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Near-average harvest expected to improve acute food insecurity by May

  • Remote Monitoring Report
  • Lesotho
  • February 2024
Near-average harvest expected to improve acute food insecurity by May

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  • Key Messages
  • Seasonal Calendar for a Typical Year
  • Current and Projected Anomalies
  • Projected Outlook Through September 2024
  • Key Messages
    • Despite sufficiently stocked markets, poor households’ access to staples remains constrained due to weak purchasing power and above-average staple prices, which is typical during the peak lean season. Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes among poor and very poor households will likely continue through April. The main harvest is expected to begin in April and be slightly below average due to erratic rainfall in January and February. After harvesting starts, food consumption for most poor households will likely improve due to improved access to their own-produced staples. Consequently, Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes are expected from May until September as households access their food and non-food needs, but Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are expected to return around September when own-harvested food stocks diminish.
    • Generally, Lesotho has received average rainfall that has supported favorable cropping conditions. The maize crop in most parts of Lesotho is at the reproductive and maturation stages after a near-normal start of the season. However, high temperatures and erratic rainfall in mid-January and February will likely reduce overall harvests to slightly below the five-year average.
    • As is typical during the lean season, most poor households engage in agriculture labor activities to earn income for staple food purchases since they exhausted their produced stocks between September and October last year. Currently, weeding is the most common activity across the country, but in April, poor households will increasingly engage in harvesting. In some parts of the country, agricultural labor has been slightly affected by erratic rainfall. Increased competition for labor opportunities also likely limits income-earning opportunities from agricultural labor. Given reduced income sources, most poor households have limited purchasing power for market food purchases.

    Seasonal Calendar for a Typical Year
    Seasonal calendar for Lesotho

    Source: FEWS NET


    Current and Projected Anomalies
    Zone Current AnomaliesProjected Anomalies
    National
    • Below average agriculture labor opportunities due to erratic rainfall in February.  
    • Below average access to income and in-kind food.

     

    • Slightly below-average 2024 harvests.
    • Below average labor opportunities and incomes from harvesting.
    • Increases in maize import prices from South Africa.

    Projected Outlook Through September 2024

    Cumulative seasonal rainfall is around average in most parts of the country, but the 2024 main harvest is projected to be slightly below average due to erratic rainfall patterns. CHIRPS preliminary data indicates cumulative rainfall is 95 percent of normal, from 400 mm to 750 mm across the country. The 2023/24 rainy season mostly started on time, except in the extreme southwestern lowlands, where the start of the season was delayed by 10 days. By the end of February, the maize crop has reached the maturation stage across much of the country, while it is in the reproductive stage in Mafeteng, southern Mohale’s Hoek, and western Maseru (Figure 1).

    Figure 1

    Seasonal Progress of Maize in Lesotho, February 29, 2024
    Map of Lesotho maize seasonal progress showing reproductive and maturation stages

    Source: USGS/FEWS NET

    Crops have been affected by erratic rainfall concentrated in early and late February . From January 21 to February 29, Lesotho had around 60 to 75 percent of mean rainfall, except for areas in the West, which had 75 to 89 percent of the mean rainfall. The satellite-derived Water Requirement Satisfaction Index (WRSI) shows conditions for the maize crop are average to mediocre (Figure 2).

    Figure 2

    Water Requirement Satisfaction Index (WRSI) for maize, February 29, 2024
    Lesotho WRSI Map Mediocre and Average Conditions

    Source: USGS, FEWS NET

    With cumulative rainfall at average levels in most parts of the country, seasonal livestock conditions have been improving. February is typically the peak of the wet season, and vegetation typically fully regenerates most in this month. Based on the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index in the last week of February, vegetation in Lesotho is at 80 to 110 percent of the 10-year mean (Figure 3). Although slightly below average, the seasonal vegetation conditions have improved livestock pastures. Most water sources for livestock have also improved. This is particularly beneficial for households in the mountains livelihood zone where livestock and livestock products (wool and mohair) are a significant source of income.

    Agriculture labor continues to provide additional incomes for very poor households with cereal gaps during the peak of the lean season. Weeding is currently the most common activity in most parts of the country; however, starting in April, many poor and very poor rural households will earn much of their income from harvesting. Due to the projected slightly below average harvests, incomes from this source are likely to be lower than normal across the country. Household access to income will also likely be further affected by anticipated reduced harvesting activities in South Africa, where many poor household members migrate for labor. The decline in agricultural labor opportunities have been affected by the ongoing El Niño that resulted in large dry spells across much of the southern Africa region. Decreases in incomes will likely result in lower purchasing power for most households. Non-farm remittance income may also temporarily decline over coming months due to political tensions in South Africa, as approximately 40 percent of Lesotho’s rural population receives some income from remittances.

    Figure 3

    Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) for February 21-29, 2024, compared to the 2012-2021 mean
    Map of Lesotho NDVI showing 80 to 110 percent of normal

    Source: USGS/FEWS NET

    From February to September 2024, maize meal prices in Maseru are projected to remain higher than last year and significantly above the five-year average (Figure 4). In the current peak of the lean season, maize prices have stopped declining from abnormal highs, with a slight 2 percent increase in January to 5.13 USD per 12.5 kg bag. High prices are expected to continue until March and then follow seasonal trends, decreasing slightly in April when most poor households start consuming staple foods from their own production. By August, Lesotho’s maize prices are expected to face upward pressure because of higher import prices from South Africa. Lesotho typically imports between 30,0000 to 60,000 metric tons of maize, largely from South Africa, which is likely to be priced higher than normal due to projected decreases in production and high regional demand following the impacts of the El Niño. Lesotho will face earlier-than-usual staple food price increases from August when poor households will start exhausting their own-produced maize and will increase their reliance on market purchases. Poor households with weak purchasing power will likely struggle to access staple foods on the market.

    Figure 4

    Maseru Market Maize Meal Prices
    Lesotho chart of maize prices

    Source: FEWS NET

    Most poor households in Lesotho will likely experience Minimal (IPC Phase 1) food insecurity outcomes from May through August as they will be consuming own-produced staple foods and able to use income to meet their non-food needs. However, as the own-produced harvest depletes from September, households will increase their reliance on market purchases, driving Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes.

    Recommended citation: FEWS NET. Lesotho Remote Monitoring Report February 2024: Near-average harvest expected to improve acute food insecurity by May, 2024.

    In remote monitoring, a coordinator typically works from a nearby regional office. Relying on partners for data, the coordinator uses scenario development to conduct analysis and produce monthly reports. As less data may be available, remote monitoring reports may have less detail than those from countries with FEWS NET offices. Learn more about our work here.

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