Lesotho’s primary sector is dominated by agriculture. The arable subsector is concerned primarily with rain-fed cereal production, while in the livestock subsector the focus lies on extensive animal grazing, wool and mohair production, and a fast-growing aquaculture industry. The crops and horticulture subsectors decreased their combined contribution to agricultural GDP by almost half between 2001 and 2011. However, over the same period, the livestock subsector increased its share from 47.2 percent to 62 percent.
As some 70 percent of Lesotho’s people live in rural areas, farming is an important livelihood activity for a significant proportion of the population, with most rural workers employed in private household activities which are predominantly agricultural in nature. Although overall productivity and the contribution of the sector to the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) are quite low, agriculture remains one of the mainstays of the economy.
According to the results of the FinScope Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME) Survey undertaken in Lesotho at the end of 2016, about one in four MSMEs (22 percent) are reported to operate in the agriculture sector. Of these, some 53 percent are involved in rearing livestock while 15 percent concentrate on growing crops.
There is a pressing need to commercialise agriculture in Lesotho, and Government has prioritised this as an important part of its growth strategy. Efforts to promote investment have been intensified, with agro opportunities to be found in crop farming, aquaculture, horticulture, livestock and food processing. In spite of current climatic and structural challenges, the sector does hold immense potential to drive economic growth through generating employment and reducing poverty levels.
Agriculture in the economy
The contribution of agriculture to Lesotho’s primary sector has continued to dwindle, largely due to challenges in farming compounded by unfavourable weather conditions, and crop and animal diseases which have constrained production. Furthermore, agricultural land is subject to soil infertility and erosion, and has become increasingly fragmented as it competes with land allocated to human settlement. In addition to climate mitigation measures, this calls for the application of modern agricultural methods.
According to the Central Bank of Lesotho (CBL), agriculture contributed an average of 7.0 percent to Lesotho’s GDP during the 2010-2015 period. In the CBL’s 2016 Annual Report, it was estimated that the agriculture, forestry and fishing subsector had contracted by 0.9 percent during the year against a drop of 4.4 percent in 2015, primarily because of low rainfall associated with El Niño weather conditions during the ploughing season. Output recovered significantly during the 2017/18 crop year, with area planted having risen sharply by 139 percent over the previous year as rainfall increased.
Lesotho is a signatory to the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) Compact, which commits the country to the aim of raising agricultural productivity by 6 percent per annum and allocating 10 percent of the national budget to agriculture. Government has undertaken to subsidise agriculture until such time that local farmers are adequately developed and local food reserves are stocked with sufficient grain crops.
Current efforts to strengthen agriculture rest on sustainable commercialism and diversification, as well as the development of integrated value chains and marketing infrastructure. This includes building effective agricultural support institutions, improving risk management in the sector and reducing stock theft. In addition, the subsidy programme is being broadened across all subsectors, while conservation agriculture is promoted to enhance household food security and reduce vulnerability.
As announced in the 2017 Budget, the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security will continue to subsidise all agricultural inputs and mechanical operations, roll out greenhouse and shade nets, rehabilitate irrigation schemes, manage and control the spread of animal diseases, undertake feasibility studies for commercial beef production, and construct wool sheds to boost wool and mohair production. The biggest challenges confronting farmers remain the impacts of climate change and affordable modalities for adaptation. A sum of M483.4 million was proposed for the Ministry to carry out these initiatives in the 2017/18 financial year.
In the medium-term, the Ministry’s priorities include:
- Increasing cereal crop production and enhancing food and nutrition security – At present, some 70 percent of grain crops consumed in Lesotho are imported. To reduce dependency on imports, the Ministry aims to ensure that agricultural inputs are available on time, thereby enabling farmers to increase production to at least meet local demand for staple food products. Relevant technical advice is provided to farmers so as to increase agricultural production and productivity as well as improve nutrition.
- Increasing production of high value crops, livestock and cottage industry products – To enhance output in these areas, the focus is on programmes that will support improving the quality of wool and mohair, processing of food crops (food preservation) and livestock products, and that encourage the commercialisation process, as detailed in the National Strategic Development Plan.
