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Food security conditions remain stable as the lean seasons ends

  • Food Security Outlook Update
  • Zambia
  • February 2012
Food security conditions remain stable as the lean seasons ends

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  • Key Messages
  • Updated food security outlook through June 2012
  • Key Messages
    • Acute food insecurity is minimal as the lean season comes to an end in February. Large in-country stocks and continued maize sales by the Food Reserve Agency (FRA) at fixed prices have kept maize and meal prices stable, benefiting poorer, market-dependent households. 

    • Maize prices are expected to remain stable up to April and thereafter fall steeply as the new harvest starts entering the market and seasonal foods become increasingly available, reducing market demand.

    • Isolated flash floods have been reported in Mambwe district and Kabwe Urban. District Disaster Management Teams under the coordination of the Regional Disaster Management Office are conducting assessments and assisting affected households.

    • The country will carry large stocks of maize (~ 1 million MT) into the next marketing season. Effective planning for storage of the new harvest is needed.     


    Updated food security outlook through June 2012

    Food security in Zambia remains stable following three consecutive surplus production seasons. Nine months into the 2011/2012 marketing and consumption season, the acute food security situation is generally favorable with only minimal food insecurity (IPC Phase 1).  Maize supplies are good and no staple food shortfalls have been reported in any part of the country. This late in the marketing season, most households (both urban and rural) are dependent on the market for staple food.

    Market prices and supplies

    During the first half of the marketing season (May to October), the Food Reserve Agency (FRA) purchased about 1.7 million MT of maize from small scale farmers, 30 percent above their target of 1.3 million MT. This record purchase suggests widespread participation by farmers across the country, likely driven by the significantly above market prices (~35-40% above market price) offered by the Agency. The price of US$260/MT also attracted maize from neighboring countries through informal trade. Between June and November, there was a significant increase in maize imports, especially from Tanzania and Mozambique (Figure 3). The imports dropped steeply in December following the end of the FRA annual maize purchase program. Since then, maize imports have fallen short of exports. Exports to Zambia’s major informal market, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) had until recently been generally stable (much longer than usual) an indication of good supply of maize within Zambia.  Informal maize exports are expected to start increasing by May when the main harvest becomes available.

    The large maize volumes purchased by the FRA, combined with an estimated 300,000 MT of carryover stocks from the previous marketing season resulted in government stock levels of about 2 million MT at the end of October, putting pressure on already limited grain storage capacity. In an effort to reduce maize losses, the Government directed the Agency to sell 1,067,000 MT before the 2011/2012 crop comes onto the market in May/June. As of the end of January, 444,600MT had been sold, of which half were formal exports to Southern and Eastern African countries and the rest local sales.  Local sales to local millers and communities from FRA depots were made at prices of ZMK 675/kg for the rural areas and ZMK 850/kg for the urban areas. The presence of the FRA on the market offering maize at fixed prices in an oversupplied market has crowded out the private sector and distorted the maize prices. In the months ahead, it is unlikely that they will manage to sell off the remaining balance of about 500,000 MT, as directed by Government, before the new maize harvests comes in given that a number of local millers have good stocks on hand, grain traders are purchasing only limited amounts as the market is oversupplied, the lean season is ending and green foods will become increasingly available reducing local maize and meal demand. 

    Because of the good market supply, maize prices generally remained stable through January in both urban and rural markets, with some major provincial markets such as Kitwe (Copperbelt Province), Chipata (Eastern Province) and Kasama (Northern Province) recording declines. Luangwa district of Lusaka Province, a predominately maize deficit area also recorded marginal decrease in maize prices of about 7 percent. The low and stable maize prices in both rural and urban markets have greatly benefited market dependant consumers, especially poorer households.

    Seasonal progress

    Although there was a slow start to the 2011/2012 rainy season in the southern half of the country, rains picked up in mid January and mid February with widespread heavy rainfall that mitigated extended dry spells. Since late December, the country has received normal to below normal rainfall and this has still been generally conducive to favorable crop development in most areas. Most crops affected by the December dry spell have since recovered, though yields may have been negatively impacted. Reports of stunted and water stressed crops have also been received, mostly from the traditionally low producing areas. The water requirement satisfaction index (WRSI) for Zambia indicates that rainfall totals and distribution have been favorable for maize crop production in most parts of the country though the index remains lower in the extreme southeastern parts of the country due to the erratic rainfall experienced in those areas in January and February (Figure 6a). The soil water index also supports this assessment (Figure 6b).  

    Due to the above market prices offered by the FRA during the current marketing season, most small scale farmers planted maize at the expense of other crops. On the other hand, commercial farmers have cut back on maize and gone into more rewarding crops such as soybeans due to the distortions in the maize market.  Currently, most crops are at the critical stages of late flowering and fruit formation (grain filling) when adequate moisture is essential. Field reports indicate that the crops are mostly in good to moderate condition in different parts of the country. The maize planted in early November has reached maturity and green maize is available on markets as of February, signaling the start of the end of the lean season.

