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Food Security Outlook

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Zambia
  • October 2011 - March 2012
Food Security Outlook

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  • Key Messages
  • Most likely food security scenario, October 2011 through March 2012
  • Key Messages
    • The current food security situation remains favorable with most households having more staple food stocks at this time of the year compared to the past five years. The surplus production has also ensured well supplied markets in both rural and urban areas. However, substantial volumes of FRA purchased maize could go to waste if good storage and aggressive export strategies are not put in place. 

    • Unusual sharp reductions in informal maize trade volumes were observed during the election month of September. This has been attributed to uncertainty in the country’s security situation before and after elections.   

    • During the outlook period, most households are expected to remain relatively food secure with only minimal acute food insecurity. As the agricultural season starts, most households will be busy with land preparation and planting. The very poor and poor households will mostly engage in agricultural labor exchange for food; this being the start of the lean season. Staple food prices will remain at average to below-average levels. The 2011/12 seasonal forecast released by the Department of Meteorology which indicated that most of Zambia is likely to receive normal rainfall also supports this food security status during the outlook period.

    Most likely food security scenario, October 2011 through March 2012

    Food security conditions remain favorable mid way into the 2011/12 consumption year with many households having benefited from the surplus production of 2010/11 and the large carryover stocks from the previous season. The situation is expected to remain largely favorable throughout the outlook period.

    The large 2010/11 harvest and carryover stocks have led to comparatively higher food stocks at the household level this year.  Many rural households are still consuming food from own production, while the markets are well supplied with staple foods resulting in improved access by the market-dependent households in both rural and urban areas.

    Maize exports have remained low relative to the available exportable surplus and when compared to reported volumes exported out of neighboring Malawi. FRA maize stocks have increased as purchases from farmers continued into October. However, sizable quantities of the commodity could go to waste following unexpected widespread rains in October which soaked some of the maize which was not in safe storage.  The FRA maize purchase target of 1.3 million MT, is well beyond the agency’s safe storage capacity. If quick strategies to increase available safe storage (such as procurement of adequate tarpaulins) and more aggressive efforts to seek export markets are not put in place, a lot of the maize could go to waste.  In the informal maize trade market, a temporal sharp reduction in trade volumes was observed in September (Figure 4 and 5). This was attributed to uncertainty in the country’s security situation before and after the general elections as Zambia held its tripartite elections on September 20th.  Maize exports to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), a major market for Zambian maize decreased by 36%, an unusual drop for this time of the year. However based on information from the cross border monitors, the situation has since normalized.

    In areas such as Luangwa and Gwembe Valley, which experienced some mid-season dry spells in the 2010/11 production season, the food security situation has remained stable having benefited from the surplus national food production. The better off households in these areas are depending  on food stocks from own production, while the poorer households are supplementing their own production with market purchases using income from sale of casual labor, as well as normal off-season activities such as fishing, petty trading, and sale of crafts.  Staple foods remain adequately available on the markets, supplied from surplus areas and from the Food Reserve Agency (FRA) depots.

    Since July, an upward trend in maize prices has been observed in Luangwa district, which can be attributed to reduced inflow of maize from neighboring Nyimba (plateau) and Petauke districts which normally supply Luangwa market. However these prices remain close to the 5-year average for this time of the year. The FRA is currently offering an attractive maize price (ZMK 1,300 /kg), compared to the market price (K800 to K900/Kg) hence farmers in Petauke and Nyimba are opting to sell to the Agency rather than to traders who buy for resale in other districts, including Luangwa. Nonetheless, there is adequate maize on the market in Luangwa to meet the needs.  In addition, the FRA shed in the district has adequate stocks of maize available for sale at the market price of ZMK 900/kg. Currently households are meeting food needs without any external assistance. Overall, the households can currently be classified as facing minimal acute food insecurity (IPC Phase 1).

    During the first part of the outlook period, which marks the start of the lean season, as well as the 2011/12 production season, the better-off and middle income wealth groups will depend largely on own food stocks, while the poorer households will access food from the markets. The majority of these poor households will resort to normal coping strategies such as labor sale (for land preparation and planting), fishing, petty trading, and craft sales to generate income. In general the households will remain food secure with only minimal acute food insecurity in a few areas. The three consecutive seasons of surplus production in the country and the ability of traders to move the surplus stocks will ensure that local markets remain well supplied with the staple food (maize) which should keep prices at average to below average levels. The expected relatively low prices of the staple food is also supported by the recent reduction of fuel prices (5 % for diesel, 6% for petrol) by Government which is expected to be passed on to consumers through slight reduction of food prices.

