Lesotho serially fails to meet 2003 AU quota on agriculture

. . . climate change, arable land erosion spoil

 

BONGIWE ZIHLANGU

MASERU – Despite agreeing to commit a tenth of its annual budget to boost farming under a multi-lateral African Union deal geared towards ending hunger on the continent, Lesotho is lagging behind most of its peers on the continent, Public Eye can report.

Amid perennial droughts which wrought debilitating food problems and economic woes, the African Union agreed in 2003 to improve food production on the continent.

This, the member states agreed, would be done by setting aside at least a tenth of national budgets and encouraging people to take up farming under the Maputo Declaration on Agriculture and Food Security of 2003.

For the past 13 years since Lesotho ratified the protocol, the country has failed dismally to allocate enough funds to farming, with 2019 being the roughest year as an estimated 700 000 Basotho face hunger due to scant rains.

From 2014 to 2019, Lesotho could only contribute as little as three percent, on average, towards food production and farming development.

As a result, food production has been gradually declining yearly due to shrinking budgets, coupled with the devastating effects of climate change.

In 2014-15, Lesotho budgeted M11, 857, 003, 695 for its needs but could only spare M166, 175, 898 instead of M1, 185, 700, 369.

In the 2015-16 financial year, with a budget of M15, 321, 400, Lesotho only budgeted M224.3 million for the agriculture sector.

The agriculture sector’s fate was no different in 2016-17, when the country from an annual budget of M15, 473, 800 000 committed M179, 992, 806 to farming, instead of M1, 547, 389, 000.

Again in the 2017-18 fiscal period government only allocated M174, 484, 621 to the sector.

In the current fiscal period, only M275, 298, 025 has been budgeted for agriculture development.

These allocations fall short of the Maputo Declaration which aimed to eradicate hunger by 2025 and reduce poverty by the same time through inclusive agricultural growth and transformation.

Lesotho’s budget allocation towards agriculture in the current financial year accounts for just 2,4 percent compared to 2,99 percent for the 2017/2018 budget.

This is despite the fact that agriculture is one of the four sectors, along with manufacturing, tourism and technology that have been identified by the government as potential drivers of economic development, according to the new National Strategic Development Plan (NSDP II).

And, according to a 2018 study conducted under the auspices of the Malabo Declaration on Agriculture Transformation in Africa 2013, a platform established a decade after the 2003 signing of the Maputo Declaration, Lesotho scores only 3.7 percent and is declared as “not on track in implementing the Malabo declaration on Agriculture Transformation in Africa”.

Lesotho Smallholder Agriculture Development Project – Phase II (SADP II) is a project in which the government of Lesotho through the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security, aims to improve and increase agricultural output or productivity in smallholder agriculture sector.

The first phase of SADP in 2018 was implemented in four districts namely; Botha-Bothe, Leribe, Berea and Mafeteng, but SADP II will be implemented across all districts.

The objective of the project is to increase the adoption of climate-smart agricultural technologies in farming and to enhance commercialisation.

This project is aimed at supporting a new paradigm shift that puts climate resilience, productivity, commercialisation and nutrition at the core of Lesotho’s agricultural growth.

SADP II will further consolidate the current SADP I to strengthen market linkage development and market-oriented farming with the aim of creating sustainable market systems for agricultural products in the country.

Lesotho, like the rest of the southern Africa region, received below-normal rainfall in the 2018/19 rain season due to an El-Niño-induced drought, with some areas only receiving rains in late January this year as opposed to the usual November rains.

The UN in Lesotho has concluded that the hunger situation in the country is critical and in need of commitment and action from the Lesotho government in collaboration with development partners.

According to the UN, Lesotho’s food crisis could affect as many people as it did during the 2015 El-Niño induced drought, where in a similar breath, an estimated 700 000 Basotho required food assistance.

Maize harvest has declined by 73 percent, wheat by 61 percent and sorghum by 93 percent.

Officials estimated in November 2018, there were about 300 000 Basotho in need of assistance, with the figure sharply rising to 470 000 in March 2019.

After a vulnerability study in winter, it was estimated that the number had risen beyond the 500 000 mark which is also expected to rise to about 640 000 by the end of 2019 and possibly 700 000 by the 2020 harvesting season.

The study shows the fact that most families did not get anything significant in the just-ended harvest season means they will need food assistance up to the next harvest.

While the UN has already mobilised US$5,5 million (about M83 million) towards drought relief programmes through its Central Emergency Relief Fund (CERF), the agency said it was vital that the Lesotho government played a vital role in budgeting for the humanitarian crisis, such as reaching out to more donors.

