Testing times for rural households
Friday 16 July 2004
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LESOTHO: Testing times for rural households


[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]



©  IRIN

Boulder-strewn river in Mahale's Hoek district reduced to puddle

MASERU, 11 February (PLUSNEWS) - The people of Lesotho are used to hardship, but yet another poor agricultural season as a result of drought is testing their resilience.

"Some rains came in late December and early January. Some people planted, but no one has seen anything come of it," Chief Simon Mokorooane of Hachabeli in the Mohale's Hoek district in the southwest of the country told PlusNews.

"Some are selling their cattle to better-off people in the community. This is painful for a family, which cherishes its livestock. It is a barter system: a sheep for a bag of maize. I see starvation in the future. People try to help one another, but I'm already seeing starvation," the chief said.

Lesotho's chiefs are instrumental in providing population data to humanitarian organisations. Mokorooane said 117 families in his chiefdom were found without any food, and were put on the list of beneficiaries for food aid the World Food Programme (WFP) will deliver in his area this week.

"Last year was better. People were able to plant, and harvest. The crops lasted them six months. This year, the crops will last them three months - maybe. The situation looks dangerous this year," he said.

Like many parts of Lesotho, Hachabeli could benefit from irrigation. "The water smells sour here. It is drawn from wells. I don't know if anyone has died from it, but it is discolouring the children's teeth," said Malintle Myabanyava, a nutritionist sent to the area by the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security.

"My job is to teach people how to plant and cook nutritious vegetables, and teach people basic hygiene. But you can't grow vegetables without water - it's impossible," she said.

"Usually, you see small garden patches beside any Lesotho home, but not this year," Myabanyava observed.

"I usually grow wheat this time of year. Government recommends it for this part of the country. But it's too dry now - I have planted nothing. I will produce no food this year," said Bulare Matsimane, a farmer in the Mafeteng District whose parched, unplanted field runs along the southwestern border with South Africa where his few emaciated cattle forage lethargically for weeds in the hard, dry earth.

Beneath a rocky mesa at Hamoletsale, further north in the Mafeteng district, two farmers who share a donkey cart, Michael Ramaimale and Tseliso Moletsale, stood beside a dusty field of stunted sorghum plants. "Those failed," said Ramaimale.

He pointed to a contrasting patch of bright green. "There were some rains, and I planted peas. There is no irrigation. The rains are few - I don't know if itíll grow to harvest."

He squatted down on the earth with Moletsale to eat lunch: hard maize porridge with a dollop of seasoned wild spinach.

One government aid worker spoke of the resiliency of the Lesotho people. "This time of year has always been one of food scarcity, and we find that in a pinch people are reverting to their traditional coping mechanisms. These are temporary measures, but people are seeking the solutions of their forefathers, like finding traditional foods in the forests," she said.

he humanitarian crisis has brought out volunteers from across the country to assist.

In the hamlet of Sixondo, in the Quthing District at the southern tip of Lesotho, people walk for an hour from an emergency food distribution spot to their homes carrying 25 kilo sacks of maize on their heads. But some AIDS patients, pregnant women and under-five children who cannot make the trip rely on community volunteers to register them for lifesaving assistance.

"A truck will charge R8 (roughly US $1) to transport a person's food, and R7 for the person to ride. I pay the transport costs out of my own pocket, and I often have to walk myself and go hungry because there is no allowance for community volunteers," said Lekooa Ntlou. "But I must do this - I cannot think what would happen if I did not."


[ENDS]


 
Recent LESOTHO Reports
First health centre to distribute ART opened,  10/May/04
Anti-AIDS programme working with the youth,  10/Mar/04
HIV/AIDS testing facilities still to be set up,  9/Mar/04
Govt moves to tackle AIDS pandemic,  8/Mar/04
New laws to strengthen HIV/AIDS action,  12/Feb/04
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