and crush into maize meal and cater for her family  up to the next harvest, ‘Malefi has around her yard, sacks of dried fruit and vegetables that she hopes would come in handy when fresh one are finished due to the winter cold.

“All I will do is boil these dried pumpkin leaves and season them to go with the maize meal and have a scrumptious meal with my children”. She added that when cooking around the fire in winter, the dried peaches, better referred to as ‘mangangajane’ go down very well and bring the family together.

Another woman, ‘Mapalesa Selia, has taken upon herself to raise three orphaned children single-handedly even with her unemployed status. She could not help expressing her gratitude for what WFP has done for her. She indicated that it was hard bringing the children up, ensuring that they go to school and are well fed but she has been managing somehow.

“The hardest part was being gossiped about in the village by people who believe that I took the children in so that I can get grants and all forms of assistance which, in the least, is very untrue,” said Selia.

With tears in her eyes, she narrated that she loves the children with all her heart and believes that they need all the care and support in the world to have better brighter future than she had seen while growing up. Selia maintained that not a lot of people would take in children who are not theirs and love them unconditionally, especially when they are struggling but because she believes that she was brought into this world to help, she does whatever she can.

Selia also stated that after the assistance comes to an end in June, she will go back to helping people in their fields and taking up any piece jobs that may come her way in order to make ends meet. This, she explains, is how she used to live before WFP intervened.

The WFP report shows that although some field crops were damaged by over flooding rivers and heavy water run-offs this year, mostly in Thaba-Tseka, Quthing and Butha-Buthe, most households throughout the country have planted various vegetables at their homesteads.

The report also says rural-to-urban migration has been on the rise across all the districts as households migrated to the urban areas and outside the country in search of jobs to cover the food gap that existed.

Some people used the crisis as an opportunity to make money as increased crop sales (vegetables) and fire wood collection were cited in several districts. Over half of rural households are said to have borrowed or purchased food on credit compared with one third of urban households.

Households that received assistance from WFP are reported to have worse consumption patterns than those that did not receive assistance. Those that are led by women show higher adoption of negative coping strategies than those headed by men. 

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