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Staple food prices remain high

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Zambia
  • October 2013 - March 2014
Staple food prices remain high

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  • Key Messages
  • National Overview
  • Area of Concern
  • Events that Might Change the Outlook
  • Key Messages
    • Acute food insecurity outcomes are expected to remain Minimal (IPC Phase 1) throughout the outlook period. However, in marginal rural producing areas of the Southern and Western Provinces, maize grain supplies are low and this is requiring households to travel long distances to purchase maize meal. Poor households in these areas could face some livelihood protection deficits as staple food prices continue to rise during the lean season.

    • The Government of Zambia is expected to continue with restricted maize and maize grain exports during the outlook period; this has been extended through a new Statutory Instrument[1] where only government-to-government and exports for humanitarian assistance are exempt. To some extent the policy will maintain national maize stocks at levels above the domestic requirement.  

      [1] Law made by an executive authority.

    • Staple food prices remain higher than average due to high local and regional demand. The purchasing power of poorer households will be reduced during the outlook period as maize prices are expected to remain above the previous season and the five year average between October and March.   

    National Overview
    Current Situation
    • Food security outcomes are Minimal (IPC Phase 1) and the lean season is expected to begin in November. By now, most poor households have depleted their own produced food stocks and are depending on the market or working for food. Labor demand has increased as land preparation commences.
    • Atypical maize and meal price levels continue in most districts, due partly to higher local transport costs and high regional demand for maize. Both maize and maize meal prices are above the five-year average, but remain stable. Increased competitive purchases by the Food Reserve Agency (FRA) and the private sector have reduced maize grain supplies in marginal producing areas that typically rely on small traders for supplies. Consequently there are reports in parts of the Western (Sesheke) and Southern (Kazungula and Gwembe) Provinces of households travelling long distances to purchase maize meal from district centers.
    • In general, the country has more than adequate maize stocks to meet national demand for the duration of the outlook period. Continued restricted exports have partially helped maintain maize stocks to last far beyond the end of the current marketing season in April 2014.
    • In response to a request by the private sector for the Government to allow them limited maize exports, the Government extended a new Statutory Instrument to reinforce restricted maize and grain exports, exempting only government-to-government and humanitarian assistance exports.
    • The World Food Program (WFP) is sourcing maize mostly from the private sector and has so far exported approximately 7,530 MT and 4,170 MT to Malawi and Zimbabwe, respectively (out of the 22,000 MT WFP forward purchases based on initial Zimbabwe and Malawi food relief requirements). With regard to the government-to-government exports, only 32,141 MT have been paid for and exported to Zimbabwe, Malawi and Tanzania out of the initial contracts for 205,000 MT of maize. The largest request of 150,000 MT is from Zimbabwe, which has so far only imported an estimated eight percent.
    • The start of the food relief distribution program has been delayed for administrative reason in most of the 18 eligible districts, with only Lukulu and Senanga (Western Province) reporting the start of the program by mid-October. Therefore, few households have received relief food because the administrative procedures for most district distributions are still being finalized.
    • Maize purchases by both the private sector and FRA continues, but at a much slower rate since farmer stocks are usually at their lowest during this time of the year. As of October 2nd, the FRA had purchased about 85 percent of their planned strategic reserves. However the agency still has good stocks (at least 200,000 MT) from the previous season. FRA has also been implementing limited community sales[1] in parts of Western Province (Lukulu) and selling the maize at K65/ 50Kg (their purchase price). No community sales have started in the other marginal producing areas that experienced grain shortage this past season.
    National Level Assumptions

    The October 2013 to March 2014 Food Security Outlook is based on the following national-level assumptions:

    • Staple food availability: Zambia attained an average production of maize for the 2012/13 growing season. When compared to the previous 2011/12 season, maize production decreased by 11 percent, nonetheless the country has adequate stocks to meet national demand with some surplus. Therefore it is assumed that the supply of the staple foods on the market will remain stable throughout the outlook period.
    • Maize market and prices: The high cost of maize due to increased marketing costs and high domestic and regional demand for Zambian maize will keep both maize and maize meal prices above the previous season’s and the five-year average. Staple food prices will increase by 30 to 40 percent higher than prices during this same period last year
    • Maize flows and trade: Given the released statutory instrument on restricted maize exports, formal exports will only take place through government-to-government arrangements and exports for humanitarian assistance. Continued restricted exports are partially sustaining local supplies. The informal exports to DRC, Malawi and Tanzania are expected to continue, but at a reduced rate once the rains start and routes become more difficult to access. With the low supply of maize in deficit communities, market dependent households in far flung areas will continue travelling long distances to the district and sub district centers to purchase maize meal which will be in good supply.
    • Start of season: Based on the seasonal forecast issued by the Department of Meteorology, Zambia is likely to receive normal to above normal rains during the 2013/14 growing season. Given this forecast and based on past experiences, there is a possibility that flood prone areas in the Western and Southern Provinces will experience some localized floods in the January-March period.
    Most Likely Food Security Outcomes

    The food security situation is expected to remain Minimal (IPC Phase 1) during the outlook period despite the increased staple food prices and a small population that will face livelihood protection deficits in the South and Western Provinces. Continued restricted exports are partially sustaining local supplies. Staple food prices are expected to remain high as market demand increases with the start of the lean period in November and the peak of the lean season in February/March. The prices will be significantly above the five-year average and are likely to increase to as much as approximately 30-40 percent above those of the previous season. From the month of October onwards, labor demand will increase and remain high for the duration of the outlook period as land preparation, planting and weeding opportunities become available for the poor. The increased employment opportunities will increase income and food access for poorer households, especially in the high producing areas. As improvements in water and pasture are realized, livestock conditions will improve and will increase available income for better-off households to hire more casual labor. 

