Nearly one million Zambians will be food insecure by March next year triggered by prolonged dry spells and the pest infestation in some places, says the Indaba Agricultural Policy Research Institute (IAPRI).

And IAPRI has urged farmers who are holding onto their maize grain to exploit the huge demand for the commodity in export markets because they will get better prices.

According to data compiled by IAPRI in its June/July Food Security Report released last week, IAPRI cautioned that nearly one million Zambians risk being food insecure by the end of the first quarter next year following prolonged dry spells and bouts of the ravenous fall armyworms that have plagued crops in some places around the country.

The revelation follows the completion of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Regional Vulnerability Assessment and Analysis Report of 2018 whose full findings are expected to be released next month.

“The SADC report presented some preliminary findings based on Zambia’s Vulnerability Assessment. A total population of 609,500 is estimated to be food insecure by September, 2018, and this number will increase to 954,100 from October, 2018, to March, 2019,” IAPRI disclosed in its Food Security Report.

“This means that Zambia must put in place measures to protect livelihoods, reduce food consumption gaps and the probability of acute malnutrition.”

IAPRI explained that farmers, whose crops had been badly hit by the fall armyworm, among other disasters, remain vulnerable.

“For farmers whose food production has been severely affected by the prolonged dry spells, flooding, and pest infestation, their food security status will remain threatened going into the lean period,” it cautioned.

“Typically, such households will have limited income from crop sales (if any), thus low purchasing power, inadequate food stocks if they rely mostly on own food production – which entails low food consumption levels.”

It stated that there would be need for the Disaster Management and Mitigation Unit (DMMU) to build resilience to mitigate against the anticipated shocks.

“Limited purchasing power and food stocks will entail less diversified diets (even though they are typically monotonous), threatening food utilization and stability, which may result in acute malnutrition. As a result, interventions to build resilience against the above mentioned three shocks will be in order, as identified by the Disaster Management and Mitigation Unit (DMMU) based on the vulnerability assessment results,” it stated.

But IAPRI stated that there is no need for panic owing to the significant amount of grain still available on the local market.

“Nevertheless, there is no need to panic because, in terms of grain production, Zambia projected a surplus of more than 300,000 MT,” it stated.

“Farming households at this time of the year have maize stocks from own production, in addition, to carryover stocks and seasonal foods. This indicates the availability of a variety of food items at household level as well as on the market. The same can be said for market-dependent households, in areas where markets are functional, food access is not expected to be a big challenge. Thus, food availability and access will remain stable for most households in the next three months as maize grain and other trade activities reach the peak within the period under review.”

And, IAPRI, the agro-focused think-tank and agricultural policy research and outreach institute, urged farmers to exploit the huge demand in export markets, such as Malawi, which is currently experiencing a maize deficit.

“According to the SADC Regional Vulnerability Assessment and Analysis Report of 2018, the dry spells in Malawi experienced early in the season affected the production of most crops, mainly in the southern part of the country with reports of floods and Fall Army Worm (FAW) infestations. Production levels of cereal crops such as maize were below normal, with further reduction in output levels of pulse and oil crops. The number of severely food insecure people is expected to increase to 2.4 million—almost double last year’s estimate at 1.06 million. Such developments are indicative of possible grain export markets, especially in Malawi at some point before the next harvest. Zambia should, therefore, take advantage of this market,” stated IAPRI.

“Borders should remain open in order for farmers to benefit from higher prices in deficit countries.”