June 13, 2007

Most serious drought since 30 years, warn agencies

One in five people in Lesotho will face food shortages in the coming year as a result of the most serious drought in the country in 30 years, international agencies have warned. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP) issued a report in Rome appealing for international help for Lesotho. They said 140.000 Basotho will need food from the third quarter of this year, and the number will rise to 400.000 by the first quarter of 2008.
A joint FAO-WFP mission visited the country at the invitation of the Lesotho government in May, at the end of Lesotho's summer rainfall season. A combination of high temperatures and low rainfall created one of the worst drought situations ever experienced in the country," the mission reported. The first three months of 2007 were particularly dry, causing large-scale damage to crops in the ground. The drought was most severe in the low-lying areas to the west of the mountains which dominate the country where most crops are grown. Other factors besides the bad rainy season have contributed to Lesotho's food crisis, according to the report.
"The general trend also reveals a decline in [the] planted area of cereals over the past few years, with potential farmland left uncultivated mainly due to the uncertainties of agro-climatic conditions, shortage of farm labour and lack of cash (capital) for inputs and investment." And farmers have had too few resources to take advantage of high maize prices by planting more crops, while high production and marketing costs prevented them from selling on the formal market.
The HIV/AIDS pandemic is also undermining the economic resource base: "In the rural/agricultural areas, in particular, a visible lack of labour is observed which results in some fields being left idle, with direct consequences on deepening poverty and vulnerability." (allAfrica.com)

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