- Prevention and control of animal and crop diseases, parasites and pests – Livestock diseases and parasites, as well as crop pests such as army worm and diseases like fungi, have an adverse effect on agricultural production. Current strategies to prevent and control these diseases, pests and parasites include continuous surveillance for Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) and awareness campaigns concerning possible pests and mechanisms for controlling them. These control measures will safeguard public health by tracking animal disease transmission to humans, and protecting consumers from food-related health issues.
- Improving farming institutions, extension services, agricultural technologies, innovation and training – In addition to increasing farming incomes in the face of prevailing climatic condition, development of the value chain for high value products will be essential for sustaining commercialisation. This focuses on strengthening extension services for farmers at all levels as well as improving training modules and developing and promoting agricultural technologies.
Support from the Food and Agriculture Organisation
Lesotho joined the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in 1966, and has enjoyed close cooperation with the organisation since the establishment of the country office in 1983. The main thrust of assistance has been on the formulation and implementation of policies, programmes and projects aimed at improving agricultural output, natural resources management, and food and nutrition security. More recently, important features of cooperation have included responses to agricultural emergencies, climate change adaptation and promotion of sustainable land management principles and practices. Enhanced agricultural service delivery is another area of focus, particularly with a view to improving farming communities’ access to agricultural advisory services.
The FAO’s current technical cooperation programmes in Lesotho include:
- Technical support for the establishment of the Lesotho Soil Information System (2017-2019)
- Strengthening animal disease surveillance in Lesotho (2017-2018)
- Agrifood value chain profiling in support of the Zero Hunger initiative (2017-2018)
- Country Programming Framework and the agricultural chapter of the National Strategic Development Plan (2016-2018)
Smallholder Agricultural Development Programme
Running from 2012 until 2018, the Smallholder Agricultural Development Programme (SADP) aims to support smallholder farmers in exploiting opportunities and increasing productivity, as well as diversifying into market-oriented agriculture. The programme’s initial focus was on four selected districts with high agricultural potential: Botha-Bothe, Leribe, Berea and Mafeteng.
Beneficiaries have been provided with grants and technical assistance to boost their productivity and market access, with projects in irrigated vegetable production, wool and mohair, dairy, piggery and poultry hatcheries, among others. The US $24.46 million project has to date benefited more than 55 000 farmers. The bulk of funding has come from the World Bank and International Fund for Agriculture Development (IFAD), with the Lesotho Government responsible for the balance.
Supporting the promotion of high value crops and livestock products, more than 420 production facilities have been given to 50 866 farmers under the SADP.
In September 2017, the World Bank approved an additional US $10 million in financing from the International Development Association (IDA). These funds will continue support to smallholders in the initial four districts as well as those in Mohale’s Hoek and Quthing. Grants are awarded to farmers to test and demonstrate new business initiatives and technological innovations, especially those that focus on climate-smart agriculture. Under the additional financing, farmer groups as well as government agencies will also be assisted in improving food quality and safety standards.
Livestock farming makes up around 62 percent of agricultural GDP. The subsector comprises primarily cattle, sheep, goats, pigs and poultry. Cattle are raised primarily for subsistence, draught power, milk, fuel (dung) and meat, while pigs are reared solely for food. Sheep are kept for meat production and also provide wool and skins, with goats a source of meat as well as mohair and hides. The livestock subsector – in particular wool and mohair – has been singled out as one of the country’s most important value chains.
Present challenges to the subsector include outbreaks of animal diseases and a lack of infrastructure to prevent and control the transmission of disease. The FAO is working to strengthen animal health services, and assists Government in improving disease surveillance systems. The development of a cadre of certified livestock breeders is proposed under the National Strategic Development Plan, along with livestock improvement centres and other facilities to enhance the breed quality and production capacity of wool and mohair, poultry, piggery and other livestock subsectors.
