SEATTLE — Lesotho is a small landlocked country completely enveloped by South Africa and with a population of around two million. The country has the second highest HIV/AIDS prevalence among adults in the world and there is widespread unemployment and poverty. Hunger in Lesotho is also a major issue. Frequent droughts create widespread food insecurity and cause malnutrition and other avoidable health-related problems.
The recent El Niño weather phenomenon is having a devastating effect on crop yields and the country is in the midst of a major food security crisis. According to the U.N. World Food Program (WFP), more than 700,000 people — a third of the population — are in immediate need of food assistance. To make matters worse, more than 57 percent of the population live below the poverty line and food shortages have caused food prices to rise.
Children in Lesotho are greatly affected by malnutrition. The WFP claims that around a third of children under five years old are stunted as a result of chronic malnutrition. In 2016, the government of Lesotho published a report entitled the Cost of Hunger in Africa (COHA), estimating that 1.96 billion maloti (U.S. $200 million) — seven percent of Lesotho’s GDP — was lost in 2014 due to child malnutrition.
Around 75 percent of people in Lesotho live in rural areas and engage in subsistence farming to feed their families and communities. Despite this, the country produces only a fifth of the nation’s demand for food. Most food is therefore imported from South Africa, but the recent El Niño phenomenon has also affected South African crop yields, pushing prices up by around 60 percent.
Despite the dire situation, there are efforts under way to mitigate the devastating effects of the drought and to prevent hunger in Lesotho. After the 2015/16 drought that decimated 89 percent of agricultural production in Lesotho, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) teamed up with the government to develop innovative solutions and aid recovery. The FAO helps 70,000 households in Lesotho with home gardening techniques and provides nutrition kits in an effort to optimize food production and improve availability.
The WFP is also engaged in several areas to improve outcomes and reduce hunger in Lesotho, including:
- Food assistance and resilience building
This initiative supports more than 250,000 people affected by drought through monthly food distributions, monetary assistance and community development.
- Disaster risk reduction
The WFP supports the government with technical support for conservation efforts and helps develop long-term plans for safety net measures.
- Early childhood care and development
This program provides a hearty breakfast for 50,000 children in more than 2,000 preschools in the country.
- Nutrition and HIV support
This scheme provides food aid to vulnerable demographic groups in the country such as pregnant women, children and persons with HIV/TB infections.
- School Meals Program
The WFP works with the Lesotho government to provide 250,000 children in more than 1,000 primary schools with a morning and lunchtime meal and supports the government in its own school meals program to reach remote communities.
Created in 2004 by the government of Lesotho, Vision 2020 is the macro strategy that aims to turn Lesotho into a united, stable and prosperous democracy. In the COHA report, the government acknowledges that addressing malnutrition and food insecurity is integral to ensuring the success of Vision 2020. In October 2016, as a result of the COHA report, the Lesotho National Food and Nutrition Policy was enacted in order to coordinate nutrition and stunting-reduction efforts.
U.N. organizations and the government of Lesotho are working hard to eradicate the scourge of hunger in Lesotho. Challenges remain, but proactive measures are in place that will hopefully mitigate climate emergencies and develop a more sustainable agricultural model for the future.
– Michael Farquharson