Zambia is one of the world’s poorest countries and ranked 165th out of 177 on the Human Development Index. Poverty and food insecurity are widespread in both rural and urban areas, and the country remains extremely vulnerable to recurring natural disasters, including floods, drought and animal disease.
Food production levels vary widely from year to year. Food security is fragile because subsistence farmers depend on rainfall and traditional hoe cultivation, and even in years of national food surplus, many subsistence farmers or households often struggle.
The lack of proper infrastructure, inadequate provision of inputs, poor access to markets, and the slow pace of change in attitudes towards crop and livelihood diversification also continue to undermine farming capacity.
Zambia enjoyed a good harvest in 2009, including a maize surplus. While the harvest will help to improve overall food security, tens of thousands of people will still require food assistance due to the localised impact of floods and because many of the poorest and most vulnerable people will not be able to access sufficient food, even though staple food prices have fallen from their very high 2008 levels.
A Zambia Vulnerability Assessment Committee survey found that around 100,000 people in 7 flood-affected districts would require assistance. While the global economic crisis is likely to lead to greater unemployment, particularly in the vital mining industry, which could leave even more people vulnerable to food insecurity.
The HIV/AIDS pandemic has exacerbated food insecurity levels and contributed to a decline in socioeconomic activity. HIV/AIDS is also both a cause and a consequence of household food insecurity in Zambia. Around 17% of adults aged 15-49 years are HIV positive and life expectancy is only 37 years. HIV/AIDS undermines the capacity of people in most rural areas to produce enough food for their families. Malnutrition is present to varying degrees in most communities nationwide.
Standard national statistics for malnutrition levels amongst under-fives are 5 percent wasting, 28 percent underweight and 47 percent stunting.As at August 2009, Fewsnet reports that food security is generally good and maize, the staple food, continues to be readily available on the market as well at the household level due to the large surplus from the main harvest. Urban households are accessing maize on the market, with poorer households buying maize and taking it to hammer mills, which have reduced the demand for roller meal (a cheaper brand). Most rural households continue to be dependent on their own harvest and/or barter system at this time of year, and are therefore less dependent on the market. Large quantities of maize stock are available in different parts of the country, where producers are scouting for a market as the Food Reserve Agency (FRA) that handles the government‐funded maize purchase program is only able to purchase limited quantities of maize from different districts due to financial constraints. In addition, there is more maize flowing into the country informally from Tanzania and Mozambique at this time of the year, driven by the price differential at the borders. Such informal trade is usually a result of restricted trade in one form or another. When the ban was in place during the previous marketing season, informal trade still continued, albeit at a lower level.
Markets and trade
Following the above‐average 2008/09 harvest, maize prices dropped from the abnormally high levels of the 2008/09 marketing season. However, they have generally remained high for this time of year, and in some cases have increased. If these retail prices are indicative of the farm gate price trend, it implies that generally, producers are facing better prices this marketing season compared to this time last year. This also means that consumers are paying more for staple foods which, in the coming months, when prices are expected to seasonally rise, may create access problems for poorer households dependent on markets.
Consequently, maize meal prices have remained relatively high in some areas, including almost all urban areas, especially the Copperbelt region near the DRC, despite the good supply. The meal price shows a general upward trend from May 2008 to December 2008, with a temporal drop in January and February 2009 attributed to the government maize meal subsidy program during part of the 2008/09 marketing/consumption season. The government market intervention last marketing season clearly led to a delayed maize meal price peak (prices peaked in April/May rather than the usual February/March period). Roller meal (a less processed, cheaper brand) prices have significantly dropped since May, but not to the levels of the previous season for this time of year, and have basically remained above average. In the case of the more refined meal (breakfast meal), retail price reductions since the harvest in May have remained insignificant. The retail prices have remained above the pre‐harvest levels and significantly above normal for this time of year. Urban consumers are therefore faced with above‐normal maize meal (breakfast brand) prices, which may create increased demand for the cheaper brand (roller meal) in the coming months.
Some field reports have indicated that in parts of the country (particularly Southern, Central, and Copperbelt provinces), millers are buying maize at very competitive prices, which are above the Food Reserve Agency (FRA) indicative price of K1300/Kg. As a result, maize meal prices are likely to remain relatively high, to the disadvantage of consumers, resulting in reduced access during the hunger period. At the same time, high prices directly paid to farmers will encourage increased production in the long run. This could partly explain the generally high prices of maize and meal at this time of year. It should be noted that during the last production season, farmers were faced with high input prices, especially for fertilizer, whose price nearly doubled (the government fertilizer support program targets no more than 20 percent of the small‐scale farmers). The move by the private sector to pay higher prices for maize in the current season, as it did during part of last season, should be commended. In fact, in areas where private‐sector maize purchase is concentrated and running well, the FRA are better off shifting their market effort elsewhere, where farmers are stuck with maize at their depots due to limited quantities the FRA is purchasing.
The general high maize price levels during the current marketing season, despite the surplus production, is in line with some other countries within the Southern African region and could be attributed to the high input costs farmers faced during the last production season. The relatively high prices should encourage future maize production. There are, however, some areas where farmers are selling at much‐reduced prices (ZMK900/Kg) out of desperation, as they face large stocks and limited markets, such as in parts of Eastern province. The opening up of markets in Malawi, where prices are rising, is creating a good opportunity for producers in that region.
In July, the government of Zambia removed the maize export ban which had been in place throughout the 2008/09 marketing season, to allow 100,000MT of maize to be exported. Formal maize exports to Zimbabwe have already started, and at least 3,660MT had been exported by the end of July, as captured by the FEWSNET/WFP cross‐border trade monitoring system.