MASERU – Lesotho faces multiple and overlapping structural and economic challenges ranging from high unemployment to widespread malnutrition, with 34.5 percent of children under five years stunted. This was revealed by World Food Programme (WFP) Lesotho Representative and Country Director, Aurore Rusiga at a home-grown school feeding programme launch, which was held in Quthing on the 29 January this year.
The situation, she said, is exacerbated by unstable global food prices that compromise the purchasing power, especially of the poorer households, and these have had a negative impact on the country’s food and nutrition security, pushing already poor and vulnerable households into poverty.
As a result, WFP received a contribution of €600,000 from (about M12 million) the Principality of Monaco for four years (2023–2026) to help provide meals to schoolchildren as well as training for smallholder farmers as part of the national home-grown school feeding activities in Lesotho. Rosiga said this innovative approach will link 36 Early Childhood Care and Development (ECCD) centres with 300 small-scale farmers to provide 580 young children from Quthing and Mohale’s Hoek with food that is safe, diverse, local, and nutritious.
She explained: “This generous contribution will help WFP deliver on its commitment to support the government in implementing a school feeding model that links smallholder farmers to school meal programmes and other markets.”
Also, she noted that delivering healthy meals to children will promote production and adoption of the right dietary practices, thus addressing malnutrition, while stimulating at the same time local agriculture and economies through the procurement of food from local, small-scale producers. The project aims to provide diversified school meals to ECCD children in the project area to reduce short-term hunger and improve enrolment rates, attendance, and retention of children in ECCD centres.
It will target 528 pre-primary school learners from 36 pre-schools, 14 schools in Mohale’s Hoek, and 22 in Quthing, while 2,290 primary learners from 45 primary schools will benefit indirectly from the project through smallholders’ production. Farmers will sell surplus produce to primary schools through the engagement of National Management Agents, an entity engaged by the government to provide meals to primary schools.
The project is being implemented in Lithakaling, Mohale’s Hoek and in Mohlakoana, Quthing, where WFP is implementing resilience-building activities. The southern districts are identified as vulnerable to chronic food insecurity with poor socioeconomic status and a high risk of climate impacts.
For her part, the Ministry of Education Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Thuto Ntšekhe indicated that the project is focused on young children who are the foundation of the nation that needs to be rebuilt, children whose right to education needs to be supported, both individually and collectively.
She said the core of the project is to address the proper nutrition of two to five-year-old children found in ECCD centres, ensuring that they are well fed and thus able to concentrate and learn in school. “Together, we are depending on collaboration and support from all relevant sectors to ensure that the project yields the best results that will have a positive impact on human development in Lesotho,” Ntšekhe added.
According to the Integrated Context Analysis, the two districts are under category one, which requires long-term programming to address conditions of expanded crises and frequent natural shocks that impede recovery, aiming to improve food security, reduce risk, and build resilience to natural shocks and other stressors.
The stunting rates in the two targeted districts are 34 and 38 percent in Mohalè’s Hoek and Quthing, respectively. The Home-Grown School Feeding programme emerged as an opportunity to improve the livelihoods of smallholder farmers and local communities and to strengthen the nexus between nutrition, agriculture, and social protection.