FEWS Zambia Food Security Update: 7 Feb 2003

Originally published
  • In all but the southern parts of the country, rainfall (both in quantity and distribution) improved significantly during the second part of December and continued to improve through January.

  • So far, food aid imports have met only around 35 percent of the country's stated needs.

  • The estimated number of people requiring food assistance rose from 26 percent of the total population (projected in August 2002) to 28 percent, or 2.77 million, estimated in January 2003. The most food insecure areas are in Southern, Western and Lusaka Province, where more than 75 percent of the population requires assistance.

  • Strong links between HIV/AIDS and food security were found in a recent survey.

  • High maize prices are pushing rural households out of the market, and with average monthly incomes, households are able to buy less than 40 percent of their food needs.

  • Uncertainty remains high among farmers, millers and government, thereby creating market speculation.

  • The government intends to facilitate importation of mealie meal to reduce prices.

  • Maize prices will keep rising beyond December 2002, as the gap between roller and breakfast meal prices narrows.

  • There is an urgent and immediate need for a crop forecasting exercise in order to establish appropriate plans for the coming year.

  • Government prepares for the 2003 budget as inflation increases.

In all but the southern parts of the country, rainfall (both in quantity and distribution) improved significantly during the second part of December and continued to improve through January. Despite these improvements, below normal rainfall since December has been recorded in the northern and central parts of Zambia, the southern parts of Zambia, which include Southern Province, parts of Lusaka Province, Sesheke, and Senanga and Shangombo districts (Western Province). Figure 1 shows the extent of the rainfall deficit in affected district as of January 20, 2003. This is in line with the rainfall forecast issued by the Department of Meteorology for the second part of the season (January to March) which indicated that the southern half of Zambia would receive normal to below normal rainfall.

Click here to see Fig.1: Rainfall Departure Map: Below, Normal and Above Normal Cumulative Rainfall (July 1, 2002 to January 20, 2003)

Agro-meteorologists have reported that crops, which are at the flowering and tasseling stages, are in good condition in all but the southern parts of the country. Crops in the southern areas are mostly at foliage stage, and, according to the agro-meteorologists, parts of Livingstone, Kazungula, Mazabuka, Choma and Sesheke Districts have crops which are under severe water stress. A significant reduction in crop output in these areas is already considered inevitable.


So far, food aid imports have not met the country's stated requirements. The August 2002 food needs assessment estimated that 224,000 MT of cereals were needed to cover the period between August 2002 and March 2003. Between August and December 2002, the Government purchased 46,347 MT of Genetically Modified (GM) - free maize and 4,000 MT of mealie meal. Local purchases made up 17,677 MT of this total, and imports comprised the balance (28,670 MT). During the same period, NGOs have contributed a combined total of 2,000 MT of maize, and multilateral donors, through WFP, imported 31,000 MT. This brings the total to 79,347 MT of GM-free maize grains and 4,000 MT of mealie meal. This translates into 35 percent of the total grain requirement. WFP still plans to import 90,173 MT between December 2002 and March 2003.

While it is clear at the national level that food aid imports have not met aggregate requirements, the local effects of this shortfall have yet to be determined. District-level data documenting food aid delivered against food aid needed is not available. The Disaster Management and Mitigation Unit (DMMU), the agency responsible for coordinating the relief exercise, is still compiling district-level information. It should, however, be noted that the poor food aid response has not immediately resulted in an obvious increases in physical wasting or widespread malnutrition. A supplementary detailed food economy or livelihood assessment could establish whether people had been more successful than expected in managing available food during the second half of 2002. In such a study, it would be important to understand the coping strategies pursued and the associated costs. It would also be important to understand the sustainability of the coping mechanisms used and the implications for future production efforts.


According to the Zambia Emergency Food Security Assessment report released in January 2003, the estimated number of people requiring food assistance rose from 26 percent of the total population (projected in August 2002) to 28 percent, or 2.77 million. The total food aid requirement was estimated at 132,856 MT for the period December to March 2003. The slight increase in population requiring food assistance is partially attributed to low availability of maize in rural areas, resulting in sharp increases in maize prices after August. Most households simply cannot afford to purchase maize now, even if it is available in the local markets. Figure 2 provides a spatial view of the populations needing food aid.

