By Jeff Kapembwa
Lusaka - Zambia has banned maize exports, as the country is struggling to purchase an average 500,000 tonnes of maize needed to boost its reserves to enhance food security.
Zambia’s food security has come under pressure as most farmers have opted for alternative buyers of their maize who are prepared to pay 95 kwacha (US$7) per 50kg bag. This is in contrast to the 70 kwacha (US$5) being offered by the national Food Reserve Agency (FRA) for the current marketing season ending mid-November.
The Southern African country effected an export ban on maize to ensure food security but it is struggling to raise enough money to continue buying the grain from small-scale and commercial farmers in the countryside, resulting in the agency procuring a staggering 170,000 tonnes to date.
Sources at FRA have told The Southern Times that the disparities in the price offered for the grain by the agency against the private sector, coupled with the lack of adequate funds to mop up the maize from the countryside, have been a challenge and that the food stocks will be less than 500,000 tonnes.
“FRA has been told by the government that there is not enough money to purchase the annual targeted 500,000 tonnes this season unless the FRA and government convince commercial banks to give them loans at reduced rates,” a source close to the programme added.
Agriculture Minister Michael Katambo has admitted that FRA was facing a challenge competing with the private sector in the procurement of the maize during the marketing season hence the ban slapped on all exports, ostensibly to encourage more food stocks locally and avert an impending insecurity.
He, however, ruled out a serious food imbalance, falling back on the over 880,000 tonnes of maize that was carried forward from the 2015/2017 season, which added to the paltry 2.4 metric tons of maize harvested, a drop of 33% from the previous 3.6 million metric tons a season earlier.
According to Zambia’s crop output report for the period 2017/18, maize output dropped from 3.6 metric tons produced last year while all three major cash crops – sorghum, millet and wheat, among other edibles ‑ face a decline in output during this year’s crop marketing season.
Zambia was projected to record less post-harvest losses of 2,394,907 metric tons of maize, down from last year’s record bumper harvest of 3,606,549 tonnes, representing a 33.6%.
This implies that Zambia’s has failed to produce over 3 million metric tons of maize for the first time in three years, thus making this year’s harvest the lowest since the 2014-2015 season when the country produced 2,618,221 tonnes of maize.
“The reduction in the total maize production and yields for the 2017-2018 season is largely due to the prolonged dry spells that were experienced between November 2017, and January 2018,” Katambo added.
Of the 2.4 million metric tons of maize harvested, small-scale farmers are expected to contribute around 2.3 million tonnes, while commercial producers will yield around 105,000 tonnes.
Small and medium scale farmers are expected to contribute 2,290,076 metric tons to the total production, while large-scale farmers are expected to produce 104,831 tonnes of maize.
Initial assessment of the country ’s national food balance sheet for the 2018-2019 crop marketing season, based on the crop forecast survey, indicate Zambia producing enough stocks for both human consumption and industrial use.
The country also has a maize carry-over stock amounting to 844, 244 metric tons as of May 1, 2018.