GIEWS Country Brief: Lesotho 22-December-2020

Photo by Vincent Botta on Unsplash


  • Early production prospects mostly favourable for 2021 cereal crops
  • Cereal production recovered to near‑average level in 2020
  • Import requirements of cereals estimated at above‑average level in 2020/21
  • Cereal prices stable but higher year on year

Early production prospects mostly favourable for 2021 cereal crops

Planting of the 2021 cereal crops, primarily maize and sorghum, is almost complete. Weather conditions since the start of the rainy season in October have been generally conducive for plantings and crop emergence, with cumulative rainfall amounts until early December estimated to be slightly above average. For the January‑March 2021 period, weather forecasts, which are underpinned by the prevailing La Niña event, indicate a higher‑than‑normal probability of average to above‑average rainfall. This outlook increases the likelihood of an above‑average cereal production in 2021. However, the negative impact of the COVID‑19 pandemic on households’ incomes could reduce the utilization of agricultural inputs, including fertilizers and labour, and would, therefore, likely limit the potential increases in yields.

Production recovered to near‑average level in 2020

Cereal production in 2020 increased on a yearly basis and is estimated at a near‑average level of 98 000 tonnes. The year‑on‑year production upturn mostly reflects an increase in yields compared to the reduced levels of 2019, when rainfall deficits had a detrimental impact on crop productivity.

Import requirements of cereals estimated at above‑average level in 2020/21

Cereal import requirements in the 2020/21 marketing year (April/March) are estimated at an above‑average level of 230 000 tonnes. Imports of maize are expected to exceed more than 100 000 tonnes as the country seeks to increase national inventories following the drawdown in stocks that occurred in 2019/20. Imports of wheat are expected to remain stable at an average level of 80 000 tonnes.

Cereal prices stable but higher year on year

Following a spike in the price of bread and cereals in April 2020, partly attributed to an uptick in consumer demand as the effects of the pandemic‑related lockdown measures took hold, prices thereafter remained relatively firm until October (latest available information). The stable levels reflected generally adequate domestic supplies, following an increase in production and ample import availabilities from South Africa.

Effects of COVID‑19 pandemic drive up food insecurity

Just over 580 000 people are estimated to be food insecure and need assistance for food until March 2021, according to the latest IPC assessment. This estimate is about 35 percent above the number of people that required food assistance between October 2019 and March 2020. In addition to a rise in the overall prevalence of food insecurity, the number of people experiencing a more severe level of food insecurity (IPC Phase 4) has risen to 100 000, up from 70 000 in 2019/20.

The increase in the prevalence and severity of food insecurity has been predominantly driven by the effects of the lockdown measures to contain the COVID‑19 pandemic. The restrictions on the movement of people and the closure of non‑essential industries resulted in the loss of jobs and incomes, reducing people’s capacity to access adequate diets. The restrictions affected the workforce within the country, but also migrant workers in South Africa. According to the IPC report, an estimated 93 000 migrant workers returned from South Africa in 2020, which resulted in a reduction in remittances, an essential source of income for a large proportion of the local population.

In terms of food availability, domestic supplies of cereals are estimated to be sufficient and supply chains between the country and South Africa are generally functioning normally. However, a second wave of COVID‑19 cases has affected South Africa since November and the Government of South Africa has imposed localized movement restrictions to contain the spread. If cases continue to rise in South Africa, there is high risk of a second imposition of restrictions that may prolong the high levels of unemployment and cause further income losses in Lesotho.