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Relaxation of COVID-19 restrictions and border openings likely to improve livelihoods recovery

  • Remote Monitoring Report
  • Lesotho
  • October 2020
Relaxation of COVID-19 restrictions and border openings likely to improve livelihoods recovery

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  • Key Messages
  • Key Messages
    • Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes persist in Lesotho. The relaxation of COVID-19 restrictions by the government in early October is likely to stimulate economic activity and improve household opportunities to engage in livelihood activities. The reopening of normalized border crossings in early October between Lesotho and South Africa is expected to increase informal border trade opportunities and provide migrant workers with access to South African labor markets. There are still COVID-19 control measures in place, including the need for travel permits by migrant workers.  Access to informal cross-border trade is anticipated to gradually improve economic and income-earning opportunities for households affected by the border closures.

    • In October 2020, the UN World Food Program (WFP) began implementing a six-month crisis response program to address growing food insecurity driven by poor crop production and COVID-19 impacts on livelihood activities. Approximately 5,600 households receive 811 LSL (50 USD) cash and voucher interventions per month in Thaba Tseka and Mokhotlong. The interventions are improving food access for the targeted households. Poor households that are not receiving assistance are likely to face increasing food consumption gaps as the lean season progresses.

    • International and local forecasts indicate that Lesotho should expect a cumulatively average rainy season. Many households anticipate improving household food stocks and income following the past consecutive poor seasons. As rainfall onset dates are approaching in late October/early November, farmers will intensify preparations for the upcoming agriculture season. Land preparation is ongoing, with some households dry planting maize. However, limited residual moisture in the mountains is reducing the rate of early and dry planting.

    Mafeteng, Mohale's Hoek, Quthing and Qacha's Nek
    • Below average incomes due to impacts of COVID-19 restrictions and 2020 poor harvest

    • Above-average staple food prices

    • Below average agriculture-labor wage rates



    After almost six months, Lesotho's borders were reopened on October 1, 2020, along with the relaxation of COVID-19 restrictions, including allowing sit-in customers for restaurants and reopening fitness and entertainment centers. The relaxation of COVID-19 restrictions is expected to increase economic activity and urban livelihood activities. Companies operating at half capacity are expected to return to near-normal levels, along with a return to near-normal economic activity in the informal sector. As a result, some urban households who had lost access to income-earning opportunities due to the COVID-19 restrictions are expected to slowly regain normal income and food access over the next six months. The impact of COVID-19 on household incomes, purchasing power, and food access has required WFP to expand into Lesotho's urban areas, which were historically more food secure. Currently, WFP is assisting the expansion of the government's Public Assistance Program and providing around 34,000 people with a cash transfer of 831 LSL per month from October 2020 to March 2021 in the urban councils of Maseru, Mafeteng, Mohale's Hoek, Quthing, and Qacha's Nek. 

    Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes will persist in Lesotho through March 2021  due to current below-average food stocks and lack of income from the economic impacts of COVID-19 reducing household purchasing power and food access and leading to consumption gaps over the lean season. However, food insecurity across the country is expected to improve with the start of the 2021 harvest in April. With the recent relaxation of COVID-19 control measures, there is anticipation for a gradual improvement in food and income access, especially in the informal urban sector (local and cross-border traders, transporters, vendors, etc.). With the recent border reopening, migrant workers are expected to begin moving freely across the borders, which will improve access to labor and remittances through May 2021, barring additional border closures. However, the government is still maintaining some COVID-19 control measures to avoid potential spikes in COVID-19 infections, such as requiring travel permits for migrants and proof of a negative test result within 72 hours before crossing the border.  These controls will likely limit the number of official border crossers as some informal migrants do not have official permits or cannot afford to take a COVID-19 test. Some informal migrants are likely to cross the border illegally to bypass official regulations.

    According to local and international forecasts, the 2020/21 rainfall season is expected to be average. With the anticipated start of the main agricultural seasons in late October/early November, land preparation and dry planting are ongoing. However, limited residual moisture in parts of the mountains is negatively affecting the ability of farmers to plant early, likely delaying the early crop that is usually planted around October.  Agricultural labor opportunities are still minimal but expected to gradually increase with the start of the rains. Due to current poor liquidity and low cereal stocks typically used for in-kind payments by middle and better-off households, wages rates are likely to be below average. However, access to labor is expected to be near average through the peak of the cropping season (January to March 2021).  Most poor households are expected to access agricultural inputs through public input distribution programs. Limited access to agricultural inputs is likely to impact the planned cropped area or delay planting.

    Poor household access to income is expected to slightly improve as agriculture labor opportunities become available. Seasonal labor migration to nearby farms in South Africa is also likely, although the need for travel permits and negative COVID-19 results will limit legal crossings. However, as agricultural labor opportunities increase, most other income sources such as construction, house smearing, and domestic work will begin to decline seasonally. It is anticipated that poor household incomes will remain below-average until the next harvest in April 2021. Household purchasing power is expected to be strained by increasing staple food prices. Maize meal prices in the Maseru market are expected to fluctuate between 12 and 14 percent above the five-year average (Figure 1), driven by increased demand and general COVID-19 related supply chain disruptions such as border slowdowns and permit requirements. 

    Figures Figure of integrated price projection for retail maize meal (LSL/kg), Maseru market. Maize meal prices in the Maseru market a

    Figure 1

    Figure 1.

    Source: FEWS NET estimates based on WFP/BOS data

    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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