LESOTHO (10 February)

Prospects are very poor for the 1997/98 harvest. The crop season has been marked by generally erratic and below normal rainfall between September and December, with high temperature in many areas which further reduced the level of soil moisture. As a result, early planted crops suffered serious water stress and planting was delayed in many areas. Widespread rains in January significantly improved conditions of crops and encouraged some farmers to plant more land. This will increase the size of area planted which was forecast in early January at only a third of the 1996/97 level. Seed and fertilizer supply are considered adequate. However, more rains are needed in February and March for late planted crops to complete their growth cycle. A prolonged dry period associated with El Niņo could lead to crop losses from 25 to 50 percent of the 1997 harvest.

Following a below average cereal harvest in 1997, the food supply situation remains tight. Stock levels are relatively low, representing about two month consumption needs in January. Little food aid is expected during the current marketing season as food aid pledges of 13 400 tonnes have already been delivered.