Lesotho: Land and people

Extracted from: Belinda Musanhu 2009 "Chapter 5: Lesotho" IN Denis Kadima and Susan Booysen (eds) Compendium of Elections in Southern Africa 1989-2009: 20 Years of Multiparty Democracy, EISA, Johannesburg,152-153.

The socio-economic and geographic features of Lesotho and its population help contextualise the political and electoral events that regularly engulf the country. Lesotho is a small land-locked mountainous country, completely surrounded by the Republic of South Africa. It has a total area of 30 350 km². Lesotho is one of only three countries in the world that are completely surrounded by one other country, and is the only country in the world that is in its entirety situated above 1 000 m in altitude. The country is divided into four geographical regions, namely the mountain region, the foothills region, the lowland region, and the Senqu Valley.

In total 60 per cent of the country's surface is taken up by mountains and only 11 per cent of the country is suitable for cultivation. Known as the Lowlands, this strip of arable land accommodates about 85 per cent of the total population. The rest of the population are distributed across the mountainous area where livestock herding - mainly sheep and goats - is the main economic activity. Population density in the lowlands is much higher than the national average of 69 persons per square kilometre.

Smallholder farmers whose farms are generally less than 1 ha in size dominate the agricultural production. Maize is by far the most popular crop, accounting for some 60 per cent of the cropped area, sorghum between 10 and 20 per cent, wheat about 10 per cent and beans a further 6 per cent.

Although Lesotho's main natural resource is water, drought chronically affects the country. This leads to significant decreases in the contribution of agriculture to the GDP and forces the country to appeal for assistance from the international community, thus illustrating the vulnerability of the agricultural sector. The potential impact of HIV/Aids on the agricultural sector is immense. Despite the lack of reliable data on the extent and nature of that impact, it is clear that the disease is having a negative and dramatic effect on food security, and vice versa.