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View the documentFOOD FOR SECURITY IN ZAMBIA

FOOD FOR SECURITY IN ZAMBIA

by Mildred Mpundu

Two million people in Zambia face starvation as a result of severe drought and heavy rains that have damaged crops. Most villages countrywide are experiencing a critical shortage of food with the situation likely to worsen in the coming months.

Vice-President Enoch Kavindele announced in Lusaka recently that the government requires about K58 million (about US$16,000) for relief food. He said Zambia needed 98,000 tonnes of maize, 13,000 tonnes of beans and 86 tonnes of mealie meal all estimated at K58 million. But the Southern African Development Coordination (SADC) Food Security Bulletin (April 2001) reports that Zambia's food security for the 2001/2002 marketing year is assessed to be less favourable compared to last year. "An overall cereal deficit of about 181,000 tonnes is indicated as opposed to a surplus of 91,000 tonnes during the 2001/2002 year. Maize, which was the only cereal in surplus at National level last year, is currently assessed to have the highest deficit of 147,000 tonnes."

The bulletin states that although Zambia has no reported plans to import or export cereals, current assessments point to a cereal import need of about 181,000 tonnes during the 2001/2002 marketing year. "Maize as well as wheat may have to be imported in order to fill (he cereal deficit. Prospects for informal cross border trade with neighbouring countries such as Malawi are less this year as a result of limited surplus availability." The report says cereal production estimated indicate a 17 per cent decline over last season. Endowed with an abundance of mineral resources, arable land and water development, yet shrouded by poverty that threatens the nations food security. Zambia, a land -locked country marginally self-sufficient with irregular maize surpluses (the major (62 peer cent) domestic food crop); internal food distribution problems. With an area of 741,00 km square, Zambia has a population of 10.46 million and an estimated per caput cereal consumption of 147 kilograms per annum. Poverty has been the major incident that has been impinging on human living conditions for a long time, Over 80 per cent of Zambians live in abject poverty. Central Statistics Office/UNDP , Zambia Human Development Report, 1997 says that no human development can occur in the presence of high levels of poverty. Hence, no policies can be deemed successful, no matter what their achievements from other narrower perspectives, if they do not contribute to the alleviation, reduction and eventual eradication of poverty in society. While the percentage of population in extreme poverty is significantly higher in the rural areas, the percentage of population in moderate poverty is moderately higher in the urban areas. Over 68 per cent of the rural population which constitutes nearly two thirds of the a total population lives in extreme poverty; while nearly a fifth of the urban population lives in extreme poverty; while nearly a fifth of the urban population which constitutes slightly over a third of the total population is extremely poor. Eighty one per cent of extreme poverty obtains in the rural areas and 19 per cent in the urban areas, while 57 per cent of moderate poverty obtains in the rural areas and 43 per cent in the urban areas. There is a much greater level of perception of poverty depth among the female-headed households. Low income has also contributed to the threat in food security. Small scale farmers, and even Commercial farmers have obtained loans to buy inputs but eventually fail to pay back. As a result lending institutions have resorted to seizing property or even harvests from defaulting farmers. Both the depth and severity of poverty are greater in the rural areas.

Over time, the depth of poverty has consistently declined in the rural areas implying as the poor are becoming less poor there. "The severity of poverty too has consistently declined in the rural areas implying the rural core poor are becoming less poor." According to CSO Living conditions, 1998, overall, 71 per cent of households in Zambia, or about 1,325,000 (1.3 million) households, were engaged in agricultural activities during the 1997/98 agricultural season, that is , either they grow some crops and/ or owned some livestock, poultry or did some fish farming. Zambia's 2000 Economic Report indicates that during the period under review, government policy in the agricultural sector continued to be that of facilitating and supporting the development of a sustainable and competitive agricultural sector that assures food security at national level and maximises the sector's contribution to Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Liberalisation and promoting private sector participating in marketing and input supply continued to be the main policy thrust. "However, production and productivity in the sector continued to be low. This was mainly attributed to difficulties in the availability of inputs, poor infrastructure and inadequate credit to small-scale farmers , among others." "Despite the difficulties faced, preliminary a real value added in agricultural, forestry and fishing sector in 2000 increased to K418.2 billion from K411.o billion in 1999, up by 1.8 per cent.

This was mainly on account of the favourable performance in the forestry sub-sector, which registered a growth of 4.0 per cent. In terms of input supply, government continued with its policy of liberalisation. However, die to market inefficiencies government through the Food Reserve Agency (FRA) played a role in fertiliser marketing by providing fertiliser on a loan basis to small-scale farmers and out grower schemes. The major private sector players in fertiliser marketing such as Omnia, Sasol, and Kynock either sold fertiliser on a cash basis or through barter. The Food Reserve Agency continued its role of maintaining strategic food reserves for the country although it is going through numerous problems as a result of loans farmers obtained but failed to pay back. Programmes such as the Programme Against Malnutrition (PAM) have been put in place to help farmers be self sufficient, and advise them on what cash crops to grow and how. Food security in Zambia faces a big threat. Unless efforts to put up proper water systems and other infrastructure are put in place the majority of Zambians, especially in rural areas face starvation.

Mildred Namwiinde Mpundu is an Assistant Features editor at Times Printpak in Lusaka, Zambia.