Cattle and pigs
The latest statistics indicate that the country has
540 133 head of cattle, with numbers having dropped progressively in the last few years from a total of some 675 000 head in 2010/11. With around 13 500 metric tonnes produced per year, beef is the largest source of animal protein in Lesotho, and the country is self-sufficient in production. This is followed by production of pork at 3 698 tonnes.
While around four-fifths of meat sold at butcheries is supplied through informal slaughter, according to legislation, informally slaughtered meat is only for home or subsistence consumption. Apart from a few isolated instances, neither export nor import of beef takes place.
The pig production sector is still in its infancy. It is dominated by large-scale farmers (41 percent), while small and medium-scale farmers account for 35 percent and 24 percent respectively. Almost all of the pork supplied to retail and wholesale outlets in Lesotho comes from South Africa through formal marketing channels. There is currently limited capacity in the production value chain and absence of accredited slaughtering facilities.
Wool and mohair
Sheep and goats are mainly utilised in the production of wool and mohair – products which are major income earners for Lesotho. Although wool and mohair are also used by local producers of tapestries and knitwear, a large proportion is sent to South Africa for processing and packaging before being sold in international markets such as Asia and Europe. The wool and mohair industry has been growing steadily, and generated revenue of M330 million in the 2015/16 financial year, up from M250 million in 2014/15.
There are an estimated 37 500 farmers who rear a combined total of some four million sheep and goats and employ about 75 000 herd boys. The main pasturelands are located in the foothills and mountains of the Lesotho highlands, which provide favourable ecological conditions for extensive small stock production. The indigenous Merino sheep is hardy and well adapted to the environment, as are Angora goats. Wool and mohair are produced in the Quthing, Qacha’s Nek, Mokhotlong and Thaba-Tseka districts.
Initiatives to support the industry include assistance through the SADP. This has taken the form of marketing support, training and mentorship, genetic improvement of communal flocks through the introduction of quality rams, the construction of shearing sheds, and construction of a scouring plant in the Botha-Bothe district near Mokhotlong, where the highest population of wool producing sheep are to be found.
Construction is set to begin in 2018 on a wool and mohair centre, following the purchase of a site in Thaba-Bosiu by the Lesotho National Wool and Mohair Growers’ Association. Wool and mohair from around the country will be stored here and prepared before being exported for sale. Farmers currently use the Livestock Products Marketing Services’ storage facilities before the wool and mohair is taken to Port Elizabeth, South Africa, for export. Having facilities to prepare and process the coats before export will prove more cost effective for Basotho farmers as well as creating employment. The centre would also support the establishment of a wool scouring facility, allowing further processing and possibly weaving as well.
The Basotho Poultry Farmers’ Association (BAPOFA) acts as the legal regulatory body for the poultry sector, which comprises both commercial activities and village industries. The association attempts to encourage a supportive business environment through advocacy, training and provision of technical assistance in the development and implementation of enabling policies and laws. It also ensures that local produce is given priority over imported poultry products, and assists in regulating the price structure. The average annual growth rate of per capita poultry meat consumption is 1.3 percent. Most of this increase in demand is met by imports.
The poultry value chain comprises three principal marketing channels: formal live bird markets (higher-income consumers); informal city markets (lower-income consumers); informal rural markets (rural consumers). Only some 20 percent of chicken is marketed through the formal sector. The main challenge in the industry is the high cost of inputs, many of which need to be sourced from outside the country.
The lack of domestic hatchery services are a major concern, and inadequate hatchery machines limit the growth of the industry. Most local poultry farmers have to import fertilised eggs and chicks from South Africa, which adds to the cost of the end product.
It was announced in May 2017 that the National University of Lesotho (NUL) had developed an artificial egg incubator which would benefit the country’s poultry industry. The incubator has a capacity of 618 eggs, temperature and humidity control functions as well as an egg-turning device, and a hatching rate of over 80 percent compared with conventional egg incubators which have a hatching rate of between 50 and 60 percent. Once the market study has been completed, the University plans to attract investors to finance commercial production.
