A national emergency

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A REPORT released last Friday by international relief agency, ActionAid, painted a grim picture about the state of agriculture in Lesotho.
The 91-page report titled, Who’s Really Fighting Hunger, sought to investigate why a billion people worldwide go to bed hungry.
The report made some scathing comments about the state of agriculture in Lesotho and why about 500 000 people out of the country’s 1.8 million do not have access to adequate food.
“With a population of 1.8 million this amounts to a national emergency,” says the report.
Lesotho fared poorly on the HungerFree scorecard scoring 41 out of 100. The country came on position 13 out of the 29 countries that were investigated.
According to the report, the right to food is not enshrined in Lesotho’s national constitution.
As a result citizens cannot hold their government to account when food programmes are poorly implemented, the report argues.
The Lesotho Times and its sister-paper, the Sunday Express, have over the past months carried stories about the biting hunger in rural and urban areas of Lesotho.
The purpose of these stories is not to magnify government failures. Rather it is to alert the government and donor agencies so that they can spring into action and alleviate the suffering of the people.
According to the report, Lesotho last year experienced a 10 percent drop in maize production.
The report is damning in its assessment of the root cause of this sad scenario. It says the decline is “symptomatic of the government’s lack of support and investment in agriculture”.
The food crisis, the report says, “is the bitter fruit of years of underfunding, political neglect and failed free market policies”.
We agree.
There is no doubt that the future of Lesotho lies in having sound policies in the agriculture sector.
The report makes quite valid comments about the government’s commitment to promoting agriculture in the country.
It would appear that there is still little appreciation from the government about the key role that agriculture can play as the engine for economic development.
According to the report, less than five percent of Lesotho’s national budget was allocated to agriculture during the period under review.
This allocation is only half of what was recommended in the Maputo Agreement signed by African Union leaders in 2003.
Under the agreement African countries including Lesotho agreed to implement the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme to improve the availability of food on the continent.
The countries agreed to adopt sound policies for agricultural and rural development and commit themselves to allocating at least 10 percent of their national budgetary resources to achieve these goals over the next five years.
We think it is our duty to gently remind the government that it cannot shirk its responsibility in ensuring that no one goes to bed hungry.
Reports say between 1980 and 2004 cereal production declined from 80 percent to a shocking 30 percent.
As a result Lesotho has had to survive on food handouts from international relief agencies. This is obviously an untenable situation.
We need to reverse this dependence on food handouts and achieve food sustainability as a nation.
The government must pump more resources in the agriculture sector. It is clear from reports in the districts that there is widespread hunger there and that more needs to be done to fight the crisis.
What is also clear is that what the government has done so far to fight hunger has fallen woefully short.
To solve the problem of severe soil erosion and erratic rain patterns Lesotho must ensure it supports smallholders with irrigation and organic fertilisers to revitalise depleted soil, says the report.
The state must take the lead and assist smallholder farmers to grow enough food for the nation. Arguments that we cannot grow enough food because only 12 percent of our land is arable should not be used as an excuse for inaction.
In China, for instance, only nine percent of the land is arable but the Asian country is able to satisfactorily feed its 1.3 billion people every year.
With a little ingenuity we can sufficiently feed ourselves and kick hunger good-bye.

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Lesotho’s widely read newspaper, published every Thursday and distributed throughout the country and in some parts of South Africa.

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