The Food Reserve Agency (FRA) has started to offload 35,000 metric tonnes of maize to selected millers on the Copperbelt Province to address a ‘perceived’ shortage of the commodity.

Speaking during a press briefing in Lusaka, Friday, Copperbelt Minister Japhen Mwakalombe told journalists that the FRA was directed to offload maize to selected millers on the Copperbelt in a bid to tackle a ‘perceived’ shortage of the commodity, and curb any further price rises in mealie meal.

According to Mwakalombe, complaints were raised by some millers, who have sought government’s intervention to arrest declining maize stocks in some areas around the Copperbelt.

“Millers in particular approached both my office and our Republican President, Mr Edgar Chagwa Lungu, to intervene in order to avert hunger due to a perceived shortage of maize for millers to mill,” said Mwakalombe at the FRA’s head office.

“Government has directed the FRA to release maize to selected millers in my province. Therefore, today, as I speak, the FRA has started offloading 35,000 MT of maize to selected millers on the Copperbelt. I would like to also take advantage of this gesture by government to advise millers to reciprocate government’s kindness and ensure that mealie meal is reasonably priced and available.”

Zambia recorded around 2,394,907 metric tonnes of maize in the 2017-2018 agricultural season, down from last year’s record bumper harvest of 3,606,549 tonnes, representing a 33.6 per cent decline.

This means that the country failed to produce over three million metric tonnes of maize for the first time in three years, making this year’s harvest the lowest since the 2014-2015 season where the country produced 2,618,221 tonnes of maize.

This year’s low maize yields were mainly triggered by low rainfall pattern recorded in certain parts of the country.

Mealie meal prices have steadily increased this year, posting a 19 per cent increase year-on-year to a national average of K82.59 per 25Kg breakfast bag by October this year, up from K69.36 for the same quantity last year, according to Central Statistical Office (CSO) data.

And ahead of delayed rainfall this coming farming season, some stakeholders fear that the risks posed by normal to below normal rainfall demand for urgent contingency plans to mitigate against high levels of food insecurity.

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