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Economy, agriculture and food security
Lesotho’s economy is dominated by the services and manufacturing sectors, which in 2003 contributed 40.6 percent and 43.1 percent respectively to the national GDP of US$1 100 million. The value added in agriculture was only 15.7 percent of GDP and the sector provided work for 277 000 people, which is 38 percent of the economically active population. Of these agricultural workers, 58 percent were female.
Smallholder farmers whose farms are generally less than 1 ha in size dominate the agricultural production. Maize is by far the most popular crop accounting for some 60 percent of the cropped area, sorghum between 10 and 20 percent, wheat for about 10 percent and beans for a further 6 percent. In late summer, farmers plant wheat and peas on residual moisture, which remain dormant for most of the winter until the first rains in spring.
Although Lesotho’s main natural resource is water, drought chronically affects the country, leading to significant decreases in the contribution of agriculture to the GDP and forcing the country to appeal for assistance from the international community, thus illustrating the vulnerability of the agricultural sector. The country is a persistent net food importer, externally sourcing up to 65 percent of its annual maize requirements and 80 percent of its annual wheat requirements. The scope for increasing food production through area expansion or through higher productivity is extremely limited. Government sees irrigation as a key avenue for increased agricultural production and household food security, as it would enable farmers to intensify and diversify their crop production base. Crops identified for diversification include vegetables and fruits such as paprika, asparagus and apples.
One cannot over-emphasize the potential impact of HIV/AIDS on the agricultural sector. Despite the lack of reliable data on the extent and nature of that impact, it is clear that the disease is having a negative and dramatic effect on food security and vice versa. The impact is on labour availability, mobility and productivity, investment in the sector, the retention of knowledge about farming practices, the use of home gardens and the efficiency of the extension services. The burden of work falls on inexperienced younger or older and weaker household members. So HIV/AIDS increases needs at the household level while reversing the impact of efforts to build capacity.