The Complex Causes of Poverty in Lesotho

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MASERU — One of the smallest countries in Africa, the mountainous kingdom of Lesotho has its fair share of problems. Classified as one of the least developed nations in the world by the United Nations Development Programme, 57.1 percent of the 1.9 million-strong population lives below the national poverty line. This being the case, it seems essential to understand the primary causes of poverty in Lesotho in order to effect change for the better going forward.

As with many of the world’s poorer countries, there is a significant divide between urban and rural areas. In Lesotho, a massive 75 percent of the population lives in rural areas. More than half of these people are deemed poor and around 30 percent are living in extreme poverty. When broken down by region, it is evident that rural communities contain the vast majority of the country’s poor.

A large part of this is related to agriculture. While the industry only contributes 17 percent of total GDP, for the rural poor, agriculture is the primary means of making a living. The problem with this is that the majority of people are unable to access arable land; it is estimated that only 10 percent of land in Lesotho is suitable for agriculture. With this being the case, agricultural productivity has been stagnant since the 1990s, in part due to erratic weather, including droughts and floods.

The inability for the rural poor to achieve consistent crop yields leads to further problems which compound the issue of poverty in Lesotho. Hunger has always been an issue in the country, but particularly poor performance in agriculture over the past few years has exacerbated this further. In 2016, it was estimated that one in three would be in dire need of food aid in order to survive, and this has led to conflict in communities. Reported cases of malnutrition also increase rapidly during times of particularly poor performance.

Poor health is another of the key causes of poverty in Lesotho and, unfortunately, malnutrition is not the only worry in this area. The country harbors the world’s third highest HIV/AIDS prevalence rate, with 23 percent of the population infected. The high rates of infection have knock-on effects, with maternal and infant mortalities high across the country also. Those who require treatment are, on average, a four-hour walk from health clinics, which leaves many in dire need of treatment unable to receive it.

Unemployment is also one of the major causes of poverty in Lesotho. Migration to urban areas in search of a paying job is common, with many leaving for South Africa in search of employment. Much of this is a result of the poor economic and business conditions in Lesotho, which is not appealing to foreign investors, and an estimated 50 percent of the population is unemployed. The lack of opportunities for earning has led to some families going without income and being reliant on subsistence farming, however, this often leaves them open to the threats outlined above and, as such, further decline into poverty.

While the country is not without aid, the argument often made in the past is that it has been focused in the wrong places. If these key causes of poverty in Lesotho are targeted, then people may finally be able to move out of deprivation and into some level of prosperity.

Gavin Callander
Photo: Flickr

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