Agriculture in Lesotho is predominantly traditional, characterised by rain-fed cereal production and extensive animal grazing, with the contribution of the livestock subsector roughly double that of the arable subsector.
The contribution of the Agriculture, Hunting, Forestry and Fishing sector to the nation’s economy has remain relatively constant in the past five years, registering 8 percent in 2008 and 7.9 percent in 2013 as a percentage of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) at basic prices. This is nonetheless a substantial decline from the position three decades ago, when the sector made up around 20 percent of Lesotho’s GDP.
Factors which constrain agricultural growth range from a decline in incomes to unfavourable weather and soil infertility. Although Lesotho’s government has extended significant aid to farmers by means of subsidies on agricultural inputs, there has not been a corresponding upswing in productivity. While adverse conditions attributed to climate change are partly to blame for this state of affairs, the management of the sector and the application of modern agricultural methods are also contributory factors.
Following severe weather conditions which affected agricultural production and suppressed growth in 2011 and 2012, there was a modest recovery by the crop subsector and positive growth from animal farming, services and forestry in 2013. This was prompted by better weather as well as various policy interventions. Nonetheless, the contribution of agriculture to overall growth was curbed by factors such as army-worm infestations, limited grazing land and stock theft.
Current efforts to strengthen the sector rest on sustainable commercialism and diversification, as well as the development of integrated value chains. This entails building effective agricultural support institutions, improving risk management in the sector and reducing stock theft. The livestock subsector – in particular wool and mohair – has been singled out as one of the country’s most important value chains, and possesses considerable potential to contribute to economic growth and poverty reduction.
Lesotho’s National Strategic Development Plan (NSDP), which aims to maximise the growth potential of the private sector in the medium term, has agriculture as one of its main pillars. In recognition of the fact that agriculture in Lesotho has thus far been constrained by lack of diversification, modernisation and marketing, Government’s strategy is to improve agricultural supply chains as well as marketing infrastructure, broadening the subsidy programme across all subsectors.
In September 2013, Lesotho became the 34th African country and the 8th Sub-Saharan country to sign the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) Compact. This commits Lesotho to achieving the goal of raising agricultural productivity by 6 percent and ensuring that 10 percent of the budget is allocated to agriculture.
In total, the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security’s 2014/15 capital budget is valued at
M209 091 001 million. This is a significant increase from the M193 650 000 million allocated in the previous budget.
A sum of M166 million has been set aside to support subsidies to farmers in 2014/15. While the focus has in the past been on crop production, current subsidies are being extended to other subsectors to support diversification. In addition, M11 million has been earmarked for the development of irrigated agriculture and procuring agricultural machinery. Livestock production is being assisted through the construction of wool and mohair shearing sheds and support for smallholder agriculture development, with the latter having been allocated M56 million, of which M43.1 million will be sourced from development partners.
The budget for agriculture is also bolstered by funds from the capital budget of the Ministry of Trade and Industry, Cooperatives and Marketing. These funds are specifically directed to agricultural production plants, comprising dairy plant refurbishment (M2 million), wool and mohair scouring plant (M5 million), silos and storage facilities (M3 million) and a slaughter house (M6 million).
Running from 2012 until 2018, the Smallholder Agricultural Development Programme (SADP) aims to support smallholder farmers in exploiting opportunities and increasing productivity, as well as diversifying into market-oriented agriculture. The programme focuses on four selected districts with high agricultural potential (Botha-Bothe, Leribe, Berea and Mafeteng), where projects are underway in irrigated vegetable production, wool and mohair, dairy, piggery and poultry hatcheries, among others. Project funding amounts to US $23.5 million, with the World Bank and International Fund for Agriculture Development (IFAD) contributing some US $10 million each and the balance coming from the Lesotho Government.
According to the World Bank’s project review of July 2014, the SADP’s Competitive Grants Programme has continued to progress well. A total of 63 grants overall have been awarded to registered associations and businesses, including an additional 33 grants as a result of the fourth round selection process completed in February 2014.
In response to the food security crisis in Lesotho during 2012, the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) and the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security (MAFS) designed a three-year programme to assist vulnerable households with agricultural inputs and know-how on agricultural technologies, helping communities to adapt to climate change and build their resilience to better withstand future shocks. The resultant Emergency and Resilience Programme (ERP) provides input support and capacity development on conservation agriculture, home gardening and nutrition, targeting communities, lead farmers and extension services.
