Lesotho is experiencing a major food security crisis as a result of the El-Niño induced drought. The situation has been made worse by two successive crop failures, low incomes, and high food prices that mean that 41 percent of rural families are spending over half their income on food.
Over 709,000 people are in urgent need of food assistance, with eight of the country’s 10 regions predicted to experience a high food deficit in 2016-17. To try to cope with lack of food, many communities already take detrimental measures such as skipping meals or selling off assets.
Maize is the staple diet of Lesotho, but just 9 percent of the country’s total landmass is suitable for cultivation. Despite this, 72 percent of the population live in rural areas. Many poor rural households lack access to agricultural land, while those who do own land lack resources to maximize production, such as fertilisers and high-yield seeds.
Lesotho loses 7.13 percent of its GDP to chronic malnutrition, and around 33 percent of children under the age of five years are stunted, with a low height for their age. Nearly a quarter of the population is infected with HIV, with women being disproportionately affected due to gender-based violence. Around 80 percent of those living with HIV also have tuberculosis (TB).
Lesotho is highly vulnerable to the impact of climate change, with droughts already affecting harvest yields and causing significant loss of livestock. The climate is predicted to become warmer and dryer, making droughts and floods more frequent and intense. With less snow on the mountains and an increase in run-off rates, soil erosion will worsen and deplete the soil of nutrients. While some climate adaptation measures are being taken, the country lacks the resources for extensive mitigation.
What the World Food Programme is doing in Lesotho
Food assistance and resilience building
Through this programme, WFP supports an estimated 263,236 vulnerable people affected by drought, as well as supporting Government efforts to increase resilience. Assistance takes the form of monthly food distributions and cash-based transfers during the lean season, as well as schemes involving food in exchange for the development of community assets that strengthen resilience to natural disasters.
Disaster risk reduction
WFP is supporting the Government in implementing a larger-scale safety net to strengthen its ability to respond to climate-related disasters. WFP also provides technical support for activities undertaken by the Ministry of Forestry, Range and Soil Conservation.
Early childhood care and development
WFP provides Super Cereal porridge for breakfast and a lunch meal of staple food papa (thick maize meal porridge) and pulses to 50,000 children in 2,053 preschools throughout Lesotho. This support aims to help children prepare for primary education and contributes to reducing undernutrition in children under the age of five. Better nutrition reduces stunting and improves children’s cognitive development.
Nutrition and HIV support
WFP provides food assistance to vulnerable, moderately malnourished groups including young children, pregnant and nursing mothers, and those undergoing HIV and TB treatment.
School meals programme
WFP works with the Government of Lesotho to provide 250,000 children in 1,173 primary schools with morning maize meal porridge and a lunchtime meal of the staple food papa, served with either pulses or fish. This helps boost micronutrients and improves the learning environment, increasing enrolment and attendance and reducing dropout rates. WFP also supports the Government in extending its own School Meals Programme to inaccessible areas.