- Hopes are still high for Lesotho's April–June 2005 harvest after good rains during the last weeks. Lesotho has faced three successive years of severe food insecurity and farmers desperately need a good harvest to break out of the vicious circle of poverty and famine.
According to the latest updates from the UN's World Food Programme (WFP), Lesotho stands a good chance of decent harvests. In late February, "good rains of up to 55 millimetres were received in the northern and western parts of the country" after a dry spell had threatened to affect prospects for a good harvest.
Planting for the April–June 2005 harvest took place in a pessimistic mood in October–December 2004. Lesotho was thus experiencing a third successive year of severe food insecurity. The poor harvests had led the government to declare a state of emergency in February 2004. Production of the main staple, maize, in 2004 was estimated to be only 32 percent of the average for the past five years.
One year ago, humanitarian agencies estimated that 948,300 people in Lesotho - or about half of the population - were needing some degree of food assistance. That consumption season with a severe food deficit is still ongoing and will not end until harvests are collected in a few months.
Currently, the food security situation in Lesotho therefore remains in a state of disaster. This is also reflected in the price of food, which has significantly increased from January to end-February. The price of maize increased by 57 percent, wheat by 8 percent, and cabbage by 18 percent, while the price of sorghum declined by 12 percent, according to the WFP.
Food distribution by the government and humanitarian agencies is therefore ongoing. Due to low donor support, however, distribution is far below targets. During a week, WFP distributes around 1,200 tons of food to only 71,000 vulnerable people, including households affected by HIV/AIDS. WFP had proposed that it should assist 600,000 of the drought affected people until the upcoming harvest.
The Basotho now however seem to have a realistic hope of depending less on donor aid. Rains were only slightly below normal in early January and very good in mid-February. This should mean that the mountain kingdom at least avoids the total crop failure experienced last year. Harvest should be anything from slightly below average to good. Crops however will need fairly good rains during March as well.
The government of Lesotho, alerted by the three-year drought, is currently working on several programmes to make the country less dependent on precipitation. Several humanitarian agencies for examples cooperate with Maseru authorities to "restore agricultural productivity and infrastructure, and develop local capacity" in a 'Food-for-assets' programme.
Several dam projects in the kingdom's Maluti Mountains also aim at increasing access to water all year round. While the current dams in the Lesotho Highlands project mostly provide electricity and water to South African urban centres such as Johannesburg, future developments also are to include water provision to Lesotho's fragile agricultural sector.
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