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January 07, 2012

Erratic rain threatens Zambia's food security

by Shamaoma Musonda

The government of Zambia has said the erratic rainfall being experienced in the country could affect the 2011-2012 maize harvest and threaten the national food security.

Agriculture Minister Emmanuel Chenda said in the government was "very concerned" about the rainfall pattern, saying he had also seen farmers plant the seed late and wondered whether the rains would be able to sustain late planting. He said a poor harvest, which could come off the back of a back-to-back bumper harvest including last season’s record 3.1 million tonnes of maize, could affect planning in the next farming season.

"We are obviously very, very concerned at the erratic rainfall in the country, some other places have been totally dry while others saw farmers plant as late as January 1. We have sent officers in the field to make an assessment and we shall do another assessment in February," he said.

He said government now wanted to know what levels of damage the drought could have on Zambia’s staple food and hoped that the farmers who were planting late were using the right maize variety, one which could mature early. Chenda admitted that rainfall in the beginning had not been good enough with the pattern being patchy but was hopeful that the situation would change for the better. He hoped there would be enough rain to at least meet the almost two million tonnes national consumption.

Zambia's planting season normally starts with the onset of the rains in October.

Previously, Chenda announced that the Food Reserve Agency (FRA) had increased the national strategic reserve of the staple crops in view of patchy rains bordering on the drought.

This is coming after Zambia exported more than 496,000 tonnes of maize valued at K427 billion to its neighbours from September last year to October this year. This is after a bumper harvest left a surplus of 1.6 million tonnes.

The maize was exported to Zimbabwe, Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Mozambique, South Africa, Botswana, Burundi and Namibia. About 300,000 tonnes valued at K250 billion kwacha was sold on the local market.

The total maize stocks held by FRA by October 2011 amounted to more than 1.9 million tonnes, including about 300,000 tonnes in carryover stock from the 2009/2010 season.

The FRA planned to sell slightly more than one million tonnes of maize soon and use the proceeds to pay back loans the agency obtained from commercial banks.

Times of Zambia

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