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High staple food prices and El Niño conditions during the start of the 2023/24 season drive Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes

  • Remote Monitoring Report
  • Lesotho
  • June 2023
High staple food prices and El Niño conditions during the start of the 2023/24 season drive Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes

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  • Key Messages
  • Current and Projected Anomalies
  • Seasonal Calendar for a Typical Year
  • Projected Outlook Through January 2024
  • Key Messages
    • Overall, a near-average harvest is expected, and households will likely continue consuming food from their own production through August/September. According to USDA estimates, maize production in the 2022/23 season is slightly below average but significantly above 2021/22 production levels, while sorghum and wheat production are above average. Typically, activities in the post-harvest period for rainfed farming are few. This trend will persist and income will be average from June to August. Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes are expected in low-lying deficit-producing areas through August and highland surplus-producing areas through September. Poor households in deficit production areas will transition to Stressed (IPC Phase 2) from September to November. By late 2023, poor households are expected to be in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) due to increased market reliance on food purchases and reduced purchasing power as a result of above average food prices.

    • In June, access to seasonal income for poor households improved with increased demand for harvesting labor. From June to July, households are expected to earn average income from land preparation and planting for winter cultivation, and gardening activities. For consumption, most poor households will have normal access to their own produced maize and sorghum through September. Additionally, households will engage in self-employment and other off-farm labor activities through August, though the contraction of South Africa’s economy and labor market will result in reduced remittances through labor migration. In December and January, winter wheat harvesting may improve food availability for households.

    • Since Lesotho imports most of its food from South Africa, declines in import prices further stabilized prices during the peak lean season (February-April). Grain supplies in markets have improved with the ongoing harvest and are expected to contribute to further price decreases. In April, food prices remained stable, following season trends maintained by reduced demand as households began accessing their own produced crops. Similarly, non-staple food prices stabilized in recent months. Nonetheless, prices of most food commodities remain higher than average; year-on-year costs for maize meal and wheat flour in Maseru increased by 18 and 19 percent, while compared to the five-year average, maize meal and wheat flour increased by 33 and 50 percent. These increases are due to a combination of factors, including higher costs of production, transportation, processing, and depreciation of the local currency.

    • Based on current forecast probabilities and models, El Niño conditions will likely to affect the upcoming 2023/24 cropping season. During the 2015/16 production season, the El Niño state led to drought conditions, resulting in a significantly below-average maize harvest, declines in casual labor opportunities, and major losses in the livestock industry. El Niño conditions will exacerbate the food security situation in late 2023, further reducing poor household food access in early 2024.


    Current and Projected Anomalies

     

    Zone

    Current Anomalies

    Projected Anomalies

    National

    • Maize production in the 2022/23 season was slightly below average but significantly above 2021/22 production levels.
    • During the post-harvest period, food prices are significantly above values a year ago and the five-year average.
    • Depressed labor market conditions in South Africa leading to below-average income from migration labor and remittances. 

     

    • Overall income from harvesting labor will likely be average. 
    • Rising food prices during the post-harvest period will limit food access for poor households in September/October. The likelihood of an El Niño weather phenomenon will delay the start of the 2023/24 cropping season.
    • A protracted economic slowdown in South Africa and delays in resolving the ongoing energy crisis will spill over to Lesotho, adversely affecting employment opportunities, lowering income levels, and weakening demand for goods and services.

     

     


    Seasonal Calendar for a Typical Year
    Seasonal Calendar for a Typical Year

    Source: FEWS NET


    Projected Outlook Through January 2024

    The 2022/23 harvest is improving household food access across most of the country. Overall, a near-average harvest is expected, and households will likely continue consuming food from their own production through August/September. According to USDA estimates, maize production in the 2022/23 season is slightly below average but significantly above 2021/22 production levels, while sorghum and wheat production are above average. Most poor households are accessing their own-produced food while earning income from harvesting labor. Access to seasonal income for poor households has improved with increased demand for harvesting labor. From June to July, households are expected to earn average income from land preparation and planting for winter cultivation, and gardening activities. For consumption, most poor households will have normal access to their own produced maize and sorghum through August/September. Additionally, households will engage in self-employment and other off-farm labor activities through August, though the contraction of South Africa’s economy and labor market will result in reduced remittances through labor migration. In December and January, winter wheat harvesting may improve food availability for households.

