LESOTHO’S food security is set to improve from the “stressed” to “minimal” phase starting from this month to September 2017 owing to improved grain harvests.
This is according to a report compiled by the office of the United Nations Resident Coordinator in Lesotho, which also states that prices for staple foods were expected to decline in the same period.
The report covers the period from 17 March 2016 to 31 May 2017 and tracks the country’s recovery from the El Nino-induced drought of the 2015/16 summer cropping season.
It cites the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS-NET), which stated that food security was gradually improving in rural areas as poor and very poor households began drying the main harvest early this season and consuming their own production.
“Regarding the agricultural and pastoral situation, crops are currently in good condition and harvest prospects are positive,” reads part of the report.
“Unlike other countries in the region, there have been no reported outbreaks of pests and disease. The improved pasture conditions and water availability provided relief for crops, horticulture and livestock, after the severe drought caused water and pasture shortages and resulted in hundreds of livestock deaths.”
Citing data from the Lesotho Meteorological Services, it notes that the country received above normal rainfall in the period February to April 2017 which created relief for aquifers and improved the moisture content for crops.
“The foothills and highlands benefited from a higher amount of rainfalls compared to the lowlands in the indicated period. Normal rainfall and normal temperatures are expected.”
The report adds: “According to FEWS NET, Lesotho is currently in IPC (Integrated Phase Classification) Phase 2 (Stressed), due to the extensive humanitarian cash and food assistance and it is projected to reach IPC Phase 1 (Minimal) from June to September 2017.”
The report also notes that, as of February 2017, the food insecure population in rural areas was 48 percent with 561 814 people, which was a decrease from 709 394 in May 2016.
Citing FEWS NET statistics, the report notes that the anticipation of a good harvest had resulted in a decline of staple food prices, adding that they were expected to decline further between June and September 2017.
“Moreover, household purchasing power is also strengthening due to a combination of improved income (e.g. crop sales, harvesting labours, etc.) and declining staple prices, improving food security.
“The recent WFP mobile Vulnerability Analysis and Mapping (VAM) data shows that average maize meal prices fell slightly from M73.00/12.5 kg to M72.00/12.5 kg between February and March 2017.
“Prices were 9% lower than the same period in 2016 but 13% higher than the five-year average (2012-2016). The national average price of wheat flour remained stable at M85.00/12.5 kg over February and March 2017,” the report says.
The report also analyses the impact of the 30 percent food subsidy government had introduced to mitigate the effects of skyrocketing food prices in the aftermath of the 2015/16 El Niño-induced drought.
It notes that during the period of the subsidy – from 1 June 2016 to the end of last month — staple food prices had gradually decreased.
“According to the recently released Food Price Subsidy Analysis, the government’s 30 percent Food Price Subsidy Program on maize meal, sugar beans and split peas has only partially contributed to this reduction.
“The mid-term assessment on the program recently conducted by the World Bank, in collaboration with WFP and FAO, has demonstrated that the reduction in prices cannot only be attributed to the subsidy programme.
“In fact, as maize meal prices in Lesotho are heavily impacted by SAFEX (South African Futures Exchange) prices, it has been demonstrated that, in the period June-December 2016, the fall in SAFEX prices was larger (-15.8%) than the average fall in national maize meal prices (-12.9%).”
The report also indicates that the vulnerable households in rural areas and remote highlands had only partially benefitted from the program as subsidized prices were still too high in those areas.
“Therefore, it has been highlighted that the subsidy program, as a universal approach, has been less efficient for the most vulnerable parts of the population compared to more targeted approaches (e.g. cash transfers, voucher, etc.).”