Cookies on the Irish Aid website

We use cookies to give the best experience on our site while also complying with Data Protection requirements. Continue without changing your settings, and you'll receive cookies, or change your cookie settings at any time.


The mountain Kingdom of Lesotho is a small country, completely surrounded by its much larger neighbour South Africa. The country is roughly half the size of Ireland with a population of 2.1 million, many of whom are living in remote mountainous areas. This makes delivering basic health and education services especially challenging. We work with the government and with a range of non-governmental organisations to ensure that boys and girls get a good education; that people living with HIV and AIDS have access to treatment, are better nourished and live healthier lives; and that rural households can grow enough food to meet their needs.

  • Overview
  • Background
  • Our Work
  • Results


Lesotho at a glance



Est. 2.07 million

Proportion of population living on less than $1.25 a day:


Ranking on UN Human Development Index:

162 out of 187

Partner Country since:



A large map of Lesotho

Ireland and Lesotho.

Lesotho has been a partner country for almost forty years. Since the opening of our consulate in Lesotho in 1975 (which became an embassy in 2006) and the setting up of the official aid programme, Irish Aid has worked with a variety of partner organisations to deliver on our development objectives. These include government institutions, UN agencies, international research institutions and aid agencies.

The objectives of our co-operation focus on improving health and education services in the most remote parts of the country as well as assisting increased food production and reducing malnutrition.  At present, the third of three one-year programmes is in the process of being implemented.  Ireland’s embassy at Maseru closed in the autumn  of 2014.The programme is now administered from Pretoria.

Our objectives are closely aligned with the government of Lesotho’s own development priorities, set out in its National Strategic Development Plan 2013-2017.  

Our programme complements the earlier work of Irish missionaries and the ongoing work of volunteer organisations in Lesotho.  We also support the work of local and international aid agencies and missionary organisations through our civil society funding schemes.  And in recent years, strong links have been established between a number of voluntary organisations and community groups in Ireland and Lesotho.  We are also working to improve trade relations between Ireland and Lesotho and we have supported a number of research and learning partnerships between higher education institutions in two countries through the Programme for Strategic Co-operation



Lesotho gained independence from Britain in 1966.  It is a constitutional monarchy, and executive authority is vested in the government, led by the prime minister.  After months of political instability and crisis following the suspension of parliament on 10 June 2014, elections were held on 28 February 2015, and were judged free and fair. The former opposition party, Democratic Congress, emerged as the largest party, with 47 seats. Its leader, Bethuel Pakalitha Mosisili, agreed a coalition on 4 March with six other parties

 The government’s strategy for combating and reducing poverty is set out in the National Strategic Development Plan, which has among its priorities a focus on agriculture and the rural economy, private sector development, global integration and trade as well as health, HIV and AIDS and social protection.

One of the biggest obstacles facing the country is making health and education services available to the population living in the more difficult-to-reach mountainous areas.


Lesothoian farmers with their crops Photo: Jeff Barbee


Lesotho’s economy continued to improve well in 2013/14 despite some lingering effects of drought. Growth is estimated to have reached 4.3% in 2014. Many of the 2.1 million inhabitants depend on small-scale agriculture for a living.  Because less than 10% of the land mass is suitable for farming, less than 30% of its total food requirement is produced in the country, resulting in a reliance on imported foodstuffs, and vulnerability to price fluctuations. In 2012/13, over 725,000 people, or 40% of the population, were vulnerable to hunger and malnutrition and in need of food aid.

Lesotho has significant water resources and great potential for developing renewable energy, which is a priority in the National Development Strategic Plan.

Revenues from the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) are an important source of government revenue, but are dependent on the vitality of the South African economy. The IMF and World Bank are working with the government to lower the dependency on SACU revenues to 15% of total income.

Lesotho is dependent on remittances from migrant workers who work mostly in the mining industry in South Africa. The country’s diamond mining industry is an increasing source of income, and a priority of the National Strategic Development Plan. 