The FAO implements this programme jointly with the MAFS through extension officers operating in Agricultural Resource Centres in each district. During 2012 and 2013, more than US $5 million was invested through the ERP in support of
18 500 farming households in Lesotho, training more than 530 extension staff, 600 lead farmers and local leaders, and in excess of 260 teachers from primary and secondary schools.
According to the Lesotho Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP) of 2012, developed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), agriculture is the main sources of employment and income in rural areas. However, the low performance of the sector continues to exacerbate rural poverty. This critical state of affairs has led the Government to prioritise agriculture and food security, with its goals in this regard outlined in the Vision 2020 document as well as the NSDP.
The World Food Programme (WFP) Lesotho Country Programme 2013-2017 prioritises emergency preparedness and response, as well as disaster-risk reduction, with the emphasis on natural hazards (drought and floods), food insecurity, poverty and the impact of HIV and AIDS. The Early Warning Action Plan is updated on an annual basis, with UNICEF participating in coordinated inter-agency responses under the UN’s resident coordinator.
FEWS NET, the Famine Early Warning Systems Network, reported in March 2014 that Lesotho’s 2013/14 season had been characterised by near-normal rainfall quantity and distribution, which was considered likely to result in average production in most parts of the country. This represents the second consecutive year of good harvests and should positively affect the household food security situation.
As of August 2014 most rural households were facing minimal acute food insecurity outcomes and meeting their basic food needs through purchases at adequately stocked markets and through own-produced foods. However, staple food prices had started to increase in line with seasonal trends, a situation that was deemed likely to reduce the purchasing power of poor, market-dependent households.
Ongoing Government and partner safety-net programmes also contribute to maintaining adequate food access for chronically food-insecure households, and currently benefit some 226 000 people.
Lesotho’s arable land is estimated at 279 733, hectares which constitutes 9 percent of the total land area. However, only a small percentage is presently used for irrigated crop production. The main crops are maize, sorghum and wheat, which occupy, respectively, about 60 percent, 20 percent and 10 percent of agricultural land.
Government’s subsidy for summer cropping that began in 2012/13 resulted in total grain production of 154 000 metric tonnes compared with an average of 42 000 metric tonnes in previous years. Such support to farmers was both continued and intensified in 2013/14, with predictions pointing to even higher yields than the previous year.
Subsidies for 2014/15 amounted to M166 million, with Government having committed itself to continuing subsidising agriculture until local farmers are adequately developed and local food reserves stocked with ample grain crops. The MAFS is also directing its energies towards irrigated crop production and the rehabilitation of projects such as the Masianokeng irrigation initiative. High value cash crops are part of the solution, and the spotlight remains on growing wheat and beans as Lesotho still imports more than 91 percent of its annual demand for these crops.
Strategies which are being employed to assist in revitalising this subsector include block farming and conservation agriculture. Block farming sees farmers within a specific agricultural area planting similar crops, a practice which simplifies crop management while encouraging the use of the most modern techniques, agricultural inputs and equipment in order to produce high-quality crops, the surplus of which can be sold commercially. Conservation agriculture intends to raise crop yield and reduce soil erosion through using methods which minimise interference with the soil.
Lesotho’s chief agricultural subsector, the livestock industry produces mainly beef (43 percent), followed by game (17.6 percent), mutton (14.3 percent), pork (12.4 percent), goat meat (7.3 percent) and chicken (5.4 percent). Cattle are chiefly raised for subsistence, draught power, milk, fuel (dung) and meat.
According to a recent report by the Joint Agri-Business and Department of Agriculture Forum for Africa (JADAFA), livestock spend at least half the year on homestead pasture lands, owing to seasonal changes at the onset of winter as well as the need to shear and dip stock and to reduce the risk of theft. This means that most animals have inadequate rations in terms of fodder and forage for long periods of the year, with no local tradition of fodder husbandry on arable land or the conserving of fodder as silage or hay.
Current challenges include outbreaks of animal diseases and a lack of infrastructure to prevent and control the transmission of disease. The FAO is presently working to strengthen animal health services, and assists Government in improving disease surveillance systems so that farmers have a better chance of combating common livestock diseases. The development of a cadre of certified livestock breeders is proposed under the PRSP, along with livestock improvement centres and other facilities to improve the breed quality and production capacity of wool and mohair, poultry, piggery and other livestock subsectors.