    Given the 2013/14 seasonal forecast, planting is likely to be timely and the flood prone areas of western and southern provinces (mostly valley areas) are likely to experience localized flooding during the January to March period which could negatively affect crop yields in these areas. Labor demand is expected to be normal due to good rains, typically peaking during the planting period of November to January. 

    [1] Districts submit a formal request to the FRA for maize; maize is released and sold in this area. 

    Area of Concern

    Gwembe Valley livelihood zone (Sinazongwe, Gwembe, Siavonga, southern Kalomo and southern Kazungula districts)

    Current Situation

    Poor households in this zone have depleted own produced food stocks and are depending on the market for food purchases or working in exchange for food. This is supplemented by consumption of wild foods. As a result of dry streams, vegetable production is low at this time of the year. The maize grain in communities far from district centers is not readily available, forcing households to travel long distances to purchase maize meal. Livelihood activities include agriculture (land preparation) and non-agricultural labor, sale of chickens, goats and brewing to earn income. Labor availability is increasing as land preparation starts. Poor market dependent households are facing higher staple food prices in comparison to the previous season. Maize prices at Choma (a reference market for Gwembe Valley livelihood zone) are 60 percent above last year’s prices and 47 percent above the five-year average. Similarly, maize meal prices are 66 percent above the previous season and 35 percent above the five-year average due to reduced maize production during the 2012/13 cropping season. An increase in fuel prices this year is also contributing to higher marketing costs while stronger demand from the FRA and private sector has pushed up the price of both maize and maize meal.


    In addition to the national assumptions described above, the following assumptions have been made about Gwembe Valley livelihood zone:

    • Maize grain supplies by small traders to these remote deficit areas will remain limited; adequate maize and meal supplies will be available at district centers. The small traders will shun the difficult to reach areas as rainy season starts due to poor roads unless it’s profitable to take maize there. By December, most of these districts are likely to request for FRA community sales as meal prices increase further and the FRA is likely to sale maize at the purchasing price of K65 per 50 Kg.
    • The DMMU will provide humanitarian assistance to the identified 10 percent of the population up till the end of March 2014 to supplement their food access.
    • Agricultural labor opportunities will become increasingly available from November to January providing incomes to poor households to buy food. Labor wages are expected to be at normal levels as better off households sell some livestock for incomes to pay for the labor for land preparation, planting and weeding.
    • As in most years subsidized top dressing fertilizer is likely to reach eligible farmers late this season, but hopefully will be in time for the application in December to January. While the seed will be provided for free, the delay in distribution of seed will lead to delay in completion of planting and consequently reduced crop yields for the 2014 harvest in April/May.   
    Most Likely Food Security Outcomes

    Cash and food payment for agricultural labor opportunities will increase from November to February and more of the poor will engage in paid labor for land preparation, planting and weeding. This income will be used to buy staple food to meet minimum food requirement and other non-food items. Households will sell more chickens for cash to buy staple foods. As more wild food becomes available with the seasonal rains, households will also consume this from December to February. The green harvest will also increase household food stock starting in February. Through the DMMU, the Government will continue to distribute food relief to households facing livelihood protection deficits (approximately 10 percent) in this zone between October and March. This will help the targeted poor households to meet their basic food needs during the outlook period.  

    Events that Might Change the Outlook



    Impact on food security outcomes

    Gwembe Valley Livelihood Zone

    Above normal rainfall from Jan – March

    This could cause wide spread flooding that could damage bridges and render areas impassable; consequently limiting access to markets for staple foods and increasing local food prices excessively. This could reduce ability of the poor to access staple food. Wide spread flooding could also lead to crop loss, limited grazing for livestock and increased incidents of livestock diseases which would cause distress sales at low prices, reducing incomes and depleting livestock assets of affected households. 


    Large scale community sales and substantial increase in volumes of relief food distributed beyond districts identified as needing assistance by the VAC.

    This would increase maize in the rural areas and some of the maize will land up on the market being sold at below market price. These actions could reduce and stabilize prices but prices are still expected to remain above last year’s levels and the five year average. This would result in low availability of FRA maize stocks for strategic reserves.


    Figures Seasonal Calendar for a Typical Year

    Figure 1

    Seasonal Calendar for a Typical Year

    Source: FEWS NET

    Current food security outcomes, October 2013.

    Figure 2

    Current food security outcomes, October 2013.

    Source: FEWS NET

    Maize price trend in selected districts, September 2012 – September 2013.

    Figure 3

    Maize price trend in selected districts, September 2012 – September 2013.

    Source: Central Statistics Office/FEWS NET

    Figure 1


    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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