Lesotho: Reinstation of COVID-19 control measures likely to slow down livelihood recovery

Lesotho Remote Monitoring Update, August 2020

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Photo by Marc St on Unsplash

Key Messages

Most households continue to experience Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes however poor household food security is expected to deteriorate in September as own-produced food stocks deplete. From October through December, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are anticipated due to food consumption gaps. The lean season is expected to begin in October, two months earlier than normal due to the compounding effects of below-average production, below-average labor wages, and the impacts of COVID-19 restrictions on income-earning opportunities and remittances. Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes will likely continue through January 2021 as the lean season peaks. 

COVID-19 restrictions continue to affect livelihoods in Lesotho. In response to the rapid increase in confirmed COVID-19 cases between June and August, the government reinstated lockdown measures in late July to curb the spread of the virus. The re-introduction of some of the previous control measures is expected to again reduce the pace of business and reduce income-earning opportunities, particularly for informal traders in urban areas.

There has been a general increase in the price of maize meal across Lesotho. In June, maize meal prices in Maseru were 22 percent above June 2019 prices and 11 percent above the five-year average. The increase in prices is attributed to increased demand due to the below-average local harvest and COVID-19 related supply chain disruptions such as border slow-downs and permit requirements. An increase in staple food prices in Lesotho is reducing the purchasing power of households who will depend entirely on market purchases when their own-produced food stocks run dry.

PROJECTED OUTLOOK THROUGH SEPTEMBER 2020

The lean season is expected to begin in October, two months earlier than usual, driven by a below-average 2020 harvest and the depletion of own-produced maize grain. Market purchases of maize meal are expected to begin earlier than usual. Currently, households are relying on off-farm labor, gifts/remittances, vegetable sales, brewing, and petty trade for income. However, household income is anticipated to be below average and is not expected to adequately cover food purchases leading to anticipated food consumption gaps from September 2020 through January 2021. The continued border closures and re-establishment in late July of COVID-19 control measures are expected to continue impacting remittances and income from petty trade. Wages from on-farm and off-farm labor are expected to be below-average due to the constrained income of better-off households, while low availability of cereals is limiting the brewing and selling of Joala (traditional beer/liquor). Around October, as the cropping season approaches, poor households will turn to agriculture-based labor for income. A timely onset of the rainy season is expected with average rainfall from October 2020 to January 2021, increasing demand for agricultural labor for land preparation and planting. Although agriculture labor opportunities are expected to be within normal levels, wage rates will likely remain below average due to better-off households being affected by both a poor 2020 harvest and below-average off-own-farm income. The below-average wages will likely continue affecting the purchasing power of poor households. Households are likely to cope by selling more livestock than usual, reducing meal quantities, relying on gifts, and borrowing from better-off family members and friends.

COVID-19 control measures continue to affect the livelihoods of both rural and urban populations although urban populations are being more impacted. As of August 30, there are 1,085 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 31 attributed deaths. The number of confirmed cases has risen sharply since June, prompting the government to reinstate some of the lockdown measures that were previously relaxed in May. Public gatherings and recreational activities are banned; however, businesses and factories are permitted to remain open, but some are operating at 50 percent capacity. Businesses are expected to provide additional health screenings to employees, maintain social distancing protocols, and keep a record of daily attendance on business premises. Many of these measures were previously in place but were broadly not enforced. A slowdown is expected in livelihood activities such as petty trade, transportation, daily wage casual work, and in the formal sector. The border closures are still impacting seasonal labor opportunities in South Africa and the flow of remittances. The negative impacts of COVID-19 related control measures on household incomes are expected to continue through January 2021. To support household livelihoods, the government has launched an economic mitigation package, which includes 1.2 billion LSL for emergency assistance and the expansion of social protection programs such as the Child Grant Program. In late July, the IMF approved a disbursement of 49.1 million USD to help Lesotho reduce its balance of payments pressures and catalyze other concessional financings while allowing the government to fully mobilize its COVID-19 mitigation strategy.

Surplus volumes in South Africa are expected to help offset production deficits in Lesotho and supply staple food markets through January 2021. However, staple food prices are expected to continue increasing. The increase in maize meal prices is likely due to COVID-19 related disruptions in the supply chain such as border delays, permit requirements, and sanitary stipulations. Increased demand during the lean season is likely to also contribute to price increases. Between September and January 2021, maize meal prices are expected to fluctuate between 12 and 14 percent above the five-year average. The increased staple food prices and below-average incomes will likely result in reduced purchasing power for market-dependent poor households leading to Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes between October 2020 and January 2021.

About Remote Monitoring

In remote monitoring, a coordinator typically works from a nearby regional office. Relying on partners for data, the coordinator uses scenario development to conduct analysis and produce monthly reports. As less data may be available, remote monitoring reports may have less detail than those from countries with FEWS NET offices.

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