By: Thoboloko Ntšonyane

Maseru – A recent report by the World Food Programme (WFP) highlights the urgent need for intervention to avert a food security crisis in the country.

The report had underscored the country’s vulnerability to natural disasters such as floods and droughts, compounded by low agricultural productivity and widespread poverty.

According to the WFP Lesotho Country brief published in May, these challenges are further exacerbated by malnutrition and the ongoing impact of HIV, which collectively aggravate the nation’s susceptibility to natural hazards.

“Poverty is widespread, persistent and deep, especially in rural areas. Almost half of the population of Lesotho suffers from poverty (49.7 percent) and almost one quarter (24.1 percent) suffers extreme poverty, living below the poverty line.”

It paints a grim picture, noting that Lesotho is grappling with a “triple burden of malnutrition.” This includes high levels of stunting, widespread micronutrient deficiencies, and rising obesity rates across all age groups. Agriculture, a major source of livelihood for the rural population and contributing seven percent to the GDP, falls short of addressing sufficient food security status of the country.

The combination of these factors demands l intervention to prevent a worsening of the food security situation.

WFP says M168 million is required as per its country strategic plan for July 2019 – June 2024.

It says for the month of May, at least 53 526 people have been assisted.

The country brief further indicates that $8 million about M145 million in funding is needed for the period from June to November 2024 to meet at least 70 percent of the total requirements.

To date, the WFP has procured 1,674 kilograms of food (including vegetables, fruits, and beans) from smallholder farmers. Approximately 53,056 school learners have been reached through these interventions and are currently receiving school meals.

It continues: “WFP requires USD 5.4 million (about M97,7 million)  to assist 40 000 households targeted for the upcoming lean season support (October 2024-March 2025). The country office is awaiting the publishing of the Lesotho Vulnerability Assessment and the Integrated Acute Food Insecurity Phase Classification (IPC) analysis which will include the magnitude of food insecurity for the consumption year 2024/2025.

“WFP, through the Adaptation Fund project, conducted trainings for various stakeholders (government miniseries, NGOs, youth organizations,  church leaders, farmers’ representatives, community leaders, and indigenous people) in four districts of Mokhotlong, Butha-Buthe, Leribe, and Berea.  The primary objective of these workshops was to strengthen the capacity of these stakeholders in interpreting climate services and effectively utilizing weather and climate information in their respective area of work.”

The King of Lesotho, serving as the African Union’s Nutrition Champion, recently had his status extended as a Nutrition Ambassador by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). This honour also serves as a wakeup call for the country to redouble its efforts towards combating the food insecurity and the pressing food security challenges. 

Seemingly the government has not fully leveraged these accolades to address the nation’s needs. Despite the recognition and the opportunities it brings, substantial efforts to improve food security remain limited.

In a bid to prioritize agriculture, the government of Lesotho has, for the first time, allocated over a million maloti to the Ministry of Agriculture.  Notably, the government and the army have initiated partnerships with local farmers, engaging in farming blocks that aim to boost agricultural productivity and enhance food security.

In addition to government efforts, several organizations are working particularly in rural areas to build resilience and improve food security. These initiatives focus on providing support to smallholder farmers, introducing sustainable agricultural practices, and enhancing the overall agricultural infrastructure.

By strengthening the capacity of rural communities, these organizations aim to mitigate the impact of natural disasters and improve food availability especially when the food inflation is on a perpetual increase.

The combined efforts of the government, local organizations, and international partners are crucial in addressing the vulnerabilities and ensuring a more food-secure future for Lesotho.