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Reduced maize harvest expected after five years of large surpluses

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Zambia
  • April - September 2015
Reduced maize harvest expected after five years of large surpluses

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  • Key Messages
  • National Overview
  • Events that Might Change the Outlook
  • Key Messages
    • Acute food insecurity is expected to remain minimal (IPC Phase 1) in the April to June period as poorer rural households access the little harvest supplemented by limited labor sale. The households will also continue relying on staple food from the market through sale of small livestock extending the lean season as green harvest is relatively low in southern parts of the country. 

    • In selected districts where crops wilted and green harvest failed, a small number of severely affected households (less than 20 percent) will be receiving limited relief staple food during the first part of the outlook period. Further food and any non-food assistance will be based on findings of the Vulnerability Assessment Committee whose results will be available by early June. 

    • Zambia is generally expected to produce a below average maize output as major producing areas of Southern and Eastern, as well as parts of Central Province, have been affected by poor seasonal progress at key stages of crop development. Given this situation, there will be an increased population requiring food assistance in the second half of the outlook period.

    National Overview
    Current Situation
    • Acute food insecurity remains Minimal (IPC Phase 1) as the 2014/15 lean season comes to an end. This is despite the above average staple food prices throughout the marketing season. The 2013/14 good harvest coupled with less than expected export volumes, has ensured well above-average in-country staple food stocks.
    • The late start-of-season and prolonged dry spells between late February and late March will likely reduce crop yields in typically surplus-producing Eastern and Southern Provinces. Despite the positive forecast by the SARCOF and the Zambia Meteorology Department, of normal to above normal rainfall for the 2014/15 rainy season (Oct-April), below average rainfall has been recorded in most parts of southern and eastern Zambia. In addition delayed start of season and prolonged dry spells from end of February to end of March at a critical time of crop growth (flowering and grain filling) has led to crop stress and wilting. Recent increase in rainfall may have helped to eliminate moisture deficits in some areas, but prolonged dry spells have already negatively impacted crops and subsequently below average yields are expected in many areas in the southern half of the country.
    • Most of the crops in these areas is in fair to poor condition with maize crop (severely stress) having failed to recover after resumption of rains at the end of March. Other crops which are typically planted after maize such as groundnuts, soybeans, rice, and cotton have also been affected and lower output is expected. Very few crops (such as sweet potatoes and late planted beans) have benefited from the rains received in April. In these areas, little green harvests are available as most early-planted plots designated for green harvests produced well below-average crops.
    • Reduced green harvests and delays in harvesting have resulted in continued market dependence and a longer than normal lean season. Although normally at this time of the year households would typically rely on green harvests and less on markets, there is currently a high dependency on markets for maize meal due to low maize grain within the communities in the rural areas as most had sold maize to the Food Reserve Agency (FRA) earlier in the marketing season.
    • Maize prices have remained relatively stable having reached their peak in February/March period. Both maize and meal prices are mostly within the previous season’s high levels, and significantly above the recent five year average. The high prices of staple food and low availability of green harvest in dryness-affected areas is making it increasingly difficult for poorer households to access basic foods from the market, without reducing livelihood expenditures or engaging in atypical coping strategies.
    • Livestock condition is generally good as the major livestock are benefiting from improved pasture following the end of March to early April widespread rainfall. However, East Coast Fever (cattle disease) outbreak has been reported in Mbala district (Muchinga Province) and measures to restrict cattle movement are being put in place to contain the problem.
    • According to the Zambia Vulnerability Assessment Committee, immediate assistance (in the form of 650 MT of maize) is currently needed, mostly in western province where an early April preliminary assessment indicated a substantial loss of both green and main harvest due to severe stress and wilting of most crops. The in-depth VAC assessment is scheduled for late April and early May, which will provide additional information on the impact of prolonged dry spell on livelihoods of affected population and food assistance needs.
    • Most of the country’s maize stocks are in the hands of the FRA, which is holding about 87 percent of the 1,370,000 estimated total stocks. The Agency is selling maize to millers at a subsidized price of K1.30/Kg (16% below prevailing market price and 7 percent below cost price) which has to some extent led to stabilizing the maize meal prices.
    • Despite the large maize surplus from the 2013/14 agricultural season, Zambia only formally exported an estimated 95,000 MT from May 2014 to February 2015, due to low regional demand and the high cost of Zambian maize compared to maize from other countries in the region. In the early part of the marketing season, the low exports could be attributed to low regional demand. However, even when demand picked up in the latter part of the season, Zambian maize proved uncompetitive due to the high cost. Formal maize exports have increased since January when exports rose from an average of 4000 MT per month to 18,000 MT in January and a further 37 percent increase in February was recorded. While informal maize exports to the DRC declined 20 percent between February and March due to reduced maize stocks with farmers, maize imports from Tanzania destined for the DRC have increased substantially. Maize inflow from Mozambique seasonally declined by 30 percent between February and March. 
    National Level Assumptions

    The April to September 2015 Food Security Outlook report is based on the following national-level assumptions:

    Staple food availability: In general, the country is expected to have adequate staple food supply on the market during the outlook period of April to September. Overall 2014/15 maize production is expected to be 20 to 30 percent below the recent five-year average. Despite the expected below average 2014/15 harvest there will be a large carryover maize stock of about 1.2 million MT into the 2015/16 marketing season. On the other hand many poor farming households in the southern half of the country (Western, Southern, parts of Central, Lusaka and Eastern provinces) will likely have much reduced own produced food stocks and therefore are likely to begin depending on the market and humanitarian assistance during the latter part (July – September) of the outlook period. Households’ eligibility for government food assistance will be based on the planned April/May in-depth vulnerability assessment findings.

