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Consumer purchasing power reducing as maize and meal prices escalate

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Zambia
  • October 2015
Consumer purchasing power reducing as maize and meal prices escalate

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  • Key Messages
  • National Overview
  • Key Messages
    • Minimal (IPC Phase 1) acute food insecurity outcomes will continue in most parts of the country through March 2016. Large carry-over stocks from 2013/14 will help ensure adequate national supply as many households are exhausting their staple food stocks and will become increasingly dependent on market purchases for food as the lean season commences in November.

    • Maize prices have escalated due to increased market demand from both local consumers as well as neighboring countries especially Zimbabwe and Malawi. Wholesale prices have risen by at least 50 percent in October with respect to the height of the marketing season in August. Although the retail prices (grain and meal) had lagged, significant increases have been observed in October which is eroding household purchasing power exacerbated by the significant local currency depreciation. 

    • Given the high likelihood of below normal rainfall in southern half of the country during the coming production season, coupled with the high input prices, it is likely that farmers will cut back on area planted. This is likely to result in lower production by small-scale farmers.

    National Overview

    Current Situation

    Minimal (IPC Phase 1) acute food insecurity outcomes continue in most parts of the country despite the slight (10 percent) drop in national production with respect to recent five-year average. For areas where the harvest was significantly reduced such as southwestern Zambia, food security situation remains of concern especially as the lean season approaches. With reduced/depleted household food stocks, dependency on the market for staple food has increased. For most low-producing areas in the southern half such as Sinazongwe and Gwembe, most households are atypically depending on industrially processed maize meal as supply of maize grain is low from source districts (high producing districts such as Choma, Monze). 

    After the height of the marketing season in August, there is reduced activity as most of the maize has already been purchased especially in the southern central and eastern Zambia where the private traders had been very active. In Southern Province, the combination of local purchases by traders and FRA (from August) and sales to Zimbabwe (from Kalomo) gave the farmers a good market for their maize while the local market and Malawi market achieved the same for Eastern Province. The FRA, which entered the market two months late, has continued maize purchases especially from the northern parts of the country and have long surpassed their earlier target of 500,000 MT. Stocks with the FRA are estimated at about 1 million MT with most 95 percent of it going towards strategic grain reserves. The FRA purchase program ends on October 31st. In-country stocks as of mid-October were estimated at 1.5 million MT, although most of the stocks with the grain traders is committed to exports. 

    In the high maize supply district of Kalomo, traders are still actively buying maize from medium-scale farmers at K1.8/Kg and selling to Zimbabweans traders at K2.0 to 2.1/Kg which is 50 percent increase from the month of August. Similarly, Malawian traders are still actively buying maize in Lundazi at K2/Kg. Generally, the local maize wholesale prices have significantly increased reaching export parity price. Maize wholesale prices in Lusaka and Eastern Province have increased by an estimated 50 percent between August and October, supported by the high regional demand for Zambian maize prompting the millers to increase maize meal prices significantly in October.

    On the other hand, retail prices lagged behind having remained relatively stable up to September. This could be attributed to retailers having been accessing maize directly from farmers up to August. However, with the reduced stocks held by farmers and most grain being in the hands of the FRA, retail maize prices have also recently (October) gone up as expected, exacerbated by the atypically low maize supply which has been reaching the urban retail public markets. Millers have recently been lobbying Government to release some maize from FRA stocks for them to access at below export parity prices in order to help reduce the escalating meal prices for consumers.

    With the slowing marketing activity, farmers are now busy with land preparation and acquiring of inputs in preparation for planting once the season starts by November. Input prices have generally increased slightly for seed, but significantly. (100%) for fertilizer which will make it difficult for small-scale farmers to access adequate inputs for the 2015/16 farming season. Similar to the previous season, Government will be targeting one million farmers with subsidized inputs. Of these, 24 percent will be accessing the inputs through an e-voucher system in selected districts of Southern, Central, Copperbelt and Southern Provinces while the rest will use the conventional method of physical input distribution. For the first time, the 2015/16 farming season input pack includes orange maize introduced by USAID programs promoting Vitamin A consumption. Although most of the D compound fertilizer has already reached the district centres, seed has not yet been made available and time is quickly running out. Additionally, most of the urea fertilizer is yet to be distributed. In view of the doubled price of fertilizer, it is yet not clear if Government subsidy is to cover that increment.

    Relief food distribution to vulnerable households has started and will be ongoing until March 2016 and use of vouchers has been introduced this year in order to improve targeting and accountability. Although the main area of concern is the south western Zambia where harvests reduced by as much as 60 percent due to erratic rainfall, the increased maize prices will generally result in additional substantial increase in maize meal prices for all market dependent households reducing their purchasing power.

    After several years of relatively low maize exports, Zambia has taken advantage of the regional maize deficit to increase its export position, especially to neighboring Zimbabwe and Malawi. Since January, maize exports have been steeply increasing. Up until July, about 70 percent of the exports were to Zimbabwe, but this share reduced to 56 percent in August when Malawi increased its share to 34 percent from 25 percent while South Africa, Botswana, Namibia and Mozambique accounted for the balance.

