LESOTHO – Maize prices in Lesotho have risen sharply during the main harvest season due to a below-normal harvest and increased reliance on the market for food supplies, the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security has reported.

Despite a larger area being planted in the 2023/24 season, the dry conditions from January to March have devastated the crop, particularly maize. This has forced many poor and very poor households to start purchasing food from local markets earlier than usual, exacerbating their already dire situation.

The situation is expected to worsen as retail prices for staple foods are projected to continue climbing due to lower-than-average local production and the rising cost of imported maize. This could significantly impact the purchasing power of households, leading to a potential crisis.

This trend will likely reduce household purchasing power, especially between August and September when market purchases peak, and labor opportunities are seasonally limited.

Despite these challenges, most households are expected to meet their food needs through September, resulting in area-level Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes.

Income-earning opportunities are limited, particularly for labor on semi-commercial farms involved in the summer harvest and the winter planting season for wheat.

Interventions to mitigate food insecurity

The government, in a commendable display of proactive response, has initiated several measures to mitigate the crisis.

These include cash-for-work programs and substantial seed and fertilizer subsidies of 70 to 80 percent for farmers engaging in winter crop cultivation. These initiatives are proving to be a lifeline for the agricultural sector and the affected households.

Regrettably, the crisis is expected to have a ripple effect on the local economy. The anticipated decrease in income from livestock, due to the reduced availability of crop residues for winter fodder, could force very poor and poor households to sell their livestock to generate income. This, in turn, could flood the market with supply and drive prices below average.

In a proactive response to the drought-related food insecurity, the Prime Minister’s Office announced in early May an allocation of $5.3 million for cash or food payments to 180,000 vulnerable people. This measure is part of a comprehensive plan to address the immediate needs of the affected population.

These payments, tied to participation in community-based projects such as road maintenance and protection of grazing lands, will be distributed between June and December.

Higher maize meal prices in April and May indicate reduced market supplies, as prices typically decline during harvests. In April, maize meal retail prices rose to US$5.51 per 12.5kg bag, up from US$5.11 in March, a similar trend to last year.

On May 6, Lesotho Flour Mills increased its maize meal price by 15 percent, bringing the retail price to US$6.33. April also saw Lesotho’s annual food inflation climb to 10.4 percent from 9.7 percent in March, despite a slight reduction in overall consumer price inflation from 7.4 percent in March to 7.1 percent in April.

The rise in food prices is expected to constrain household purchasing capacity, potentially leading poor households to consume less preferred foods and cut spending on health and other essential services.


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