Beef is the largest source of animal protein in Lesotho, with 650 000 head of cattle recorded in 2011 (FAO, 2013). The country is self-sufficient in beef production, with production and consumption having been evenly balanced at an average of 10 500 tonnes and 11 000 tonnes, respectively, in the ten-year period between 2001 and 2011.
Stock slaughtered increased from 78 000 tonnes in 2001 to 83 000 tonnes in 2011. While around four-fifths of meat sold at butcheries is supplied by informal slaughter, in terms of legislation, informally slaughtered meat is only for home or subsistence consumption. Apart from a few isolated instances, neither export nor import of beef takes place.
Wool and mohair
Comprising a flock of a little more than 2 million, sheep and goats are primarily utilised in the production of wool and mohair. They are also an important source of food, with Lesotho producing 4 000 tonnes of lamb and 2 200 tonnes of goat meat annually (averaged between 2001 and 2011), according to the FAO.
The main pasturelands are located in the foothills and mountains of the Lesotho highlands, which provide favourable ecological conditions for extensive small stock production. The indigenous Merino sheep is hardy and well adapted to the environment, as are Angora goats. Wool and mohair are produced in the Quthing, Qacha’s Nek, Mokhotlong and Thaba-Tseka districts.
Wool and mohair are two of the country’s major income earners, with considerable potential for expansion. While South Africa is a primary export destination, a substantial portion of wool exports go to the Indian market, averaging 251 tonnes per year between 2010 and 2012 (ITC Trade Map, 2013). Wool and mohair is also used by local producers of tapestries and knitwear, though to a much lesser extent.
The African Development Bank (AfDB) Group’s Country Strategy Paper (2013-2017) found that wool and mohair value chains are relatively well developed in Lesotho and have remained stable since the 1970s. This subsector shows great potential for further improvement, with the country able to take advantage of its existing trade connections with South Africa, which presently processes and packages wool and mohair for domestic as well as international markets.
The main challenges to production are disease, poor animal husbandry and poor extension on wool and mohair shearing and classing. Recent Government initiatives to support the industry include the construction of a wool and mohair scouring plant in the Botha-Bothe district, which is in close proximity to Mokhotlong where the highest population of wool producing sheep are to be found. The SADP is an important catalyst for the development of the industry in the form of marketing support, genetic improvement of communal flocks through the introduction of quality rams, and training and mentorship.
Lesotho’s poultry sector, which consists of 1.95 million birds, comprises both a village industry and a commercial sector. The Basotho Poultry Farmers’ Association (BPFA) acts as the legal regulatory body for the poultry industry, through national promotion, coordination and regulation, and international representation. The association attempts to encourage a supportive business environment through advocacy, training and provision of technical assistance in the development and implementation of enabling policies and laws. It also ensures that local produce is given priority over imported poultry products, and assists in regulating the price structure of poultry in Lesotho.
The poultry value chain comprises three principal marketing channels: formal live bird markets (higher-income consumers); informal city markets (lower-income consumers); informal rural markets (rural consumers). Only about 20 percent of chicken is marketed through the formal sector.
While most milk produced by farmers is used for home consumption, there is also commercial production of raw milk for delivery to Lesotho Dairy Products (LDP). Milk collection centres produce approximately 14 500 litres of milk per day, with raw milk imported to cater for shortfalls in domestic supply. In recent years, dairy has been declared a priority sector as regards food security, and Government is working to create a national platform to stimulate dairy development. The refurbishment of the LDP plant is planned so that all processing and packaging can be done in Lesotho, thus avoiding the lengthy process of exporting milk to South Africa every day for processing.
Aquaculture – particularly the production of trout – takes place in the Lesotho highlands, where there are large quantities of cold, clear and pollution-free water. Fisheries operate at Katse Dam where trout is farmed in a sustainable, ethical and environmentally sound manner. The product, which is of a very high quality, is packaged and exported to South Africa as well as Asian markets, where it has become popular in gourmet sushi. Steps have been taken to involve the surrounding communities so that they also benefit from aquaculture through jobs, training and skills development. There are plans to expand operations to Mohale Dam, as well as add filleted trout to the product range.