Local organic chicken brand Ndu Chicken currently runs two farms, one at Ha Mabote and the other at Koalabata, and has a mini-abattoir with the capacity to process 3 000 birds per day.
Dairy farming is a viable business proposition for both rural and peri-urban areas of Lesotho. Although most milk produced by farmers is used for home consumption, there is also commercial production of raw milk for delivery to Lesotho Dairy Products (LDP). At present, the vast majority of locally consumed dairy products are imported from South Africa. Dairy has been declared a priority sector as regards food security, and Government is working to create a national platform to stimulate dairy development. The refurbishment of the LDP plant will enable all processing and packaging of milk to be done in Lesotho, thus avoiding the lengthy process of exporting milk to South Africa for processing.
NUL has developed a yoghurt factory on its Roma campus under the name of Sebabatso Yoghurt, producing mixed berry, strawberry and fruit cocktail flavours. The facility, which requires a daily input of 200 litres of milk to process 250 litres of yoghurt, is set to benefit smallholder dairy farmers in the vicinity and further afield by enabling them to become part of the value chain. As of March 2017 the yoghurt project was being tested in the market and sold at outlets around the campus as well as in Maseru. Metropolitan Lesotho has injected M700 000 into the project.
A M5.5 million commercial dairy project funded by Letšeng Diamonds was nearing completion in 2017. Based in Mokhotlong, the project is an initiative by the Liphamola Dairy Farmers Association (LDFA) which aims to supply pasteurised and packaged fresh milk, initially to the Mokhotlong community but with plans to expand into other districts. The LDFA also received funding from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and Global Environment Fund (GEF) to purchase land to set up the farm.
Aquaculture plays an important role in the development of the fisheries industry, where potential has increased thanks to the dam reservoirs built as part of the ongoing Lesotho Highlands Water Project. Lesotho has two distinct fish farming zones; namely:
- The Lowlands, where temperatures are relatively high.
- The Highlands, characterised by cold climatic conditions, which are suitable for the production of high-quality trout requiring clean, cold, well-oxygenated and fast-moving water at high altitude.
Commercial floating cage aquaculture for large rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus Mykiss), marketed as salmon trout, is undertaken at Katse Dam, a site known for its deep, pristine waters which create a highly favourable environment for growing premium trout. Steps have been taken to involve the surrounding communities so that they also benefit from aquaculture through jobs, training and skills development.
Lesotho’s trout has become a favourite both locally and overseas (the Japanese market in particular), with approximately 800 tonnes harvested in 2016. It is expected that more than 3 000 tonnes per annum will be sold internationally by 2018. There are good prospects for expansion and additional enterprises of this nature in the Metolong Dam.
One Thousand & One Voices®, a US private capital fund, has invested in the successful SanLei trout production and processing facility located on the shores of the Katse Dam. SanLei, which translated from Japanese means ‘where the mountains meet the sky’, produces sushi quality trout, primarily for consumption in Japan and South Africa, and is the largest facility of its kind in Africa. SanLei has secured a strategic marketing and distribution agreement with CGC Japan Co Ltd, which has more than 4 000 stores and collective revenues in excess of US $40.5 billion, making it Japan’s largest joint procurement supermarket chain.
According to the Lesotho National Development Corporation (LNDC), there are also opportunities for the farming of tilapia fish. Other potential investment areas comprise processing and packaging operations, including filleting, trimming and smoking; the extraction of Omega oils; facilities for genetic material production (ova/eggs and fingerlings); and fish food production.
About 11 percent of Lesotho’s total land area is estimated to be arable, and only a small percentage of this is presently used for irrigated crop production. Annual precipitation is highly variable, both temporally and spatially, ranging from 500 millimetre per year to 1200 millimetres per year, most of which is received during the summer months between October and March.
The main crops are maize, sorghum and wheat, which occupy, respectively, about 60 percent, 20 percent and 10 percent of agricultural land. Beans and peas are also grown. Summer season crops are those planted between 1 August and 31 January of the following year, and cover maize, sorghum, wheat, beans and peas, with wheat mostly grown in the mountain areas. Winter season crops are planted between 1 February and 31 July, and comprise both wheat and peas.
