MASERU — Agriculture Minister Litšoane Litšoane says the government has reallocated funds from other ministries to the agriculture sector to deal with the looming food crisis.
In an exclusive interview with the Lesotho Times yesterday, Litšoane said the government will also enter into partnerships with commercial farmers and share crops at the scale of 70-30, with government taking a bigger portion.
The dramatic steps to fight hunger come after Prime Minister Thomas Thabane last week told state television that Lesotho was facing a massive food crisis this year.
Litšoane said before Thabane made the announcement last Thursday, cabinet had already made the decision “to reallocate the budget”.
“Government realised the danger of food shortage and decided to reallocate funds from other ministries and pump more into agriculture to better manage the food crisis and feed Basotho,” Litšoane said.
“Thereafter cabinet instructed the Prime Minister to go ahead and announce the food shortage crisis.”
With the money collected from the reallocation of funds, Litšoane said government will plough 42 000 hectares of arable land as well as fields which were announced by the premier as having yielded “a poor harvest in the last cropping season”.
Litšoane added that government’s estimated quantity of food to feed Basotho on an annual basis is 300 000 metric tons of various crops but that between now and May next year government would have produced “just 16 percent of that”.
“From this we expect to have by May 2013 harvested at least 16 percent of the overall percentage of food required to feed this nation.
“We need 300 000 metric tons to feed Basotho annually,” Litšoane said.
Lesotho’s agriculture sector has been in free-fall for the past three decades.
Agriculture’s contribution to the GDP slumped from a high of 25 percent in the 1980s to around 10 percent in the 1990s.
And last year it contributed a mere 7.7 percent to the GDP.
This is despite the fact that about 82 percent of Lesotho’s 1.8 million people are involved in agriculture as subsistence farmers.
In the 1980s Lesotho used to produce 80 percent of its cereal needs but now it can only manage a measly 30 percent.
Of the 42 000 hectares to be ploughed this cropping season, Litšoane said the government will enter into share-cropping partnerships with field owners on 10 000 hectares with government taking 70 percent of the harvest “leaving field owners with 30 percent”.
“This is because government will have invested more in the partnership in terms of finances,” Litšoane said.
Litšoane added that besides partnerships with field owners, government will also engage block farmers such as the Mpharane Block Farmers (Temo-Mmoho) in Leribe in the Likhetlane constituency.
Litšoane, an ABC MP for the Bela-Bela constituency in Berea, is himself a successful block farmer who produces, among others, sugar beans, wheat and maize while at the same time focusing on livestock farming that includes rearing chickens and producing eggs.
“The block farmers would be subsidised by 50 percent which includes inputs such as seeds, fertilizers as well as other mechanical inputs,” Litšoane said.
He said since government was willing to meet farmers halfway with inputs, and the expectation was that businessmen would be clamouring for the opportunity to sell inputs to farmers “especially those in the highlands and along the foothills of the
“The plan is for all businessmen wishing to sell inputs to farmers to be able to do so,” Litšoane said.
For a successful harvest of early cash crops, Litšoane said government was already gearing for the revival of irrigation systems that had been dormant for years.
“We will also throw ourselves in the production of early cash crops. That way we’re already fighting hunger.
“We also have fields of wheat that we hope to harvest in December or January,” Litšoane said.
Litšoane said the manifestos of the ABC, LCD and BNP which form the coalition government had been fused into the formulation of the strategy because they all “encompass elements required to fight this acute shortage of food”.
“The ABC in its manifesto addresses how farmers can be subsidised with inputs, while both the BNP and LCD address entering into partnerships with farmers for the realisation of sustainable food production for Basotho,” Litšoane said.
This strategy comes against the backdrop of the release last month of an International Food Security Assessment Report for 2012-2022 by the United States Department of Agriculture (Economic Research Service) on Sub-Saharan Africa which suggests Lesotho will be rendered severely food insecure for the next decade.
According to the report, nearly 100 percent of the population in Lesotho, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi and Eritrea is “projected to remain food insecure throughout the projection period”.
The report adds this is because Lesotho has some of the lowest average grain yields in the world, whose agricultural output is
characterised by wide swings in output due to rainfall variability.