There is a need to investigate flows of people between mountainous Lesotho and South African Free State border towns linked to the increasing frequency of food emergencies in Lesotho and potential climate change impacts.

Border towns have a different dynamic to non-border towns and face many issues linked to the flow of legal and illegal persons, work seekers, the scourge of human exploitation and trafficking, drug and wildlife smuggling issues, but are often also important economic hubs benefiting from substantial cross-border trade, medical migration, and sources of work opportunities for migrants. Friction between foreigners and migrants can also be an aspect that manifests itself at borders, border posts and border towns. Whatever the situation, research is needed to fully understand the social, economic and political dynamic.

Climate change planning in African countries, and probably everywhere else too, is mostly done on a national basis, with links downwards to provinces, municipalities, agricultural zones and sectors, but little is done about regional planning,i.e. cross-border and multinational planning. A good example is the interface between South Africa and Lesotho, which admittedly is politically tense – but then again, so are most border region situations

Lesotho is a land-locked country surrounded by South Africa. It is ranked as a ‘fragile state’ by the Fragile State Index, and the United Nations (UN) has rated Lesotho as a ‘Least Developed Country’ in terms of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) (LDC portal, 2011). It’s western, northern and eastern borders are surrounded by South African provinces, municipalities and their towns. Yet, from a perspective of the municipalities that surround Lesotho, it is as if Lesotho doesn’t exist.  Lesotho and its food emergencies are hardly ever mentioned in the press within South Africa, and local municipalities do not mention Lesotho in their integrated strategies and plans.

Already Lesotho is experiencing food emergencies that are occurring with increasing frequency and severity, and is assisted by the USA and maize shipments, but not necessarily aid from South Africa or other southern African countries. Clearly food security is an issue of increasing concern within Lesotho, yet this is not overtly mentioned as a threat in South Africa border municipalities and towns in planning documents.

There is already much movement of the Basotho people from Lesotho into the South African provinces that surround Lesotho, and the borders are considered totally  ‘porous’. There is a flow of people across the various border posts: work seekers, business people, and people seeking health care from Lesotho to South Africa, and back again. Even livestock ‘migrate’ across the Caledon River in a form of mild natural resource theft called ‘grazing theft’.

There are also many high foot paths on the KwaZulu side of Lesotho where people and livestock move single file down precarious mountain routes, and where people overnight in caves rich with ancient San rock paintings.

What is not fully understood is whether the impacts of poverty, food insecurity and food emergencies, possibly exacerbated by climate change, will increase the flow of Lesotho people into South Africa border regions and border towns, perhaps creating an expanding food security risk for the border region itself and South African border towns. A new study is being contemplated by AfroMont to perform a preliminary  scan to investigate the current dynamics of the Lesotho-Free State interface and the border towns and begin to identify further research questions that may contribute to preparedness within the Lesotho-South Africa border region and border towns. A variety of information sources are available to probe the situation, including published literature, existing South African municipal and provincial governmental planning documents, as well as discussions with specialists who work in Lesotho (Red Cross/Red Crescent, United Nations Agencies including the FAO and other NGOs) and representatives from the Lesotho government to develop an understanding of preparedness for a ‘mega-food emergency’ as a worst case scenario.

Dealing with the potential consequences of climate change will essentially will require a regional planning to prepare for such various, perhaps as yet unknown, eventualities, particularly those linked to regional food security. This new project aims to investigate both the conventional and worst case projections for the Lesotho-Free State region, and then undertake a conceptual modelling exercise on what these predictions could mean for the economic and social development in these towns (and consider the rural surrounds as well), as well as for the environment.

We would welcome research collaborators for this project.