Lesotho is ranked 162 out of 187 countries on the United Nations Human Development Index. With 57% of the population living below the poverty line, the country has the second highest level of income inequality in the world, with extreme levels of poverty in the rural areas.

Lesotho has made good progress on getting more children into school but there are still challenges around the poor quality of education. 

Lesotho has the third-highest HIV prevalence rate in the world (23.2% of 15-49-year olds are infected) and as a result, life expectancy dropped from 58.6 to 42.6 years between 1990 and 2007. Life expectancy rates have since improved to stand at 49.45 years in 2014. However the higher prevalence of HIV among women is of particular concern - for example, in the 35-39 age group, the prevalence rate is estimated at over 40%.  

In 2012, the World Bank released a report indicating that the prevalence of child malnutrition is at 13.5%. Stunting, which reflects failure to receive adequate nutrition over a long period, is very high, along with the under-five mortality rate at 117 per 1,000 live births.

Irish Aid works with a variety of partner organisations at national and local levels including government and non-governmental organisations to deliver results in four main areas:

Our Work

Irish Aid works with a variety of partner organisations at national and local levels including government and non-governmental organisations to deliver results in four main areas:

Teboho Koir at work in a textile factory in Lesotho

Ensuring people with HIV and AIDS lead healthier lives

The high number of people living with HIV and AIDS has put enormous pressure on existing health services, which were already understaffed and under-resourced. We are working closely with the Lesotho Ministry of Health and the Clinton Foundation to expand facilities and services in rural areas by:

  • Upgrading nine clinics in remote rural areas
  • Improving treatment and services including testing and the provision of anti-retroviral drugs for people living with HIV and AIDS
  • Placing 257 trained and experienced nurses in remote rural areas with appropriate retention packages
  • Ensuring that treatment for HIV and AIDS is effective through better nourishment for people on treatment. ‌

Better education for boys and girls

Our support is helping the Ministry of Education improve the quality of education services throughout the country but in particular in rural areas – building schools, improving the quality of teacher training and recruiting additional qualified teachers.

Starting children at school at an early age has proven benefits in terms of increasing their ability to learn. Preschool education is now a priority of the Ministry and we are assisting in the construction and upgrading of preschool buildings and training of pre-school assistants.

We are also increasing the capacity of teachers and schools to play a more active role in preventing the spread of HIV and AIDS, especially among young adolescents both in the classroom but also as part of extra-curricular activities. 

Strengthening accountability to citizens

We are working on improving accountability in the provision of public services. This includes support to build the capacity of important institutions such as the Office of the Ombudsman and Parliament, as well as the improvement of Public Finance Management. Through Irish Aid support to the Independent Electoral Committee, the 2012 general elections were held and declared free and fair by international observers.

Assisting rural households to increase productivity

4,500 households are benefitting from seed distribution, conservation agriculture, natural resource management, chicken rearing, the use of trees for fodder and nutrition training. Rural communities are also supported in access to finance and marketing initiatives through our support for a number of civil society organisations.

How we spent our budget

We are developing a new country strategy for Irish Aid engagement, starting in 2015. We spent just over €1.2 million in support of our development programmes in 2014 (see Summary of Partner Country Expenditure by Sector, Annex 10 , Irish Aid Annual Report 2014

Expenditure by Sector 2014 Lesotho



How we have helped

Irish Aid has played its part in the progress made by Lesotho:

  • 11 new schools have been constructed benefiting 14,400 children. 980 teachers were supported by Irish Ais under the comprehensive Teacher Incentive Scheme.
  • 91,808 adults and children are now on anti-retroviral theraphy, 685 of TB patients who are HIV positive are on treatment 230 more nurses have been recruited and placed in 46 remote rural health centres.
  • More than 6,000 households affected by food insecurity are benefiting from homestead gardens.
  • In 2014 a retention strategy for nurses deployed to isolated mountain posts was finalised by the Government