In July 2017, the FAO forecast bumper cereal crop production for the year: a well above-average level of 238 000 tonnes. This marks a significant improvement over the drought-reduced level of 2016. A steep rise in maize production – forecast at 200 000 tonnes – accounts for the bulk of the increase. There was also a sharp increase, in relative terms, for sorghum production, with production set to reach about 28 000 tonnes in 2017. Prospects for the winter wheat crop, to be harvested in the last quarter of 2017, are also favourable, with production anticipated to be around 10 000 tonnes.
Favourable weather conditions following the onset of La Niña conditions were the main driver behind this year’s improved output, which encouraged a large expansion in area planted. Input support programmes by the Government and FAO also helped augment farmers’ productive capacity, enabling them to capture the benefits of the favourable seasonal rains.
As such, imports of maize in the 2017/18 marketing year are forecast at approximately 55 000 tonnes against 135 000 tonnes in the previous marketing year. The bulk of Lesotho’s maize imports come from South Africa.
Food security status
The FAO expects the food security situation to improve in 2017/18 thanks to the larger agricultural output and lower food prices. The Lesotho Vulnerability Assessment Committee’s (LVACs) integrated rural and urban assessment undertaken in June 2017 projects a total of 306 942 people food insecure from September 2017 to March 2018, putting Lesotho at Phase 1 (minimal) of food insecurity. In the previous year the number of food insecure citizens was estimated at about 709 000.
The Second Private Sector Competitiveness and Economic Diversification Project (PSCEDP II) aims to contribute to the development of select, non-textile sectors in Lesotho. Sponsored by the World Bank, the project has had as one of its main aims the objective of spurring growth in the horticulture sector, particularly the deciduous fruit market. Three pilot projects were implemented on farms in Thuathe, Qoqolosing and Mahobong between 2007 and 2013.
These pilot studies evaluated the feasibility of growing fruit and identified promising varieties and afro-climate locations, based on factors such as altitude, soils and access to water. Maps were drawn up to indicate areas where, for instance, the climate was favourable but additional infrastructure, such as electricity, was required. The research also indicated the massive potential for Lesotho to engage in the commercial growing of horticultural produce which could be harvested substantially earlier than the corresponding produce in South Africa, allowing for market infiltration two to three weeks before her neighbour. This knowledge has proven hugely beneficial to Government and business for planning purposes.
The project has subsequently been scaled-up to several farms over an area of 35 hectares and has achieved Global GAP (Good Agricultural Practices) certification as well as attracting interest from commercial investors and international distributors. The commercial production of apples, plums, peaches and apricots has been established for the local and South African markets, with fruit supplied to retailers such as Shoprite, Pick ‘n Pay, Game Fruit and Veg, and Spar.
The Lesotho National Development Corporation (LNDC) is currently promoting the development of the agricultural sector through three specific projects:
- Establishment of high-tech greenhouses for production of fruits and vegetables which will be processed at the Basotho Cannery.
- Establishment of a poultry slaughterhouse to process, package and market poultry products.
- Establishment of a commercial pig abattoir to process, package and market pork products.
LNDC is looking at developing and managing the greenhouse facility and distribution centre through a public-private partnership (PPP), and seeks a strategic partner with technical and managerial expertise in greenhouse production, marketing and distribution at local and/or international levels. Government is willing to contribute financially to the project through the LNDC.
It is envisaged that the poultry slaughterhouse project will involve a PPP between LNDC and strategic partners. This will entail the enhancement of broiler supply to the slaughterhouse, establishing the slaughterhouse, and ensuring that quality products are marketed and distributed appropriately and timeously.
The commercial pig abattoir project requires a strategic investor who will be involved in the development, construction and administration of the facility. Government will contribute financially, whilst LNDC will assume a coordinating role, gathering local producers into a national association to ensure quality control and appropriate training, improved feed/supplements, and sufficient animal supply to the abattoir.