Click here to see Figure 2: Concentration of Population Needing Food Aid

The most food insecure areas are in Southern, Western and Lusaka Province, where more than 75 percent of the population requires assistance. Areas in the central, western and north eastern parts of the country are considered in moderate need while the northern part of the country is not in need.

3.1 How are households surviving?

According to the VAC report, households have altered their dietary intake in response to the deficit by reducing the amount they eat at each meal as well as the number of meals they consume each day. Households in such stress conditions were found to be relying more on wild foods than in normal years. In addition, relief food has helped households to cope with the food shortage. The situation will start improving by March in areas where adequate rainfall is being received as the green harvest becomes available.

The livestock ban, initiated by an Anthrax and Contiguous Bovine Plural Pneumonia (CBPP) outbreak, in North Western Province has been lifted. In this area households will now be able to rely on additional income from these sales. In parts of Western province (an important livestock keeping area), on the other hand, a new ban is in effect due to a recent outbreak of Anthrax.

In an effort to understand more fully how households normally live, and how they survive in years like this one, FEWSNET is planning, in conjunction with the National Vulnerability Assessment Committee (VAC), to undertake a baseline livelihood assessment before mid-2003. The assessment will result in a national food economy zoning which will form the basis for organizing information about people's varied means of obtaining access to food and cash income in different parts of Zambia. The results of the study will enable projections of food access for several possible levels of production. This will be done by estimating household deficits and food intake associated with each level of crop production in the context of a more holistic view of the household economy.

3.2 HIV/AIDS and LINKS to Food Security

Using selected possible impacts of HIV/AIDS such as mortality, chronic illness and orphaning as proxies of HIV/AIDS, the December VAC report found that the correlation between HIV/AIDS and food insecurity is strong.

Survey data established that among its other effects, HIV/AIDS in Zambia is depleting human capital as well as financial capital. For example, 25 percent of rural households with chronically ill members did not harvest cereals during 2001-02. Further, the presence of a chronically ill member was related to a 58 percent reduction in income from cash crop sales, which is a primary income generating activity. Among households that had an adult member that died during the last year, 60 percent affirmed that they had children at primary school age not enrolled at school. It was further established that households affected by adult deaths are more likely to sell assets. In terms of increased expenditures on health and funeral, 76 percent of the households that had at least one member die during 2002 incurred unusually high funeral expenses compared to 14 percent for households without any deaths.

Given these and other established linkages with food security, the high rate of HIV/AIDS prevalence in Zambia is playing a fundamental role in dismantling the economic and social structure of rural society. As such, the pandemic is central in deepening an otherwise serious food crisis into a complex and unique humanitarian crisis that will have lasting effects on both household and national level food security.


Meanwhile, the Government has blamed the private sector for failing to meet commercial import expectations. Millers have been accused of hoarding maize in anticipation of price hikes, thereby creating artificial shortages. This prompted the Government to intervene by announcing in the first week of January its intention to import, for commercial purposes, over 200,000 MT of maize from Tanzania. The intention, according to the Government, is to supply maize to rural millers directly and reduce prices. However, this maize has not yet started arriving into the country. In January, the government had gone further to announce its intention to facilitate the importation of cheap mealie meal in an effort to reduce prices.

Millers will not welcome the Government's intended importation. As of mid-January 2003, millers were still claiming they had sufficient stocks to last until the early harvest (March 2003), having built up their stocks through formal and informal trade, especially along the borders with Tanzania and Mozambique. Millers have estimated that as much as 60,000 MT have been procured through informal trade, and these figures have not been reflected in official statistics. With the current stock levels, further formal importation by millers is unlikely. By February, it is expected that millers will start entering contracts for early planted maize with local farmers who have drying facilities. It will be a much cheaper option for them than importing while government intentions remain unclear.

There is no doubt that uncertainty is high among farmers, millers and the Government, creating conditions ripe for market speculation. Any mistimed importation will lead to a loss of confidence in maize production and marketing, with possible repercussions in maize production next year. It is also clear that quantities of maize imported have been underestimated because informal imports were not taken into consideration. This underscores the urgent need for the private sector together with the relevant ministry to develop a formal marketing institution or system that will be capable of monitoring and compiling relevant data on imports as well as market intelligence. The lack of such a framework has contributed to contradicting import figures from a variety of sources. As we progress towards March 2003 any further importation needs to be done cautiously in order to maintain reasonable prices (at least above US$160/MT) for farmers entering the market with early planted irrigated maize.


