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As the agricultural season peaks, agricultural labor opportunities are high for very poor and poor households, although wage rates remain below average. In urban and peri-urban areas, income from formal and casual labor opportunities continues to be negatively impacted by COVID-19 restrictions. Household access to remittances and income labor migration remain below-average due to border restrictions and closures. Most households are dependent on market purchases for food, but below-average purchasing power for very poor and poor households is driving food consumption gaps and Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes. However, household food access is expected to improve with the start of the harvest in April.
According to CHIRPS satellite data, Lesotho has received cumulatively average to above-average rainfall since mid-October. The maize crop is reported to be in good condition and at the reproductive stage, with some areas at crop maturity. However, heavy rainfall in late January and early February resulted in some localized crop damage. However, Lesotho is expected to have a better harvest than the previous three years. According to key informants, the green harvest is not yet available for most households, although some farmers are already accessing green foods.
As of February 24, 2021, Lesotho has 10,467 cumulative COVID-19 cases. In February, the daily rate of confirmed COVID-19 cases has fallen compared to the rapid increase in confirmed cases in January following the festive season. On February 3, 2021, the government eased the 'red level' lockdown to 'orange level'. However, restrictions limiting cross-border travel and reducing the operating capacity of transport, factories, retailers, restaurants, and other vendors remain in place, negatively impacting economic activity in rural and urban areas.
|ZONE||CURRENT ANOMALIES||PROJECTED ANOMALIES|
|Mafeteng, Mohale's Hoek, Quthing, and Qacha's Nek|
The likelihood of a near-average harvest is increasing as the cropping season continues to progress normally. The main staple crop, maize, is growing well, benefitting from well-distributed and cumulatively average to above-average rainfall. As of February 10, 2021, data from the satellite-derived Croplands Water Requirement Satisfaction Index (WRSI) anomaly shows that the condition of maize grain is mostly average to above-average (Figure 1). Reports from local key informants have also confirmed that crop conditions are mostly good despite heavy rainfall, leading to the leaching of fertilizer from fields, prolonged waterlogging deteriorating crop conditions, or crop loss from flooding. Nonetheless, the season is progressing well, with a near-average harvest expected in April and May. The Lesotho Vulnerability Assessment Committee (LVAC) food security update in January 2021 confirmed that the cropping season is going well and anticipates normal agro-climatological conditions between January and March. The upcoming harvest is expected to be better than last year and significantly improve food security outcomes.
Despite the ongoing favorable agricultural season, the economic and health impacts of COVID-19 are still ongoing. As of February 24, 2021, Lesotho has reported 10,467 cumulative COVID-19 cases. In January, the number of confirmed cases increased by 180 percent, likely fueled by the festive season. In mid-January, in response to the increase of confirmed COVID-19 cases, the government closed the borders and imposed a two-week 'red level' lockdown, which included a 7 pm to 6 am curfew and restrictions on travel and economic activity. On February 3, following a drop in the rate of confirmed COVID-19 cases, the government eased restrictions to the 'orange level' lockdown. Under the 'orange level' lockdown, cross-border movement is still limited to goods and essential services, but casual and petty trade (street vendors) are permitted to operate while observing COVID-19 protocols. The textile and manufacturing industry can also operate at 50 percent capacity, while public transport can operate at 60 percent capacity while observing safety protocols. Retail stores are operating but must limit customers while observing COVID-19 protocols, and restaurants can operate from 8 am to 4 pm on a takeaway basis only. These measures are impacting economic activity and income-earning opportunities for many households, particularly in urban areas. According to key informants, the changes in restrictions, including border-crossing regulations, are creating uncertainty in Lesotho and South Africa's business environments. During the current 'orange level' lockdown, businesses are not operating at normal levels resulting in a loss of income for some households. The economic impacts are also affecting rural communities that rely on income from labor migration and remittances. Rural households currently depend on income from agricultural labor opportunities as many off-farm income sources, particularly labor migration and remittances, are below average. Although agricultural labor opportunities are at near-normal levels due to the good cropping season, wage rates are below average as better-off households have limited liquidity. Household income is not expected to cover existing income gaps during the peak of the lean season. Additionally, above-average staple food prices are limiting household purchasing power for market-dependent households.
Most of Lesotho will continue to experience Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes between February and March. However, many households will start accessing green foods in March, slowly bringing relief from the lean season. Improvements to Stressed (IPC Phase 2) and Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes are expected between April and September, driven by the anticipated near-average dry harvest between April and July.
Source: FEWS NET/USGS
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