Food se­cu­rity an ur­gent ne­ces­sity

Lesotho Times - - Leader -

THE cur­rent El Niño-in­duced drought has had a dev­as­tat­ing ef­fect on food se­cu­rity in Le­sotho and the rest of the south­ern Africa re­gion leav­ing mil­lions of peo­ple with food and water short­ages. Le­sotho has since de­clared a state of dis­as­ter, with hun­dreds of thou­sands of peo­ple in need of food aid. It no longer re­quires con­vinc­ing that cli­mate change is real and needs to be taken se­ri­ously by Le­sotho and the world at large.

Else­where in this edi­tion, the Le­sotho Flour Mills (LFM) has warned of a loom­ing short­age of white maize meal over the course of the year due to the ef­fects of the drought and ris­ing in­put costs.

While, over the years, Le­sotho could count on its gi­ant neigh­bor to cover any food se­cu­rity gaps, South Africa has also had to im­port white maize from Mex­ico and the United States to cater for do­mes­tic needs. If any­thing, this drought should serve as a wakeup call to all stake­hold­ers of the dire and ur­gent need to find so­lu­tions to the peren­nial food se­cu­rity challenges. Weather ex­perts have sug­gested that harsh El Niño pat­terns, like the one ex­pe­ri­enced this year, could be­come more com­mon as global warm­ing in­creases ocean tem­per­a­tures. In a study pub­lished in 2014 in the journal Na­ture Cli­mate Change, re­searchers con­cluded that the like­li­hood of a “su­per El Niño” dou­bles with cli­mate change, from one roughly ev­ery 20 years to one ev­ery 10 years.

As any sovereign na­tion should, Le­sotho needs to look in­wardly for its so­lu­tions and come up with strate­gies that en­sure we are able to feed our­selves and even ex­port the sur­plus. Apart from en­sur­ing the health and well-be­ing of Ba­sotho, food se­cu­rity saves the money that would have been used for im­ports, so it can be chan­neled towards other de­vel­op­men­tal needs.

How­ever, given that LFM pro­duces an av­er­age of 72 000 tonnes of white mealie meal per an­num with only 2 000 tonnes sourced from lo­cal farm­ers while the rest comes from South Africa, it be­comes patently ev­i­dent we still have a very long way to go. Food se­cu­rity and nu­tri­tion re­main frag­ile and sub­ject to nat­u­ral and eco­nomic shocks in Le­sotho. Chronic mal­nu­tri­tion re­mains rel­a­tively high de­spite some im­prove­ments, with over one-third of the coun­try’s chil­dren stunted. This state of af­fairs needs to be re­dressed as a mat­ter of ur­gency if we har­bor am­bi­tions of be­com­ing a de­vel­oped na­tion.

Le­sotho need not rein­vent the wheel in forg­ing a path towards food se­cu­rity. There are count­less ex­am­ples of African na­tions which have changed their nar­ra­tive from net food im­porters to ex­porters.

Ac­cord­ing to the UN Food and Agri­cul­ture Or­gan­i­sa­tion, Rwanda’s farm­ers pro­duced 792 000 tonnes of grain in 2014 — more than three times as much as in 2000. In East Africa, maize pro­duc­tion has jumped seven-fold over the last decade. Ce­real pro­duc­tion tripled in Ethiopia be­tween 2000 and 2014. The value of crops grown in Cameroon, Ghana and Zam­bia has risen by at least 50 per­cent in the past decade while Kenya has done al­most as well. These suc­cesses are not the re­sult of hap­pen­stance, but of co­or­di­nated strate­gies. Pre­vi­ous gov­ern­ments have come up with ini­tia­tives to kick-start the agri­cul­ture sec­tor such as the block farm­ing scheme pol­icy. While the in­ten­tions of the ini­tia­tive were no­ble, it was mired in con­tro­versy fol­low­ing al­le­ga­tions that some se­nior gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials im­prop­erly ben­e­fit­ted from the scheme meant to as­sist bud­ding farm­ers.

In­stead of aban­don­ing such ini­tia­tives al­to­gether, the gov­ern­ment needs to draw les­sons from the mis­takes made to come up with more ef­fec­tive pro­grammes. There is a need for leg­is­la­tion that recog­nises and at­taches value to land as a com­mer­cial re­source to pre­vent the ram­pant cases of un­der­util­i­sa­tion and abuse of prime land to the detri­ment of food se­cu­rity. This is in ad­di­tion to in­vest­ing in agri­cul­tural re­search, food sci­ence, tech­nol­ogy and agri-busi­nesses among other ini­tia­tives.

Added to that, more col­lab­o­ra­tion among stake­hold­ers in the agri­cul­ture and food se­cu­rity sec­tors is needed to come up re­silience-build­ing pro­grammes so that Ba­sotho are able to weather the on­com­ing cli­matic shocks.

Rad­i­cal in­ter­ven­tions to en­sure Le­sotho’s food se­cu­rity are not only an ur­gent ne­ces­sity, but could be the dif­fer­ence be­tween life and death for hun­dreds of thou­sands.

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