    National Level Assumptions

    The October 2015 to March 2016 Food Security Outlook report is based on the following national-level assumptions:

    • Staple food availability: Despite the 10 percent below average production, staple food supply will be adequate to meet demand during the October 2015 to March 2016 period. By November, the increase in demand will be steeper as more households run out of own maize stocks and look to the market.
    • Maize market and prices: The Food Reserve Agency (FRA), which planned to purchase 500,000 MT of maize for strategic reserves, had purchased close to 700,000 MT by end of September. With an estimated 330,000MT previous season’s stocks, the Agency has an estimated 1 million MT of maize stocks on hand. This implies that the Agency is holding most of the surplus maize and will be coming back on the market by November to sell the maize to millers. Government has proposed selling maize to millers at K85/50Kg, an estimated 20 percent below market price in an effort to curb meal price increases.
    • Using both the technical analysis and the fundamentals, retail prices are expected to trend upwards from October first steadily then more steeply as the lean season starts and progresses peaking around February at the height of the lean season. Prices will remain above the recent five year average throughout the outlook period and are likely to continue trending above the previous year’s levels up to December. Although the technical analysis suggests prices in the region of K1.95/Kg in January, FEWS NET expects them to be much higher at about K2.40/Kg going by the high prices already being experienced.
    • Local currency depreciation: The Zambian Kwacha has depreciated significantly from about 6.4 ZMW/1 USD in January to about 12 ZMW/1 USD in October. Given that Zambia has a high dependency on imports of key economic drivers such as fertilizer and fuel, consumers will continue facing very high prices of some food and non-food commodities reducing household purchasing power. Consequently, there is also a likelihood of further fuel price increases which would increase food cost further through increased transport cost.
    • Increasing cost of power: The impending significant increase in electricity tariff with effect from November will increase cost of production including milling costs. This will result in possible further increase in maize meal prices for consumers.
    • Maize flows and trade: Demand for Zambian maize within the region will remain high especially from Zimbabwe and Malawi which are facing large deficits. Formal maize exports will be high supported by the depreciated local currency making the maize cheaper for importers and therefore helping to sustain generally high local prices. Informal maize exports will be typical reducing in the November to March period (rainy season), except for Malawi were it will remain atypically high throughout the outlook period.
    • Agro climatology: The El Nino conditions are likely to continue through the outlook period of October to March 2016.  In line with this, the seasonal forecast released by the Department of Meteorology indicated that there is a high likelihood of Zambia receiving normal to below normal rains for the 2015/16 season. In view of this forecast it is likely that the season will be characterized by below average rainfall in the southern half of the country.
    • Seasonal preparations: Government will provide subsidized inputs through the Farmer Input Support Program (FISP) to a targeted 1 million small scale farmers. However, it is not clear how much farmers will need to contribute towards these inputs. Given the substantial increase in cost of both fertilizer (about 100 percent from previous season) and seed for the incoming production season as a result of significant depreciation of the local currency, it will be increasingly difficult for small scale farmers to access inputs. Therefore, there is a possibility of reduced use of fertilizer and increased use of carryover seed.
    • Labor opportunities: Agricultural labor opportunities will increase as land preparation (October), planting (November/December) and weeding (January) reach their peak. However, given the high cost of inputs and likelihood of below normal rainfall in southern Zambia, agricultural labor opportunities could reduce to below normal levels for the 2015/16 production season as the better off demand less labor for land preparation and planting.

    Most Likely Food Security Outcomes

    Despite the escalating maize and meal prices, Minimal (IPC Phase 1) acute food insecurity outcomes are expected to continue in most parts of the country except in south western parts where IPC Phase 2 (Stressed) will prevail. The large harvest is expected to ensure adequate in country staple food on the market throughout the October 2015 to March 2016 outlook period. The high demand for Zambian maize within the Southern African region, especially from Zimbabwe and Malawi, will keep prices high (substantially above the five-year average). However, with most stocks being held by the FRA, Government will release the FRA stocks on the market starting in November at prices below the export parity price in order to help curb the escalating maize meal prices for the benefit of the consumers. Even with this, prices will remain above the recent five-year average but will be less than what would prevail without this intervention. Consequently, the lean season is expected to be normal for most areas starting November to February. Poorer rural households are expected to benefit from in-kind and cash payments during the peak of the agricultural labor period of October to December (land preparation and planting). With the high input prices, there is a possibility of some small scale farmers cutting back on land put to crops due to possible reduced access to the inputs which could slightly reduce labor demand.


    For more information on the outlook for specific areas of concern, please click the download button at the top of the page for the full report.


    Figures Seasonal Calendar in a Typical Year

    Figure 1

    Seasonal Calendar in a Typical Year

    Source: FEWS NET

    Current food security outcomes, October 2015.

    Figure 2

    Current food security outcomes, October 2015.

    Source: FEWS NET

    Figure 1. Zambia formal maize export trend (MT).

    Figure 3

    Figure 1. Zambia formal maize export trend (MT).

    Source: Zambia Central Statistics Office

    Figure 2. Lusaka retail maize price projection.

    Figure 4

    Figure 2. Lusaka retail maize price projection.

    Source: 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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