Omicron: Concerns that fresh lockdowns will further plunge Lesotho into poverty

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Lesotho is ranked as one of the 30 poorest countries in the world, with a Gross National Income of US$2 740 per capita. (Getty Images)
Lesotho is ranked as one of the 30 poorest countries in the world, with a Gross National Income of US$2 740 per capita. (Getty Images)
  • There are fears that Omicron-induced lockdowns will worsen unemployment and food security in Lesotho.
  • Food prices are now higher than it was this time last year because of food inflation in South Africa.
  • The high cost of agricultural inputs could lead to higher food prices next year.

There are fears in Lesotho that the recently discovered Omicron variant of Covid-19 in South Africa could worsen the mountain kingdom's high level of unemployment, which has a direct impact on food security.

The latest report by Famine Early Warning Systems (FEWS Net) says: "Another wave of Covid-19 associated with the new variant could lead to new restrictions, potentially driving extended and higher levels of unemployment."

Lesotho is ranked as one of the 30 poorest countries in the world, with a Gross National Income (GNI) of US$2 740 per capita. The World Bank says this low income is partly due to the kingdom's unemployment rate of 24.7%.

READ | Omicron: New Covid-19 variant sparks fresh 'vaccine apartheid' outrage

It is believed that, if new lockdown measures are effected, people in Lesotho could struggle to afford basic commodities and services, such as food and health.

Lesotho is somewhat an extension of South Africa in terms of its economic activities. High food prices in South Africa affect people in Lesotho, who have less income.

A cause for concern now is an increase in agricultural inputs, with the cropping season underway, and the fear is that this will force an upward review of food prices.

"The price of maize flour, wheat flour and beans remained generally stable in October, but at higher levels compared to earlier in 2021. This is primarily due to price transmission from South Africa, where food prices are high.

READ | Omicron variant: Rwanda first sub-Saharan country to ban flights to SA

"Prices of maize flour are nearly 10% higher on a year-on-year basis. Rising prices of fertilisers and other agricultural inputs are expected to exert upward pressure on production costs, which could drive grain price increases in the coming months," FEWS Net reported.

The 2021 Global Hunger Index places Lesotho 99th out of 116 countries because of numerous climatic shocks, such as the El Nino, declining economic growth, and Covid-19 lockdown restrictions.

The Integrated Food Security Phase Classification says, from October 2020 to March this year, around 40% of the population (582 000) were food insecure in the country's 10 districts. Hence, fears that another lockdown could lead to a more critical situation.

African countries are racing to reach herd immunity in their Covid-19 vaccination drives, so that economic activities return to the pre-Covid-19 normal. On that aspect, Lesotho has fully vaccinated 26.7 % of its population.   

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