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Review of the Government of Lesotho Emergency Response and suggestions for Future Programming to Address Food Insecurities in Lesotho

Hero image description: Distribution of food and cash Lesotho Image credit:Rachel Slater and Rebecca Holmes Image license:ODI given rights

Lesotho is one of the poorest countries in the world. With a per capita income of US$415 (1999), the country is grouped amongst the 49 least developed countries and is ranked 137 out of 175 countries on the UNDP Human Development Index. More than half the population of 2.2 million live below the poverty line out of which 40% are destitute. Lesotho has one of the most unequal income distributions in the world with more than half of all incomes flowing to the richest 10% of the population. Three quarters of the country is mountainous, and difficult to access especially in the months of May-September when snow can block access. The remaining quarter of the country constitute lowlands where 80% of the people live and is the most intensively cultivated zone. Only 9% of land is under cultivation.

The HIV/AIDS pandemic is proving catastrophic, with at least 31% of the population infected. In a country of 2.2 million, the effect of this on Lesotho's social structure, livelihoods and food security is substantial and is likely to worsen over the next five to ten years.

The GoL declared a state of emergency in April 2002 and launched a Famine Relief Appeal for over $137 million. The May 2002 FAO/WFP assessment showed an anticipated cereal gap of 338,000 MT of which WFP planned to meet approximately 50,000MT for relief food for an estimated 444,800 people. Following the September Vulnerability Assessment (VAC), the numbers requiring food assistance increased dramatically to 650,000 and was expected to increase again following the December VAC. This year, although harvests were reported to be marginally better than last year, the food insecurity situation is expected not to change significantly hence an appeal by government for emergency food and non food aid is highly likely as indicated by the VAC of June 2003. Two sources provide different data, which will require further analysis. See 2002/3 Highlights table below.



Domestic Cereal supply

118, 200 MT





Commercial Import






WFP Pipeline






Source: FAO/WFP crop and food supply assessment mission to Lesotho , June 2003 and DMA bulletin of July 2003 respectively.

The scale of the required emergency and recovery response has stretched the capacity of most stakeholders, especially the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning. This has highlighted the need for further analysis into the emergency response, preparedness and recovery policy and institutional framework of the GoL. In response, the GoL is setting up a task team, chaired by the Ministry for Finance and Development Planning and includes representatives from the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security , Disaster Management Authority, Development Cooperation Ireland, DFID, Save the Children UK, FAO, WFP and UNDP.

The situation in Lesotho is rooted in a complex mix of both the combined effects of reduced agricultural output due to adverse weather conditions, steep increases in prices for staple foods, the impact of HIV/AIDS at the homestead level, and the country's extreme vulnerability to absorb shocks compounded by a weak economy and falling levels of human development. Basotho have for years been resorting to multiple livelihood strategies with agriculture playing a dwindling role for most households. Actual income from agriculture is 46% even though 80% of the population still rely on agriculture as part of their livelihood strategy.

Food insecurity in Lesotho could be said to be the result of availability, access and utilisation due to the fact that the purchasing power of most of Lesotho 's vulnerable people is grossly undermined by complexity of problems some of which are outlined above. The general increase in poverty trends stemming from limited livelihood opportunities, has eroded coping mechanisms over time, leaving many Basotho highly vulnerable to shocks.


Although the harvest for 2002/03 planting season may be slightly higher than that of 2001/02, it is expected that there will be a requirement for general food distribution to affected areas beyond the 2003 harvest. This continuation of food assistance needs to be well targeted so as not to undermine the market. The purpose of this review is:
  • To assist the GoL to review the effectiveness, efficiency and impact of the GoL emergency response to date in order to draw lessons and to identify potential areas for the improvement, including a review of the existing policy framework and institutional arrangements.
  • To assist the GoL to review the GoL recovery programming to date in order to draw lessons and to identify potential areas for the improvement and refinement of recovery programming in the short term; and, to ensure the recovery efforts dovetail into, draw upon and enhance the agriculture sector strategy and the poverty reduction strategy to improve food security for the people of Lesotho;
  • Utilising the information garnered from the emergency and recovery programming review, to recommend steps to be undertaken to address long term strategies to improve food security, complementing national challenges and sectoral responses identified in the Poverty Reduction Strategy and on-going recovery programmes.

The objectives of the review of the are:
  • In consultation with the Save the Children/ DMA partnership to enhance targeting capacity, review targeting criteria, identify the most food insecure areas and hotspots to enable prioritisation of the emergency response (geographic areas and sectoral intervention), and provide food insecurity and vulnerability profiles;
  • To review the degree to which emergency programming has been tailored to take account of the HIV/ AIDS pandemic and to provide recommendations on how to strengthen linkages between on-going HIV/ AIDS programming, emergency and recovery programming;
  • To review the actual or potential impact of the food aid operation on the private sector and markets;
  • To review the implementation capacity of WFP/IP/FMU, specifically the location of WFP/IP projects in relation to the hotspots and the ability to deliver complementary activities;
  • To review the existing coordination of DMA, policy framework and institutional arrangements for emergency response of GoL, Donors, International Organisations;
  • To assess the cost of the response, with a view to identifying more sustainable interventions for the chronically poor and vulnerable.
  • To identify modalities of intervention suitable for the Lesotho context and for which implementation capacity exists (Consideration should be given to vulnerable group feeding, food for work/free food, food for training, HIV/AIDS and school feeding);
  • To review/suggest appropriate programming strategies for exit.

During the review process, the consultants met with the following stakeholders:

  • GoL officials at the Capital and District levels including the Disaster Management Authority, the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security , the Ministry for Finance and Development Planning and the Cabinet Subcommittee for emergency response;
  • A selection of beneficiaries of the emergency and recovery programmes to date;
  • UN agencies at country level;
  • Key Donors;
  • A selection of WFP and FAO implementing partners in Lesotho ;
  • Representatives of the private sector;
  • Other key stakeholders as appropriate, including a selection of local and International NGOs and village committees.


  • Rachel Slater

    SLRC Project Research Director/Research Fellow Social Protection