Extreme weather threatens Lesotho's crops

Changing weather patterns and poverty left some smallholding farmers with no option but to abandon farming...

Lesotho Prime Minister Pakalitha Bethuel Mosisili. Picture: AFP.

Changing weather patterns and poverty left some smallholding farmers with no option but to abandon farming and sell their land, leaving Lesotho facing a food security crisis because of changing weather patterns.

Many subsistence farmers in Lesotho are still struggling to recover from heavy rains that devastated crops and livestock over much of the country in December 2010 and January 2011.

According to the 2011 Lesotho Food Security and Vulnerability Monitoring (LVAC) Report, by the country's Disaster Management Authority, damage caused by the flooding reduced yields of maize, the staple food, by an average of 62 percent compared to the previous year.

Of a population of just over two million, the LVAC report estimated that 514,000 needed humanitarian assistance in 2011, twice the number that needed assistance in 2010.

The flooding at the beginning of 2011 was followed by below-normal rains towards the end of the year during the crucial planting season, while in January 2012, the Disaster Management Authority warned farming communities to be prepared for above-normal rainfall during the first three months of the year.

In a country where nearly 60 percent of the population live below the poverty line, and some 40 percent live in extreme poverty, such weather extremes are pushing the coping mechanisms of families already devastated by the effects of HIV and AIDS to breaking point.

Lesotho has one of the highest prevalences of HIV in the world.

The epidemic has created a shortage of farm labour and left 130,000 children orphaned, according to the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF).