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Zambia attains record maize production, but regional export market is limited

  • Food Security Outlook Update
  • Zambia
  • May 2014
Zambia attains record maize production, but regional export market is limited

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  • Key Messages
  • Current situation
  • Updated assumptions
  • Projected outlook through September 2014
  • Key Messages
    • Despite a late start-of-season in many areas and erratic rainfall in localized areas, Zambia produced a record 3.35 million MT of maize this season, with a surplus of 1.15 million MT.
    • Maize and meal prices are still high as harvesting is in progress and most maize has not yet reached the market. Given the large harvest and limited regional market, retail prices are expected to fall significantly, but remain slightly above the five-year average considering the high levels maintained in the 2013/14 season. Both urban and rural market-dependent households stand to benefit from reduced prices.
    • With increasing rural household food quantity and variety, acute food insecurity is expected to remain Minimal (IPC Phase 1) throughout the outlook period. Prices for many other food and non-food commodities will remain high as continued depreciation of the Zambian kwacha (ZMK) further reduces household access to imported commodities and increases marketing costs through high fuel prices. This will limit household access to some essential goods and services.

    Current situation

    Minimal (IPC Phase 1) acute food insecurity outcomes, which prevailed throughout the 2013/14 consumption season, have been maintained as the new marketing/consumption season commenced in May. Harvesting has started throughout the country, which is increasing household food stocks and variety in rural areas. This is improving the dietary diversity of these households and reducing their dependency on the market, and therefore expected to translate into reduced prices of staple foods on the market. Poorer households in the rural areas are consuming their little harvest and mostly working for the better-off (harvesting) at this time of the year increasing their accessibility to food.

    Despite the late start of season in eastern Zambia, erratic and excessive rainfall in some localized areas, the country is estimated to produce the highest ever maize output of 3.35 million MT based on the Ministry of Agriculture crop estimates. This bumper harvest (27 percent above five-year average) has been attributed to a slight (8 percent) increase in area planted, increased use of good seed, fertilizer, and good rains. The attractive 2013/14 marketing season prices resulted in increased maize planting by commercial farmers, contributing to the increased harvest. Most areas received adequate rains and have had a good harvest. However, a few districts such as Gwembe Valley, experienced extended dry spells in the second part of the season. The extent of adverse rainfall impact on the harvest will be established through the VAC assessment, which starts at the end of May. The total maize supply (production plus 597,000 MT carryover stock) will exceed the national total requirement by 1.15 million MT (estimated potential exports). As expected, cotton and soybean production is estimated to drop with reduced area planted triggered by unattractive prices (compared to past few years). On the other hand, production of rice, groundnuts, and tobacco has increased in line with increased plantings, with the potential to contribute to household income.

    Government announced its intention to purchase 500,000 MT of maize for strategic reserves through the Food Reserve Agency (FRA), with purchasing likely to occur from June through September, as in the previous season. The maize export ban was removed rather late (April), when other regional countries had already built stocks from new harvests, leaving Zambia with no immediate large regional market for its surplus. Informal maize flow into the DRC started increasing and the increased supply has pushed prices down marginally in May as expected. This situation has also been observed on the local market in Lusaka. With the maize starting to reach the market, maize prices at the Lusaka public market have started falling, but are higher (10-15 percent) than the same period last year. Small-scale traders in Lusaka are buying maize from Mumbwa (Central Province) and Southern Province farmers at 60-65 ZMK per 50Kg and selling at 65-70 ZMK per 50Kg; the FRA purchase price is yet to be announced.  

    Livestock conditions remain good, as adequate pasture and water are still available. Although the Swine Fever that broke out in Kasempa (Northwestern Province) in April has been brought under control, pig movement bans in the district and neighboring districts are still in place for effective control. Vaccinations against Contagious Pleuro Pneumonia (CBPP) are ongoing in the endemic area of Western Province, which should reduce new outbreaks. 

    Updated assumptions

    The current situation has not changed the assumptions used to develop FEWS NET’s most-likely scenario for the April-September 2014 outlook period. A full discussion of the scenario is available in the Zambia April Food Security Outlook

    Projected outlook through September 2014

    Following the good harvest, acute food insecurity outcomes are expected to remain Minimal (IPC Phase 1) during the June to September period. Poor households will greatly benefit from reduced staple food prices and good employment opportunities from the better-off households. Any calls for food assistance will likely be more attributed to chronic rather than acute food insecurity, in the absence of major shocks, but with perennially high poverty levels, especially in the rural areas (about 78 percent of the rural population). Supplies of maize will be good on local markets, and the large surplus provides the opportunity to export throughout the region. Given the estimated large maize harvest, the expected good harvest by neighboring countries, and the suspension of import licenses by Zimbabwe for maize and maize meal, the local market is likely to become a buyer’s market for maize. This is despite increased cost of fuel, which will keep transport costs high and likely to increase further as the local currency continues depreciating.

    The market for the large maize surplus will remain a challenge, as the regional market will be limited. Therefore, through September, maize prices are expected to significantly fall from their high levels (currently 30 to 40 percent above average) to slightly above the five-year average by August. Although maize prices should come down, prices of most other food and non-food commodities are likely to remain high in view of the significantly depreciated local currency, the value of which depreciated by about 20 percent between January and May this year. This reduction in purchasing power will reduce households’ ability to purchase some essential goods and services, imported by Zambia and others whose prices have increased due to increased production and/or transport costs. The Zambia Vulnerability Assessment Committee (ZVAC) is expected to establish if some populations will be in need of assistance (food-related and otherwise) through an assessment currently underway. However, these needs are likely to be related to chronic food insecurity, as most of the districts chosen were selected on the basis of poverty levels, rather than shocks or hazards during the recently-completed production season.

    Figures Seasonal calendar in a typical year

    Figure 1

    Seasonal calendar in a typical year


    Figure 2


    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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