Food security an urgent necessity
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.