Cash injection saves families

Cash injection saves families

MOHALE’S HOEK-HIT by the deadly combination of successive droughts and the economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, ‘Malebusa Mofihli was giving up on being able to provide a square meal for her family in the near future.

Her fields barren and jobs hard to come by, Mofihli was distraught and sometimes even wondered whether she was cursed.
“I desperately needed help but none was coming my way,” she says.
Then, “a miracle” happened.

She was among those selected to benefit from support being provided to vulnerable people by the World Food Programme (WFP).
“I never thought that someday I would be among those who would receive food from donors,” says Mofihli, who was part of 150 people who received food and monetary aid from the WFP in Mohale’s Hoek last week.

Mofihli and other beneficiaries received a combination of cash through M-Pesa and a commodity voucher which she can use to get food items from local retailers.
Although the aid is meant for her family, Mofihli says she will make sure that some of her neighbours who are not part of the beneficiaries also “get a piece of the cake”.

After receiving her share, Mofihli sought out some of her neighbours and friends to make sure they don’t go to bed hungry.
So deep is the culture of togetherness in Mohale’s Hoek that even the poorest of the poor are sharing the little that they have received from donors with starving neighbours and relatives.

“People in this village have been so hard hit that we thought some would die from hunger,” Tšoeu Moteane, the local chief, says.
Villagers were unable to plant due to the drought and lack of money to buy agricultural inputs such as seed and fertilizer.

Those who did plant watched helplessly as the drought savaged their lands.
Hunger is one thing that villagers here have in common and that has brought people closer than before, says the Chief.

“Even though this food distribution did not benefit everyone, on our way home we will be meeting our neighbours asking for some of this,” he says.
He commended people in the village for sharing with those that didn’t make it to the beneficiary list.

“We can’t let them die when we can help. Sometimes, as men we ask our wives to share the little we have with families who have nothing,” he says.
He added: “At times our wives when seeing us with such people assume it is about bonyatsi and it leads to serious fights. If only I was paid as chief I would be in a good position to help them out but now I rely on part time jobs.”

“I wish donors would give more to those selected so that they will share with a larger number,” he says.
According to a 2019 report by the Lesotho Vulnerable Assessment Committee (LVAC), the majority of households in the country are struggling with a serious deficit of food and other basic items.

Most would not make it to the next harvest without help, according to LVAC, which is made up of the government, NGOs and UN agencies.
The WFP, in partnership with the European Union, is handing over M755 each per month to selected households in Lesotho.

Of this amount, M425 is for food (commodity voucher) and M330 comes in the form of cash that can be used for other non-food household requirements.
Beneficiaries in areas where connectivity and network for M-PESA agents and merchants is poor receive all of the M756 as a commodity voucher.

It is not just the poorest of the poor who are grateful for the WFP support.
Local businesspeople whose enterprises were facing collapse due to the biting economic conditions have also received a boost.
Many of them have been roped in to be partners in the project, cashing the vouchers for food and other items.

Sebisibe Korotsoane of Thaba-Tšoeu is one such businessperson. He has been in the retail business for the past 35 years but the past years have been “hell” and he was considering closing all his shops.
He blamed his woes on the influx of Chinese businesses who have put many local businesspeople out of business.

“Competition is growing every day and our government fails to monitor or support us so that we can also compete with the Chinese,” he says, who was forced to close one of his shops.
He says while still contemplating how to keep the remaining shop afloat, Covid-19 struck.

“I was on the verge of closing down (the remaining shop) when the World Food Programme and European Union came to my rescue,” he says.
“I was preparing to surrender this space to a foreigner,” says a relieved Korotsoane.

Another retailer, Rapelang Mabea of Maphutšeng, describes the partnership with the WFP and the EU as “heaven-sent”.
He said for years he has been trying to grow his business “but it was never easy and I closed down and even went as far as leasing the place to other people.”

“In 2010 I resumed my trading. Although business was still not that promising I never gave up this time,” he says.
Then he got a six-months contract with the WFP and his fortunes changed for the better.

“I am satisfied with the growth of my business and I will maintain it from here,” Mabea says.
Acting District Administrator of Mohale’s Hoek, Litšoeneng Thibeli, spoke highly of the WFP collaboration with the EU to assist the vulnerable people.
“This is a special occasion worth witnessing,” he says, describing the project as “a good initiative”.

He says the area has been ravaged by drought since 2015 and a study showed that over 40 000 people there are food insecure.
“The harvest has not been good and our people are suffering from hunger at district level,” he says.

Mpharane MP, Nkoane Lebakae, called on the government to introduce self-help projects to ensure people in the area do not continue relying on hand-outs from donors.
“Residents here don’t want to depend on donations as they are hands on people who plant. Mpharane has very rich soils,” he says, adding: “In future we don’t want food donations but seed.”

The July 2019 LVAC report revealed that 349 000 people were facing acute food insecurity between May and September 2019.
WFP Country Director Mary Njoroge said the UN food agency came to the help of the community following a request from the government.
“Our aim is to achieve Goal 2 of sustainable development – zero hunger,” she says.

She says since 2001, Lesotho has been affected by different shocks but drought was the most frequent one.
She says this is the third consecutive year in which Lesotho has experienced poor harvests, adding that “most importantly” people have to recognise that climate change is here to stay.

“If it is here affecting our livelihoods, we have to come with ways to adjust, adapt and adopt other ways of doing things so that we don’t get affected,” she says.
Njoroge says food is a basic human right.
“If one doesn’t eat, development will be affected.”
Hunger, she says, strips people of their dignity.
“Therefore, we need to look into how to address the root cause of hunger,” Njoroge says.

“We really want strong communities that are able to withstand shocks so as to reach the next level,” she adds.
She says in October last year former Prime Minister Thomas Thabane declared a national emergency due to severe drought.
In response, the WFP launched an emergency response from October until June 2020.

“Our response was aligned with the government’s response plan, with the WFP supporting the agriculture and food security sector,” she says.
She says beneficiaries were identified through the National Information System for Social Assistance (NISSA) in the Social Development Ministry.
“As much as it is from a drought perspective, we also know that the poorest people in the community are the ones also affected by the shocks. If we have more resources we would cater for more people,” Njoroge says.
She urged other donors to assist the country in these critical times.
EU Ambassador to Lesotho, Christian Manahl, said they are aware of the difficulties facing many people in Lesotho.
“We are happy that through our contribution, we are able to help the government,” he says.

He says their priority is to help people to get over the crisis.
“We can see that this place is a rich agricultural area but rains have failed so our first priority is to help them get over this.”
However, “the objective should not be to create situations where humanitarian assessments and assistance have to be repeated over and over again. We have to help these people to find ways of coping with this new situation.”

He says that they are already in the final stages of approving social grants as part of the broader support to help Basotho survive the crisis.
“This is to specifically help people cope with the effects of the Covid-19 threat, economic and social impact,” he says.
Political stability is vital for Lesotho to achieve its development goals.
“We hope this new government has stability to do what it intends to do and achieve what can be achieved,” he says.

’Mapule Motsopa

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