    Figure 1

    Month-on-month and year-on-year commodity price changes, April 2023, Maseru
    Month-on-month and year-on-year commodity price changes, April 2023, Maseru

    Source: FEWS NET based on BOS data

    Figure 2

    Maize meal price projections, Maseru market
    Maize meal price projections, Maseru market

    Source: FEWS NET based on BOS data

    Alternative sources of employment include small-scale clothing, footwear, textiles, food processing, construction, and mining. Work opportunities in textile and clothing manufacturing have declined as some shops have closed. In 2023, work opportunities in construction will be supported by Phase II of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP-II), which includes the construction of a water transfer tunnel, the Senqu River bridge, and the Polihali dam. Since Lesotho has close trade ties with South Africa, many economic shocks experienced by the latter are transmitted to the former. In the first quarter of 2023, economic activity in South Africa contracted due to declining mining output and decreased manufacturing capacity due to prolonged power outages. Increasing unemployment in South Africa is expected to continue and will negatively affect labor opportunities for Lesotho migrants, reducing income and remittances during this outlook period.

    Decreasing global maize, wheat, and edible oil prices have lowered South African export prices. Still, this trend has not translated to lower food prices in Lesotho because of increasing production costs. Maize meal prices were stable between March and April, with a year-on-year increase of about 18 percent (Figure 1). Prices of other food items, including wheat flour, split peas, beans, and vegetable oil, were stable month-on-month but elevated year-on-year. Maize meal prices are expected to remain stable but above year-on-year and the five-year average (Figure 2). Since Lesotho imports most of its food commodities from South Africa, persistently high regional prices for fuel, fertilizer, and energy products are expected to lead to increased transportation costs and a rise in landed prices of imported goods.

    Lesotho is food self-insufficient and imports 70 percent of its food commodities from South Africa. In MY 2022/23, (May 2022 – April 2023), over 66,000MT of mostly white maize was imported solely from South Africa compared with shipments of over 46,000 MT in MY 2021/22 (May 2021 – April 2022). Import volumes in MY 2023/24 (May 2023 – April 2024) are expected to exceed 66,000 MT because of improved availability and lower South African export prices. Current import prices are slightly higher than in 2022 and 2021 due to additional handling and transport costs and the depreciation of the Loti.

    The inflation rate fell to 6.7 percent in April 2023, down from 6.8 percent in the previous month. Although the slowdown observed in recent months, inflation is expected to remain high in the medium term due to increased transportation costs, higher landed prices for imported goods and the weakening of the Loti. Inflation is expected to have peaked and will decrease gradually over the outlook period as global food and energy prices ease. However, given the deteriorating economic environment in South Africa, there is a chance for higher inflation attributable to adverse exchange rate changes in response to the worsening economic climate in South Africa.

    With access to near-normal staple food harvests and average casual labor income during the post-harvest period, poor households are expected to face Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes from June to August in low-lying deficit-producing areas and through September in highland surplus areas. Poor households in deficit production areas will transition to Stressed (IPC Phase 2) from September to November as maize and sorghum stocks are depleted and food access reduced due to above average food prices. By late 2023, poor households are expected to transition into Crisis (IPC Phase 3) as market reliance on food purchases increases and purchasing power continues to decline due to rising food prices. Based on current forecast probabilities and models, El Niño conditions during the 2023/24 will exacerbate the food security situation in late 2023, further reducing poor household food access in early 2024.

    Recommended citation: FEWS NET. Lesotho Remote Monitoring Update, June 2023: High staple food prices and El Niño conditions during the start of the 2023/24 season drive Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes, 2023. 

    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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