    During the remainder of the production season, cropping conditions are expected to remain favorable in most parts of the country. However, because of the erratic pattern of rainfall thus far, especially in the southern half of the country, a significant reduction in output is expected compared to last year, though average production is still considered likely. The rainfall pattern in southern Zambia has been similar (but less intense) to that of last season when the start was erratic and a prolonged dry spell set in during the middle of the season in February. The areas most affected by this rainfall pattern are parts of Southern (parts of Kazungula/Livingstone, northern parts of Mazabuka and Choma, Gwembe valley) and Lusaka Province (parts of Chongwe and Kafue).

    Flooding

    Earlier in the cropping year the seasonal outlook indicated a likelihood of normal to above normal rainfall in the southern half of the country during the January to March period and this raised concerns regarding the possibility of extensive flooding in flood-prone areas. However, rainfall in most areas has been less than expected and thus far only two isolated flash floods have been reported, one in the urban area of Kabwe district (early February) and another in Mambwe district of eastern Zambia (late February). The Kabwe flooding was as a result of poor drainage in part of the district. Excess water due to heavy rainfall was quickly drained, no relocation of the affected households was immediately necessary, and a quick response by government (who provided maize meal, chlorine and lime) ensured stable food security conditions and prevented water borne disease outbreaks. The situation in Kabwe requires a longer term solution with involvement of the residents in unplanned settlements. The Disaster Management Regional Office with relevant partners (Council Engineers, The Army, Zambia National Service and the Road Development Agency are on the ground mapping out a permanent  solution to the drainage problem.

    In the case of Mambwe district, the flooding was a result of both heavy rains and water flows from nearby highlands (Mambwe being a valley area). An estimated 100 households living along the river in Chikowa area have had to be relocated upland after their homes and crops were submerged. This is almost an annual occurrence for these households. The Government, through the Disaster Management and Mitigation Unit’s regional office has provided 27 tents, though more tents are required and are likely to be provided by the Disaster Management Office in Lusaka, and some maize (one bag per household) to the affected households. The DMMU is encouraging the households in this area to permanently move to a more suitable area, but basic services, such as clean water sources need to be provided. Since their fields have been submerged, additional food assistance may be needed.

    Flash floods have also been reported in Chikwa area of Chama districts with unconfirmed reports of 600 households having been affected. The Government should be able to assist the populations affected by these isolated flood incidences without external assistance.  

    Most-likely scenario February – June

    With the continued good supply of maize on the market, the price of maize (and consequently maize meal) is expected to remain stable during February and March the period when prices typically peak. By May, maize prices will be on a downward trend as demand declines, especially in rural areas, due to increased availability of seasonal foods and the start of the main harvest.  With markets being oversupplied with maize as the country enters the 2012/2013 marketing season (May-April), there are major market concerns related to the quality of some of the stored maize, as well as implications of additional Government maize purchases. Assuming that most stored maize is in good quality, the country will enter the next marketing season with almost enough maize to meet the annual human consumption needs, estimated at 1.39 million MT, even before the new harvest comes in. If not well handled, the current maize market distortions could result in a collapse of maize prices during the coming marketing season.

    As the agricultural season progresses, the major area of concern will be the southwestern region which has experienced extended dry spells. Crops are likely to experience increased water stress and wilting if the current pattern of rainfall continues. Because of the poor rainfall performance, there will be less green foods available in these areas, most of which are traditionally deficit producing areas. This will imply that households in these areas will continue depending on markets which are well supplied with grain from neighboring areas and community sales by FRA. Most households are expected to be able to access the staple food at the prevailing low and falling prices. Poorer households will be working (weeding and harvesting) for better off households in exchange for food. In addition, the fishing ban offend in late February, allowing fishing households to earn income from fish sales to buy basic foods. The flood affected community of Mambwe district is likely to continue getting some food and non food assistance from Government and will likely stay in temporary camps for the duration of the rainy season. Government is likely to manage the situation without external assistance unless severe and extended flooding occurs in March. For the rest of the country, the food security situation is expected to remain favorable up to June when the new harvest will enter the market. The acute food insecurity situation will remain minimal (IPC phase 1) throughout the Feb-Jun period. 

    Figures Seasonal Calendar and Critical Events Timeline

    Figure 1

    Seasonal Calendar and Critical Events Timeline

    Source: FEWS NET

    Recorded volume of informal maize trade (MT)

    Figure 2

    Recorded volume of informal maize trade (MT)

    Source: FEWS NET

    Retail maize price trend for selected districts (ZMK/18Kg)

    Figure 3

    Retail maize price trend for selected districts (ZMK/18Kg)

    Source: Central Statistical Office

    Rainfall Difference from average Feb 1-10

    Figure 4

    Rainfall Difference from average Feb 1-10

    Source: USGS/FEWS NET

    Rainfall Difference from average Feb  11-20

    Figure 5

    Rainfall Difference from average Feb 11-20

    Source: USGS/FEWS NET

    Maize WRSI Feb 11-20

    Figure 6

    Maize WRSI Feb 11-20

    Source: USGS/FEWS NET

    Maize Soil Water Index SWI Feb11-20

    Figure 7

    Maize Soil Water Index SWI Feb11-20

    Source: USGS/FEWS NET

    This Food Security Outlook Update provides an analysis of current acute food insecurity conditions and any changes to FEWS NET's latest projection of acute food insecurity outcomes in the specified geography over the next six months. Learn more here.

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