Lesotho is a small country in southern Africa and one of the Continent’s poorest. Around 59 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, with some 40 percent living in extreme poverty.
The country has one of the highest HIV/AIDS rates in the world, with over 23 percent of the population believed to be infected. This has had serious consequences for the country’s productive workforce.
Most people in Lesotho reside in rural areas, eking out a living from agriculture. The countryside is rugged and mountainous and the poor use of limited land resources has led to acute soil depletion and erosion.
Food production has fallen in recent years as many small farmers simply cannot afford to buy quality inputs. As a result, the country is forced to import upwards of 60-70 percent of its food.
Drought and high food prices undermine food security
In 2006 and 2007 Lesotho experienced its worst drought in 30 years, sparking a major drop in the production of staple maize and sorghum crops. Consequently, maize prices increased by over 35 percent in 2008 and the cost of other essentials such as vegetable oil and paraffin (used for cooking) also rose.
This compounded the country’s already tenuous food security situation.
European Union Food Facility
With farming in steady decline in Lesotho and more than 350 000 people facing hunger, efforts to boost agricultural production over the long term and help the country achieve food security are crucial.
With €4 million from the European Union, FAO launched a two-year project in May 2009 to improve the food security of 36 300 vulnerable farming families.
To help farmers increase food production during the main cropping seasons in 2009/2010 and 2010/2011, FAO is providing agricultural inputs to 35 700 households through Input Trade Fairs (ITFs).
These fairs enable farmers to use vouchers to buy good quality seed, fertilizers and other inputs from participating local vendors. FAO has been supporting these fairs for a number of years in Lesotho as a means for stimulating local production.
In addition, farmers will receive training so they are able to maximize production from the inputs.
The trading of open pollinated seed varieties (OPVs) will be encouraged at the ITFs. These varieties can be recycled for two to three seasons, thus ensuring farmers’ continued access to inputs.
Depleted soil resources have seriously hampered agricultural productivity in Lesotho. Through this project, FAO is providing technical support to around 500 farmers who practice conservation agriculture. This technique helps restore the health of the soil, paving the way for higher yields.
FAO is also providing technical and material support to some 100 seed producers. The goal is to produce up to 100 tonnes of certified seed for sale through the ITFs and other input trading channels.
In the implementation of the project FAO is working closely with Lesotho’s Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security helping to strengthen the capacity of the ministry to carry out similar activities in the future.
Other FAO activities
Significant extra funding was channelled into the Input Trade Fairs (ITFs) across Lesotho following the food crisis in 2008, ensuring vulnerable farmers’ access to essential tools for the planting season.
The UN’s Central Emergency Response Fund provided over $1 400 000 to support ITFs in the lowland districts, giving 12 000 farming households access to a variety of agricultural inputs.
With support from the Technical Cooperation Programme, fifteen ITFs were held in the three mountain districts (Mokhotlong, Thaba Tseka and Qacha’s Nek) in August and enable some 4,000 vulnerable farming households to access quality inputs.
Furthermore, Lesotho benefited from a regional Technical Cooperation Programme project focused on efficient methods of distributing agricultural inputs, monitoring and evaluation of activities in response to soaring food prices and capacity-building of regional institutions.