Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Food Cirsis in Lesotho

The picture that lies behind the title of this blog was taken a couple year ago while touring the mountains of the kingdom of Lesotho. Despite its breathtaking beauty, this picture encompasses the hardship on which the people of Lesotho- the Basotho- have to live in. If you look closely into the photo, you’ll see small patches of grass, surrounded by growing gullies, worrying signs of erosion. Yet, astonishingly you will also find goats and other grazing animals in those remaining green patches. Initially I couldn’t understand the rationality behind such act: in a couple years there won’t be any grass left, translating into no milk for the family, not traction for the fields, no fertilizer for the land and no food. However, once we started walking around the village with the extension agent I was traveling with, I started to understand the people’s way of doing things. The Basotho living in this village were making the best use their resources given what they have. Looking into the future was not a possibility if you couldn’t be able to feed your children today. Putting aside grass plots to recuperate was not an option when there are not other places to take the animals to. A sad reality of surviving the day hoping better things come tomorrow.

But it seems that worse things, rather than better ones, are coming their way. According to an Special Report released by FAO yesterday, the country is in the way to what it could become a very drastic food shortages. The report estimates 400.000 people- a fifth of the population- won’t be able to meet their minimum food requirements. FAO and WFP believe that at least 30.000 tons of cereal or its cash equivalent will be necessary to address the crisis.

What or who to blame? Well there are local natural factors such as the poor agricultural practices, lack of arable land, and land degradation as well as a 30 year high drought. By the way, water is their main source of income as is dam and then sold to south Africa. Lesotho also has one of the highest rates of AIDS (percentage wise about 30%) which undermines the productive population leaving land idle. More significant though is the increase in cereal prices that its only neighbor and main exporter, South Africa, is experiencing. According to the report there has been 400% increase in the price basic cereals like sorghum and maize. These are essential to the Basotho diet which consist mainly of Papa (boiled corn or sorghum floor with), some vegetables and meat if you’re better off.

Is it the Chinese eating more meat, or the American craze toward ethanol, or the reduction in regional harvest due to weather? I don’t know. What I’m sure is that the village in the photo you see in this blog has probably gone elsewhere looking for fresher fields that probably don’t exist. So next time you see that photo think about them and act. I’ll do the same.

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