Friday, November 30, 2012

Lesotho: hungry and largely forgotten as donor pledges ring hollow

The Guardian (UK)
Mark Tran
November 29, 2012.

Appeals fail to raise enough cash for food insecure country hit by late rains, poor harvests and long-term agriculture problems

Mamoliehi Tsapane rests after beating sorghum. Lesotho is facing a hunger crisis,
but donors are failing to act. Photograph: Alexander Joe/AFP/Getty Images

International donors are under pressure to provide more money for Lesotho, where 725,000 people – one-third of the population – are short of food following the worst harvest in 10 years.

Representatives from the US and the EU, including Irish Aid, are scheduled to meet in Maseru, the capital, next week to consider the lack of follow-through on pledges of aid made earlier in the year, after the UN launched an appeal for $38.5m (£24m) for September 2012 to March 2013.

Funds so far come to only $9.5m, making Lesotho the least well-funded UN appeal by a long way. The UN appeal followed an emergency declared in August by the new coalition government, led by the prime minister, Tom Thabane.

"At the beginning, donors pledged money despite emergencies in Syria, the Sahel and Gaza, but they have not come through," said Michelle Carter, country director for Care Lesotho. "It's a small country, not strategically located, so it has trouble getting the world's attention and funding."

The World Food Programme is about to give out cash vouchers worth $67 as the problem in this landlocked country surrounded by South Africa is not just a question of poor harvests but a lack of cash. In January, the WFP will start distributing food to reach about 200,000 of the most vulnerable – the elderly, pregnant and breastfeeding women, and children under five.

Lesotho has suffered a drop in agricultural production of more than 70% due to flooding, late rains and early frost. This year's crop failures follow poor harvests in 2011, making many of the country's poorest farmers even more vulnerable. In addition to the latest natural calamities, Lesotho has long-term agricultural problems: lack of access to technology and inputs, and a reduction of arable land through soil erosion by rain and overgrazing.

Most of the population live in rural areas and rely largely on subsistence farming. Normally, families sell their surplus maize for extra cash. This year, however, most had to dip into that surplus to survive. Domestic production will meet only 10% of Lesotho's cereal needs, and many cannot afford imported food.

Chronic malnutrition is already extremely high. More than one in three children under five are stunted, and the current food insecurity could increase malnutrition, especially among young children, and women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.

HIV and Aids is another complicating factor. Almost a quarter of the population is HIV positive or living with Aids. The combination of low household food production and high food costs is forcing people who have Aids to make choices between buying food or life-saving medications.

Last month, Catherine Bragg, the UN assistant secretary general for humanitarian affairs, called on donors and countries in the region to strengthen their efforts to promote disaster preparedness and tackle food insecurity. She said southern Africa was facing a silent emergency as regional food production has been weakened by recurrent disasters.

In Zimbabwe, 1.6 million people are expected to be food insecure and many families are selling their livestock to cope.
Comment: When I worked at think-tank salary hell in Pretoria a lot of noise was made about regional development initiatives and meeting the UN mandated millennium goals in southern Africa.
And even as the same hot air continues to blow in regional and continental policy terms the truth is that most African countries -just like Lesotho, Swaziland, and Zimbabwe- are precariously unbalanced by chronic disruptions in the food chain.
Weather disasters and climate changes are to be blamed but don't even start to ignore the veracity of political maladministration
In these terms South Africa has failed dismally to inspire and direct developmental change internally and in the region. 
In the last few weeks here in the dust bowl we have been without water for days. The taps ran dry as the municipality floundered to keep up a water supply under constant threat from climate changes and, of course, absolute bad/inept planning.
When the water returned to the taps the electricity went out as the same municipality struggled to upgrade its archaic current infrastructure to meet the needs of a city literally taking on more people than it can sustain. 
A year or so ago I talked to a man who manages a part of the sewer system around Kimberley and he told me that the sewerage system was almost a 100 years old and it could not cope with new housing developments.
'We are in a lot of trouble that just won't go away," he complained.
The fact that we are in a lot of trouble is uncontested. The cities/town all across South Africa are growing at enormous rates as people leave the rural areas and flock to urban centers looking for work or at the very least, a subsistence.
The flood of rural refugees is a symptom of the failure of agricultural development and policy in South Africa and the region for that matter.
Just last week farms in the Barkly West area - about 35 kilometers from Kimberley - were engulfed in veld fires as a result of the dry conditions, sweltering heat, and the lack of rain.
Several farms were destroyed as fired burned out of control. The provincial government was left floundering to explain why there is not a fire fighting strategy in place. In fact, they could not explain the lack of a strategy because there are no fire-fighters in the Northern Cape!
South Africans who live somewhere close to what can be considered a middle-existence may be smug about the conditions in Lesotho and Zimbabwe but the truth is that we are not that food secure.
In recent decades, well since the end of apartheid, South Africa has moved from a net producer of food to a net importer of food and this includes agricultural products.
Of course, this change is about globalization and its pressures on what is farmed and where.
But the reality is somewhat more stark. Agricultural production in South Africa is falling drastically behind.
The ANC government has spent too little time on developing new farmers and farms and too much time on wrangling on land-tenure rights. I am not saying that land-tenure issues are not important
What I am saying is that it matters little for overall development and food security if white farmers are pressed against land rationalization claims while the state does almost nothing about skilling a new generation of farmers to produce food.
In the apartheid days farming was a white preserve. That had to change. The same is true for the fact that close to 90 percent of farmland was in white hands.
These pressures can't be ignored. However, food production cannot be frozen by political rationalizations. As it stands now we have about 3000 farmers who produce food in a nation of more than 50 million people!
If anyone wonders why agricultural products are so limited and expensive in South Africa the answer lies very clearly inside of this development paradox.
Though the answer may be clear the crisis that it beckons hardly seems to be sinking in. No-one should be too surprised if South Africa enters into debilitating food shortages. 
Lesotho is not alone.
Something to think about the next time the taps run dry and the lights go out. 

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