    FRA maize purchases: The FRA is likely to purchase no more than 500,000 MT which will be specifically for strategic grain reserves.

    Maize market and prices: Despite the country expecting a below average harvest, staple food prices are expected to reduce with the start of the main harvest in May/June, as the number of households depending on market purchases reduce. However prices are expected to start to increase earlier than usual (by July) due to the expected reduced harvest for most of southern Zambia, as more households run out of own produced stocks and begin to rely on the market earlier than is usual. In addition, the government intervention of subsidizing FRA maize (fixed price of ZMW 65.00) for sale to millers will contribute to continued relative stable prices for maize meal during the April to June period. By end of July, maize meal price are likely to begin increasing due to expected early increased demand for staple food from the market. The level of price increases will highly depend on the FRA maize buying price for 2015/16 marketing season.

    Maize trade: Maize exports by both the Food Reserve Agency (FRA) and traders to the region are expected to increase due to a likely increase in demand emanating from expected below average regional production. Informal maize trade to the DRC will typically continue as more maize from the May/June harvest becomes available on the market. Maize inflow from Mozambique is likely to increase and follow a seasonal trend as traders take advantage of favorable markets in Zambia provided by both the FRA and the private buyers.

    Labour opportunities: Due to an expected below average harvest, agricultural labour opportunities for harvesting, processing and marketing activities will be reduced. Poor households will therefore have reduced incomes as well as in kind payments. Because better-off households will have below-average incomes from the sale of crop produce this year, they will also likely hire less non-agricultural labor than normal. This will result in below-average non-agricultural income for poor households.

    Humanitarian Assistance: It is expected that humanitarian assistance needs will be above five year average due to below average harvest prospects. Most poor households in the chronically food deficit areas and drought affected areas are likely to run out of own produced stocks by July and many will look up to government for assistance. The in-depth vulnerability assessment to be conducted in April/May will inform the severity and magnitude of acute food insecurity for the 2015/16 consumption year, and recommend the mode of assistance required. Any food assistance needs will be met from local supplies as the government through the FRA has adequate maize supplies.

    Most Likely Food Security Outcomes

    During the April to June period, minimal food insecurity is expected to prevail despite the anticipated reduced harvest even in the southern half of the country. Poorer households will have access to the little harvest and income from sale of small livestock (chickens) and fish therefore manage with difficulty to meet basic food needs as their main food/ income source, labor, will be in less demand by the better off. However, prices of staple food will be reduced by end of May as supply will moderately increase with harvest making it more accessible. FEWS NET expects some households to require food assistance by June, although this will likely be less than 20 percent of households in affected areas, and needs will likely be met by government assistance.

    In the second half of the outlook period (July to September), an increased number of households will deplete household stocks much earlier than normal, due to below-average household production of staple foods in affected areas. Given the expected significantly reduced harvest, many better-off households will have less food to pay in exchange for labor. Additionally, with reduced pasture and water points, livestock condition could start deteriorating by October reducing income from livestock and livestock products. The better off will have less income to pay for off-season labor. Because food stocks will be depleted early, there will be increased demand on the market which will push staple food prices up much earlier than usual (by end of July). This will make it increasingly difficult for most poor households in affected areas of southern half to access adequate basic food from the market, creating heavy dependency on support from Government in the form of relief food. Poorer households in some areas of western, parts of southern and Eastern Province will be Stressed (IPC Phase 2). However, the large carryover maize stock should supplement the reduced harvest to ensure that Zambia has adequate staple food to meet national requirement for the 2015/16 season despite the expected yield reduction. There will be adequate staple food stocks to meet arising staple food relief needs and therefore no external support is expected. Government food assistance will help reduce extent to which poor households will be engaging in Phase 2 coping strategies, such as reduced spending on livelihoods protection needs (health, education, etc.)

    With reduced regional harvests, demand will be high for any Zambian surplus maize as the major regional supplier (South Africa) is also expecting much reduced harvest. There is a possibility of Zambia attaining a small to moderate surplus after meeting the estimated national requirement of 2.8 million MT despite the expected below 2.9 million MT (recent five year average) harvest. However, maize export volumes in the 2015/16 marketing season will largely depend on the outcome of the crop estimates which will be available by mid-May. 

    Events that Might Change the Outlook



    Impact on food security outcomes

    Central, Eastern, and Southern Province

    Poor harvest attained.

    This would result in Zambia failing to meet its national staple food needs even with the large carry over stock. There would be need for some maize imports to meet both the gap in commercial and food assistance needs. A very large population would atypically require food assistance.

    Figures Seasonal Calendar for a Typical Year

    Figure 1

    Seasonal Calendar for a Typical Year

    Source: FEWS NET

    Figure 1. Current food security outcomes, April 2015.

    Figure 2

    Figure 1. Current food security outcomes, April 2015.

    Source: FEWS NET

    Figure 3


    To project food security outcomes, FEWS NET develops a set of assumptions about likely events, their effects, and the probable responses of various actors. FEWS NET analyzes these assumptions in the context of current conditions and local livelihoods to arrive at a most likely scenario for the coming eight months. Learn more here.

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