Maize Prices

Figure 3 shows that the average price for maize has been increasing steadily since September 2002. The greatest increase occurred between November and December, when it moved by 16 percent. For the same time period, Ndola Rural saw an increase of 72 percent, followed by Mansa (25 percent), Mongu (24 percent), and Chipata (16 percent). The smallest increases during the time period were experienced in Kasama (11 percent) and Solwezi (9 percent), in North Western province. Choma, in Southern province, did not experience any price movement between November and December 2003, but this is in part because prices in Choma were already very high by local standards.

Figure 3: Nominal Price Trend for Maize

The observed trend suggests that most households had food access problems between November and December, both because of increasing staple food price and decreasing incomes. The VAC findings indicated that 50 percent of the households had average incomes below ZMK50, 000 (US$11) per month between August and December 2002. Given that the current cost of a kg of maize is equivalent to around US$ 0.30, and the monthly requirement for a family of 6 is approximately 97 kg in cereal equivalents, then the current income of US$11 can only cover, at most, 38 percent of the household's food needs. In addition, this assumes that all cash earned is spent on food, which is clearly not the case since other essential items, like school fees, health costs, household basics (salt, soap, matches) need to be met as well. Because the major source of income is sale of cash crops, and these sales have not been guaranteed due to the drought and poor marketing infrastructure, incomes have been constrained.

For food insecure areas that have had large deliveries, it is likely that prices will remain stable while they will continue to increase in food insecure areas with low deliveries. The food relief pipeline is slow, however, and unlikely to increase supply to a level which would influence prices substantially. In addition, the green harvest is not yet mature enough to provide significant relief and weather uncertainties and in some cases late planting will result in low yields and delayed maturity in the 2003 harvest, keeping maize prices high for the time being.

Mealie Meal Prices

The price of breakfast meal has risen drastically in both rural and urban areas. Between November and December 2002, prices rose by 12 percent compared to a 2 percent rise between October and November (see Table 1).

Table 1: Average Prices for Mealie Meal in 2002

Type of Mealie Meal
(25 kg Bag)
Price (ZMK)
38, 175
Roller Meal

Source: FEWSNET / CSO Data

Roller meal prices rose by 16 percent between November and December, compared to 8 percent between October and November 2002. From available data, it is clear that the price trends for both breakfast and roller meal have been rising in both rural and urban areas. Prices remained high even in areas that experienced relatively lower maize prices, such as Kasama and Choma. The gap between roller and breakfast meal prices is narrowing. On average, by December 2002, the difference was 8 percent compared to 11 percent the previous month. Historically, roller meal is cheaper than breakfast meal, and purchased primarily by the poor. Increases in roller meal prices will have the greatest impact on the lower income groups. High inflation and a lack of reliable sources of household income continue to erode the buying power of most households, limiting access to food. Erosion in buying power is a major threat even for the cheaper mealie meal that the Government intends to import.


According to the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives, the 2002-03 crop forecast surveys are likely to take place in March 2003, contingent on funding designated in the National budget, which was presented on January 31, 2003. However, because of potential delays in the disbursement of budget funds and the time it takes to conduct the survey, this year's crop estimates may not be known until April 2003. If the budgetary constraint continues, it is likely that the crop forecast will coincide with the harvest time (and will, therefore, end up being a post-harvest survey).


The Government failed to meet its target of reducing annual inflation (twelve month) to 16 percent by December 2002 from its current level of 26.7 percent. The Government had initially aimed to achieve a year-end inflation rate of 13 percent. The revision was prompted by increased importation of maize grain following the grain deficit that the economy has suffered since the last harvest. The December month on month inflation was 4.6 percent representing an increase of 0.8 percent on the November rate. Rising food prices continued to exert pressure on inflation, with large price increases recorded for maize grain, mealie meal, and other cereals. As the Government prepares for the 2003 budget, most government expenditure is expected to come to a standstill until