    Meanwhile, the Zambia Meteorological Department has forecasted a likelihood of mostly normal rainfall for the 2011/12 rainy season. However, the southern half of the country has an increased chance of receiving normal to below-normal rainfall during the first part of the season (October to December) and normal to above-normal rainfall in the second half (January to March). Based on this forecast and from past experience, there is a likelihood of some areas in the southern half of the country experiencing late onset/dry spells in the first half of the season and localized flooding in the second half. The areas of major concern are valley areas such as Luangwa, southern parts of Nyimba and Petauke, Gwembe Valley (Sinazongwe, Gwembe, Siavonga), and the low producing areas of Southern Province (Kazungula) and Western Province (Sesheke, Shangombo). The impact of an early season dry spell is likely to be low to moderate and highly localized. If excessive rains occur in the latter part of the season, water logging and flooding could occur but will most likely be moderate and highly localized. This assumption is based on experiences from previous years when similar forecasts (which indicate an enhanced likelihood of generally normal rainfall performance throughout the season) were indicated. The areas of concern will however need to be monitored throughout the outlook period even though the effects of the shocks (if they occur) will mostly be felt after March 2012.

    Over the January to March 2012 period, poorer households will continue to depend on the market to access staple foods through income earned mostly from sale of labor as is seasonal and where necessary, sale of small livestock. Income from fish sales will drastically reduce as the annual fish ban takes effect from December until the end of February.  Labor demand for weeding by wealthier households is typically high during this period. In most cases payment is in kind (food), which is most likely this year due to the available surpluses. However, towards the end of the outlook period, as food stocks for the better off decrease, poorer households will meet their food needs with difficulty as the lean season peaks in February. The better off households will still have access to adequate amounts of food stocks from own harvests. The end of February to early March marks the start of the green harvest and therefore most households will start accessing supplementary foods from the green harvest (green maize, squashes, vegetables) provided the  2011/12 rainfall season is conducive for good crop growth.

    Since the problems of extended dry spells and flooding are not expected to be widespread in areas of concern, households in the poor wealth group will manage to access basic food through increased sale of labor to the better-off and consume  less preferred foods while the better off should be able to manage without external assistance. It is also expected that the middle and better-off households will intensify sale of small livestock if the situation worsens. Supplies of staple foods will be adequately available on the market. In addition, the FRA will sell maize at below market price to cushion the poor. The very poor will access relief food through food for work programs supported by the government and NGOs in these areas.

    As acute food insecurity is likely to remain minimal, focus should go towards addressing issues of chronic food insecurity which remains a major concern. This is evidenced by Zambia’s high levels of chronic malnutrition which is attributable to poverty (partly due to high unemployment levels and low income).

    Table 1. Less likely events over the next six months that could change the above scenario



    Impact on food security outcomes

    Gwembe Valley, Southern parts of Luangwa Valley,  extreme southern Zambia

    Prolonged dry spells (November/December)  





    Extensive flooding (January to March)

    This will result in reduced green harvest which would prolong the lean period. Poorer households will have difficulty accessing food and would need to increase coping strategies beyond normal levels e.g. increased sale of labor, reduced food intake/reduced number of meals etc. However, the full impact of this shock would only be felt after March.


    This would result in the loss of some food in storage and some areas being cut off from main markets consequently increasing staple food prices to above average levels. Flooding would also result in poor crop condition and loss, full impact on households would only be felt after March.


    This could impact livestock negatively especially cattle that has to be confined to limited grazing areas up-land which could lead to disease  (FMD, CBPP) outbreak and increased disease spread.


    Figures Seasonal Calendar and Critical Events Timeline

    Figure 1

    Seasonal Calendar and Critical Events Timeline

    Source: FEWS NET

    Figure 1. Current estimated food security outcomes, October 2011

    Figure 2

    Figure 1. Current estimated food security outcomes, October 2011

    Source: FEWS NET and ZVAC

    Figure 4.  Recorded volumes of informal maize trade in MT

    Figure 3

    Figure 4. Recorded volumes of informal maize trade in MT

    Source: FEWS NET

    Figure 5.  Recorded volumes of informal maize meal trade in MT

    Figure 4

    Figure 5. Recorded volumes of informal maize meal trade in MT

    Source: FEWS NET

    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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