679 000 Basotho face starvation: FAO
By Majara Molupe
THE Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) says 679 000 Basotho people are in dire need of humanitarian assistance owing to a decline by 61 percent of maize production in the mountainous kingdom.
FAO, in its latest Lesotho Vulnerability Assessment Committee (LVAC) report, warned that the number of people facing starvation has risen from 510 000 recorded in May 2016 to 679 000.
Yves Klompenhouwer, the FAO country representative, said the food scarcity has been generated by the 2015 El Niño phenomenon that has had an unprecedented impact on agriculture. Klompenhouwer said in response to the crisis, FAO in collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security (MAFS) would strengthen their joint responses to El Nino-induced drought by improving extension capacities to mobilise and guide affected communities.
He further revealed that FAO, working together with MAFS, will bring material support and capacity development to affected farmers in all the 10 districts of Lesotho.
“As part of its emergency management programme and effort to improve the impact of its response, both FAO and MAFS have conducted training sessions for MAFS extension staff that was completed at the end of July 2016,” explained Klompenhouwer.
“Reaching rural communities effectively is essential to achieve lasting changes in agricultural practices.”
At the same time, the FAO representative pointed out that weather patterns are becoming less predictable and irregular, “therefore training communities on climate-smart agricultural practices such as conservation agriculture (CA) and improved home gardening and nutrition practices was a priority for Basotho to adapt and mitigate the impact of climate change and meteorological hazards in the country”.
He said FAO has helped to train a total of 245 agricultural extension staff officers specialising in various topics such as community mobilisation, community organisation, group dynamics and conflict management.
He went on to indicate that FAO has developed an Emergency Response Plan for the period 2016-2017 with an initial budget of US$11 million.
“This plan builds on the gains accrued from previous emergency recovery activities (2012-2015) and responds to the current drought emergency focusing on the most vulnerable households while strengthening national capacities,” according to Klompenhouwer.
For his part, the Senior Crop Production Officer at MAFS, Sekhonyana Mahase, said Lesotho should uphold Climate Smart Agriculture principles to battle vicissitudes of climate like the recent past El Nino- induced drought.
Mahase insisted that farmers should be sensitised with CA given its benefits that include minimum soil disturbance that is likely to stop soil erosion during floods at the same time keeping moisture for a long time.
In December last year, Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili declared a state of emergency in Lesotho and appealed to Lesotho’s international partners for humanitarian assistance. About 80 percent of Basotho live in rural areas and survive solely on agriculture. Lesotho has a total population of about 1.8 million people.