The 39th Ordinary Summit of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) summit held in Tanzania earlier this month also sounded the alarm about increasing food insecurity due to declining production across the continent, further urging states to make concerted efforts towards enhanced food production.

“Summit noted the overall decline in food production in the Region, for the 2018/19 crop season, and urged Member States to implement comprehensive multi-year response plans to tackle the recurrent droughts and food insecurity to boost agricultural production,” read the Sadc communique.

In 2010, former Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili said the country’s heavy dependence on food imports was an embarrassment during that year’s national forum on agriculture and food security.

The forum was being held under the theme: Agriculture and Food Security for Improving Rural Livelihoods and Reducing Poverty.

It was organised by the Ministry of Agriculture to discuss ways of improving Lesotho’s food security situation and reduce poverty, and Mosisili said Lesotho’s sovereignty would be threatened if the country failed to produce its own food.

“A nation that can produce its own food has its pride and dignity intact. It is a cause for concern when our country has to depend on exports,” Mosisili said.

“Where has the Mosotho man’s pride that he is not fed by another man gone?”

International relief agencies said food production had been on the decline for decades, from 1980 when Lesotho produced about 80 percent of its cereal requirements to that point where the country was producing just about 30 percent of its grain requirements, virtually importing all its food from South Africa, including basics such as chicken eggs, tomatoes and cabbage.

Mosisili said this needed to change.

Mosisili appealed to the forum to devise sustainable and cost-effective solutions to ensure that Lesotho should be food secure by 2015 and to have reduced by half the number of people suffering from hunger by the same year.

“We are here because we know agriculture’s importance and the challenges we face with regard to food production. By the end of this forum we need to have established what works and what doesn’t. We should have sustainable food production mechanisms by 2020,” Mosisili said.

“We also need to ensure security for agricultural producers and make food security a top developmental priority. To achieve this we need to define overall strategies and work ethics.”

Aid agencies have said at least three out of every 10 children under the age of five in Lesotho suffer from chronic malnutrition, with Mosisili adding the infant rate stood at 41 percent while the rate for infants who are underweight stood at 12.6 percent.

In Lesotho, a vast population of women and children suffer from acute malnutrition worsened by the HIV and AIDs pandemic of which women bear the most brunt.

Agriculture’s contribution to Lesotho’s economic growth had declined from 30 percent in 2008 to just seven percent in 2010.

The then Minister of Finance Dr Timothy Thahane said it would be wise for the government to “diversify agriculture into a business activity”.

“The plans we have must move from paper to land. My colleagues and I are prepared. Just challenge us with a viable project,” Thahane said.

Lesotho is known as Africa’s ‘Mountain Kingdom’ and the amount of suitable land for arable crops continues to decline due to erosion and settlement encroachment with cereals increasingly being produced on marginal land.

As a result, Lesotho relies heavily on maize imports from neighbouring South Africa.

There is free trade between the two countries as both are members of the Southern Africa Customs Union (SACU) and have tied currencies.

So many of the discussions about regional trade that are important in tackling the food crisis in other countries in the region are different for Lesotho.

According to the Lesotho Vulnerability Assessment Committee (LVAC) Lesotho, like the rest of Southern Africa, is facing its most serious food security crisis since the severe drought of 1992.

In terms of the nature of Lesotho’s crisis, FAO and many within the Government have argued that it is the declining capacity of agriculture to provide food that is at the heart of the crisis.

There are concerns that although dependence on agriculture is high, the sector is not an adequate and reliable source of income.

For instance, in the most recent agricultural census, 46% of households reported “subsistence farming” as their main source of income.

Agriculture and livestock activities are the main source of income for nearly 60% of households.

However, more than 95% of those households cannot adequately produce their own food requirements.

Even for those who have adequate land, home-grown food often lasts for less than five months of the year, even in good years. Competing land uses and a growing population have pushed farmers onto marginal lands, while prime agricultural land has been taken over by settlements.

Although cereal production has increased, the rate of increase has been outstripped by population growth.

In spite of the increasing fragility of agriculture, there is still debate on whether Lesotho should aim to be self-sufficient in grain production.

This was certainly the focus of government policy during the 1970s and 1980s when it promoted food self-sufficiency at national level in order to minimise dependence on food imports from (apartheid) South Africa.

Government efforts since the 1990s have concentrated on promoting small-scale agriculture on high-value crops for export.

However, the privatisation of many agriculture support services has pushed prices of services up and many rural households cannot afford them.

Moreover, access to government support is still based on politics, a major hindrance to agricultural growth.

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