Impact story Due to pandemic, hunger and economic strife hit smallholder farmers in Lesotho

A survey of farmers in the South African mountain kingdom showed that yield losses, job losses and reduced remittances from abroad contributed to a spike in hunger. The data will be used by the country’s Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security to formulate responses to the far-reaching social consequences of the pandemic.

The Pan Africa Bean Research Alliance (PABRA) team, in collaboration with the Bean Research team at the Department of Agricultural Research under the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security and the Thembalethu Development Project in Lesotho, carried out an online survey that seeks to understand the effect of the COVID pandemic on common bean farmers in Lesotho. The research was carried out from April to June through an online questionnaire in the Sesotho language to facilitate understanding by local farmers and ensure equal participation of men and women.

PABRA researchers obtained 63 responses from six districts. More than 90 percent of the respondents grow beans, cereals and vegetables on one to three hectares. Unlike most African countries, most of the seeds used by farmers in the country are certified, and quality is guaranteed by seed companies, input dealers and agricultural institutes. 

The small Southern African mountain kingdom, which is home to 2.1 million people, closed its border from April 30 to May 5 as a result of the COVID 19 pandemic. This closure caused numerous disruptions to its agricultural sector that were documented by the survey.

The research team studying bean plants in Lesotho before the COVID pandemic.

Unfortunately, the border closure happened when farmers were harvesting beans and other crops. Hired labor became an issue as a result of restrictive government measures where many people could not work in groups due to the number of people allowed to congregate in one place and social distancing.

Additionally, because of restricted movements, many farmers lost their crops to theft and climatic shocks, resulting in hunger. Farmers who had harvested in preparation for the winter season had limited access to inputs such as seed due to the lockdown of shops. Access to credit and finance was limited as remittances received from family and friends fell following numerous losses of job in neighboring South Africa and owing to the “fear of the unknown,” which resulted in more saving and less spending.

Widespread hunger

Hunger in Lesotho is expected to be exacerbated as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Factors contributing to increased hunger include reduced yields, as people were afraid to go and harvest, and loss of jobs. The survey showed respondents said lost income would impact their ability to buy basic food items and caused uncertainty over the provenance of their next meal.

The research revealed that a majority of the respondents eat twice a day, and the rest eat once a day or not at all. Results suggested that women and girls would probably go hungry for men and boys to eat. (see graph below).

Gender-based violence

Many countries, around the world, including Lesotho, are suffering from increased gender-based violence as a result of the COVID 19 pandemic, which has led to an uncertain future, fear, loss of jobs and depression. According to Senior Inspector Malebohang Nepo from the Child and Gender Protection Unit under the Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS), 18 sexual assault cases, including rape, were reported between the beginning of the lockdown on April 30, 2020 and May 5, 2020. Women are encouraged to use the Nokaneng App, meant to provide information on gender-based violence, places women can report cases to and counseling services from qualified councilors.

Next steps to promote recovery

PABRA, which is coordinated by the Alliance of Bioversity International and the International Center for Tropical Agriculture, has been in discussion with the bean research team in Lesotho. Activities planned for this season will be redefined in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and take into consideration evidence presented by this rapid online assessment study.

The team at PABRA will analyze the data and disseminate the results through webinars. Possible recommendations to address the identified problems to improve the wellbeing of the community despite the challenges presented by the ongoing COVID pandemic. The final report will be published soon by the Alliance.

Eileen Nchanji is a gender specialist in seed systems at the Pan Africa Bean Research Alliance and is based in Nairobi.

Lilian Mokhantso Morahanye is the gender focal person at the Department of Agriculture under the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security in Lesotho.