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Thursday, 6 June, 2002, 12:31 GMT 13:31 UK
Lesotho needs food to avert deaths
In the distance loom the spectacular snow-capped mountains.
But there is only one thing on the minds of the villagers - and that is the looming spectre of hunger and starvation.
In good years, the people grow enough maize and sorghum to feed themselves but this year the harvest has been extremely poor and the villagers are increasingly concerned about the future.
"The situation is very bad this year because there has only been a very small amount of grain harvested," says the village chief, Makhelela Konote.
"It is worse than last year. Indeed, compared to previous years, this is the worst.
"And soon our food will run out and then - if we don't get any assistance - my people will start to die."
It is a bleak picture and one repeated in many areas across the country - particularly in the hardest hit districts of Qacha's Nek, Quthing and Mohale's Hoek.
But poor harvests are not confined to those areas alone.
"My harvest will be much less than usual because of heavy rains on the plateau," says Paulos Pholo, who owns a farm around 15 kilometres east of the capital in the district of Berea.
"The situation is so serious this year because it is not just me who is affected.
"Instead, it affects Lesotho as a whole."
The World Food Programme (WFP) estimates that around 500,000 people will need food aid - many of them for up to a full year.
This is due to heavy rain during the ploughing and planting season in October and November and also a succession of frosts, hailstorms and even small tornadoes, which left farmers across the country counting the cost.
According to a WFP/FAO crop and food supply report, only 60% of the land normally used for crops has been cultivated this year - mainly due to the unseasonal rains late last year.
But it is not just bad weather that is to blame.
Many analysts point to bad politics and agricultural policies as well.
For years, crop yields have been falling as soil erosion and degradation have increased.
In fact, the WFP/FAO report states:
"Agriculture in Lesotho faces a catastrophic future.
"Crop production is decreasing and could stop altogether over large tracts of the country if steps are not taken to reverse... the decline in soil fertility."
Malefetsane Nkhahle, the former executive secretary of the Interim Political Authority, agrees:
"The hunger situation has a lot to do with how we have done things in the past.
"People are always going to be blaming natural problems like drought or rain for the fact that we were not able to go out and plough our fields in time.
"But the question of the adequate provision of farming inputs, seeds and fertilisers is always going to loom large whenever people talk about agricultural productivity."
The situation is made worse by Lesotho's stuttering economy and by the downsizing of the mines in neighbouring South Africa, which resulted in many workers heading back home.
The problem is that there are simply no jobs around for the people of Lesotho to fall back on.
"Bigger countries can sometimes absorb the shock better," says Tergeste Zergarber, WFP's country representative.
"But for small countries like Lesotho it can be a real problem.
"One fifth of Lesotho's population already needs assistance. And on top of that there is no employment for them in the country."
More jobs would obviously help to alleviate the problem but Lesotho needs action now to address the immediate crisis and some steps have already been taken.
In April, the government announced that a state of famine existed in Lesotho.
Some people felt that the announcement was premature since people are not yet dying of starvation in the country.
"The truth is there are lots of people who go to bed without eating anything at all and also hunger just feeds on people with HIV/Aids and rapidly kills them," says Lesotho's Foreign Minister, Tom Thabane.
"But what the word famine means, I don't know.
"It is not currently like the situation in Ethiopia back in the mid-1980s but there are people out there who are hungry and they ought to be helped."
And food is being brought in.
However, some people feel that the government announced a state of famine too early and that it could back fire later.
It is a view the Prime Minister, Pakalita Mosisilli, flatly rejected although he admits that people are not dying from hunger yet.
"We do not want to wait until people are collapsing and dying before we ring the alarm bells," says Prime Minister, Pakalita Mosisilli.
"It takes time for the international community to set in motion the procedures in terms of actual food distribution.
"I hope they are not saying we must wait until pictures of malnourished children hit the screens before they are convinced."
Some food is arriving but it will be an uphill struggle to get enough aid to fill the gap, considering the huge demands from elsewhere in the southern African region.
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