Zambia will likely experience food insecurity in some parts of the country following the 3-year record-low maize output, according to the Indaba Agricultural Policy Research Institute (IAPRI).

And IAPRI says maize smuggling to export markets has continued this year.

According to data compiled by IAPRI in its May Food Security Report released this month, IAPRI cautioned that the country faces food security implications, particularly in the drought-hit areas, following the 3-year record low maize output.

Zambia’s maize output drastically dropped to below 2.4 million metric tonnes of maize for the 2017-2018 agricultural season, down from a bumper harvest of over 3.6 million tonnes produced last year.

“With the expected reduction in crop production levels during the 2017/2018 agricultural season, the food security situation of adversely-affected rural farming households is likely to be threatened later during the year,” IAPRI warned.

“For the most part, food supply is expected to be adequate before the next lean season. While food availability at national level is definite, food availability and accessibility at household level are likely to be undermined by the prolonged dry spell and water-logging/flooding, in areas hard-hit by these shocks. ”

It stated that rural households who are rain-dependent for crop production are likely to be worse off.

“Rural farm households that are mainly dependent on rain-fed crop production are more likely to be worse-off as output levels will be lower than normal. Reduced output levels imply limited household participation in agricultural output markets, which further entails reduced income levels. Food markets are equally likely to be thin resulting in food price increases,” it added.

“This will make food affordability a big challenge for poor households, and may force employment of coping strategies such as selling of household and/or livestock assets. As a consequence, their resource base will be reduced further weakening their resilience against future livelihood shocks.”

IAPRI advised that farmers, especially small-holders, should embrace irrigation and move away from raid-dependent crop production to escape the unpredictable rainfall pattern.

“Such a shift will further strengthen household resilience against negative livelihood shocks, as a result of unfavourable weather patterns, pests and market factors, by increasing and/or stabilizing their agricultural output and in-comes through increased market participation,” it stated.

And, IAPRI, the agro-focused think-tank and agricultural policy research and outreach institute, also revealed that maize smuggling had continued this year.

“Since the beginning of the 2017/2018 crop marketing season, informal maize exports from Zambia showed an upward trend from June to January, but started to decline up to April,” IAPRI revealed.

“Most of the informal maize exports have been destined for Tanzania amounting to about 1,226 metric tonnes on average per month, followed by Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) (1,186 MT) and Malawi (less than 1000 MT).”

Ahead of the commencement of the 2018 crop marketing season, IAPRI’s research findings also disclosed that a 50Kg bag of maize on the local market dropped to just K65 this year from K105 last year, representing a 38.1 per cent decline.

“Compared to the same period last year, prices have been low. On average, a 50 kg bag of white maize grain cost around K105 per 50 kg bag in 2017, from January to May, whilst it cost about K65 per 50 kg bag in 2018 over the same period. The high prices observed in 2017 were largely due to the high maize demand experienced in the region,” IAPRI stated.

It added that although moisture content of early maize harvests is still above the acceptable threshold of 12.5 per cent, purchases have been slow ahead of the 2018 crop marketing season.

“There is minimal maize-buying activity by private sector players (such as millers and traders), while FRA purchases were expected to start within the first week of June, but the moisture content is still reported to be above 12.5 per cent,” it noted.

According to IAPRI, the Food Reserve Agency (FRA) is also expected to purchase at least 390,000 metric tonnes of maize, lower than its usual 500,000 tonnes for strategic reserves.

“The agency plans to purchase at least 390,000 metric tonnes of maize, 2,100 metric tonnes of paddy rice and 10,000 metric tonnes of soya beans. The intended maize purchases by the FRA represent a 25 per cent reduction compared to the last marketing season and 35 per cent of the farmer’s expected maize sales. Moreover, the purchase price is yet to be announced,” stated IAPRI.

“When added to the existing stocks of about 600,000 metric tonnes, this means that FRA will have over 900,000 metric tonnes, which is more than their storage capacity of 870,000 metric tonnes. This raises some concerns about storage costs given that the FRA will have to keep large stocks. This may also result in physical storage losses.”