Zambia braces for a poor harvest

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Delayed rainfall in most parts of Zambia, coupled with low maize stocks in the National Food Reserve Agency silos, poses severe food insecurity for the 16 million people in the Southern African state, over 90% of whom depend on maize as a staple food.

Last year, Zambia harvested a dismal 2.4 million tonnes of the grain compared to 3.6 million tonnes the year before, chiefly on account of various climatic effects, including fall armyworm and delayed rainfall. This has resulted in reduced stocks from the country’s traditional average of three million tonnes in recent years, which has made Zambia the regional breadbasket.

The forecast by the Southern African Regional Climate Outlook Forum (Sarcof) paints a gloomy picture.  

Most of the 16 Southern African Development Community member states are likely to receive normal to below normal rainfall for the period October 2018 to March 2019, except for Tanzania in a forecast divided into two parts, covering October-November-December 2018 and January February-March 2019, it forecasts.

Areas projected to receive normal to below normal rainfall between October and December this year include eastern Angola, the extreme northern and southern parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo, western and southern Madagascar, southern Malawi, most parts of Botswana and South Africa.

Only Tanzania is expected to receive normal to above normal rainfall over the same period with the north of the country expected to get above normal to normal rainfall, including flooding in some parts.

Sarcof notes that the rainfall forecast does not change much during the second half of the season from January to March next year when most parts of the region are expected to receive normal to below normal rainfall.

However, earlier projections by weather experts in Zambia show that that country might experience low yields in the 2018/19 farming season because of the anticipated El Nino phenomenon, which could adversely impact most African economies.

The effects of climate change, especially drought and flooding, have continued to negatively affect nutrition and food security in the region. The number of food and nutrition-insecure people has increased to 29.4 million in the 2018/19 consumption year from last season’s 27 million after a drop from 38 million in 2016/17.
In Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe, the number of people who are food insecure has increased above 35 million and numbers are likely to rise as the El Nino takes its toll.

Fears of potential food shortages have been heightened because Zambia has failed to collect and store in the reserves at least 500,000 tonnes of maize annually and instead collected a paltry 174,000 tonnes to be shared between domestic and industrial consumption, as well as with exports to neighbours in need of food relief.

According to Michael Katambo, Zambia’s agricultural minister,  the National Food Reserve Agency has to date mopped up 174,000 tonnes of the maize from small-scale farmers across the country at an average price of ZMW65 (US$5) per 25 kilogramme bag of maize.

Most small-scale farmers feel the offer is too little and not rewarding and are opting to cash in through ‘smuggling’ of the maize across borders at an average price of ZMW150 (US$13) for the same quantity.

The situation has been amplified by other local buyers, including Zambeef, which is offering the same quantity at ZMW92 (US$8) per 25kg bag of maize. This, Katambo said, has fuelled concerns that the country could experience hunger with little grain stocked in strategic reserves.

Zambia has since issued a blanket ban on all exports until the food situation normalises.

FRA executive director, Chola Kafwabulula, assured The Southern Times that Zambia is food secure despite the low mop up of maize across the country adding that the food could cover 12 months despite the lukewarm response from farmers to retire their maize to the agency because of the low offer.

According to Kafwabulula, the 174,000 tonnes of maize secured, worth US$22,000, would help the country meet its domestic and industrial needs.

Earlier, Vice President Inonge Wina warned against El Nino and other climatic effects that are a threat to Zambia’s agricultural sector growth and food security in the southern African region and called on member states to share experiences on how to fight impending hunger.

Addressing a two-day African Regional Forum on Climate Risks and Food Security Resilience meeting jointly organised by Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) and the World Bank in Lusaka, Zambia, Wina challenged the region to adopt resilient measures to counter El Nino.

“Agricultural development and food security in our region are at greater risk today than ever before due to several factors, including natural and human-induced disasters; low public and private investments in relevant sectors; lack of effective evidence-based planning; weak institutional capacities, etc. Furthermore, our countries are experiencing the impact of climate change and its related risks.”

To achieve the aspirations of the 2014 African union Malabo Declaration, SADC member countries need to share experiences and use scientific knowledge and evidence to inform each other how affected countries can manage climate and agricultural risks and ensure food security resilience, she added.

COMESA Secretary General, Chileshe Kapwepwe, called for increased awareness of all players on the risks of climate change.

At the same meeting, World Bank Director Agriculture Global Practice, Simeon Ehui, pledged the Breton Woods institution’s commitment to finding durable and lasting solutions in addressing climate change risks and food security resilience.