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The 2011/12 maize harvest was more than 70 percent below the previous year’s below-average harvest, and maize meal prices are at least 30-40 percent above last year.
The Lesotho Vulnerability Assessment Committee estimated that about a third of the population of Lesotho might be at risk of food insecurity, particularly during the ongoing peak of the lean season between January and March. As a result, the government of Lesotho declared an Emergency Food Crisis in August 2012.
The onset of rains in Lesotho was three to four dekads late in most of the country, and as of early January, the area planted was 40 percent below the five-year average. The 2012/13 harvest is likely to be below average, though better than last year. Late planting will also result in delayed green harvests.
Programmed assistance is not sufficient to meet all gaps in minimum needs. However, it is having a significant impact on the ability of the most-affected households to meet their minimum needs. Many poor households will be Stressed (IPC Phase 2!) until the delayed green harvest arrives in April.
Foothills and Highlands
Dry conditions during October and November resulted in the late start of the 2012/13 agricultural season by between 20 and 40 days in the high potential cropping areas (Southern and Northern Lowlands) (Figure 2). Poor rainfall performance in December delayed planting. This will likely delay the green harvests until April, extending the lean season. As of early December, farmers in the foothills and highland areas noted some crop damage due to frost. The late start of the season negatively impacted the amount of area cultivated; by early January the area planted was 40 percent below the five-year average. This is despite the government recently introducing an input subsidy program following the poor harvest in 2012. In addition to providing individual farmers access to subsidized inputs, the subsidy program also involves share cropping (government produces crops, incurring all costs, on the agreement that the landowner gets 30 percent of the harvest). Although, this intervention is likely to result in higher yields, its success is dependent on rainfall performance. While the Southern Africa Regional Climate Outlook Forum (SARCOF) forecasts calls for average to above-average rainfall between January and March, prospects for the upcoming harvest are below average based on recent poor rainfall performance during the first half of the season and the lower area planted. This would be the third, consecutive year of below-average harvests, further eroding the resilience of households whose livelihoods are dependent on agriculture.
Imported maize meal prices in Maseru in 2012 were 36 percent above November 2011 prices. Maize grain prices in South Africa (the main source of Lesotho imports) dropped between December and January. However, this decrease is not likely to be transmitted to Lesotho, where maize meal prices in Lesotho will likely continue rising through March/April. Many households, especially the poor, rely on market purchases for their food requirements during the peak lean period (December-March). The World Food Program (WFP) provided food assistance to 49,000 people in December (548 MT), with plans to increase to 61,000 by late January (753 MT) and 110,000 by the end of February (1,320 MT). In the presence of this assistance and current high food prices, poor rural households across the country will remain Stressed (IPC Phase 2!) until food becomes available from the late green harvest in April. Minimal acute food insecurity outcomes are projected for April through June with food availability and high labor demand from the main harvests.
Seasonal Calendar in a Typical Year
Source: FEWS NET
Onset of rains anomaly as of 10 January 2013
Source: USGS/FEWS NET
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