GIEWS Country Brief Zambia 26-March-2021

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Maize production in 2021 expected at bumper level, but concerns remain due to locust infestations

Cereal imports in 2020/21 estimated above five‑year average

Prices of maize lower year on year reflecting large market supplies

High prevalence of food insecurity in early 2021 amid economic downturn associated to COVID‑19 pandemic

Maize production in 2021 expected at bumper level, but concerns remain due to locust infestations

Harvesting of the 2021 main maize crop is expected to start in April and production is preliminarily forecast at a bumper level of 3.5 million tonnes, slightly higher than the previous year’s good outturn and over 20 percent above the previous five‑year average. The expected bumper output mainly reflects an expansion in the planted area, mainly driven by continued Government support to smallholder farmers to access subsidized agricultural inputs and favourable weather conditions. Average to above‑average rainfall between October and December 2020 resulted in adequate soil moisture levels and enhanced planting operations. Rains during the first quarter of 2021 were well distributed, resulting in good vegetation conditions ahead of the harvest and auguring well for crop yields.

Notwithstanding the positive effects of beneficial weather, infestations of African Migratory Locust (AML) remain a risk to 2021 crops. Reports from the country indicate that AML swarms increased between January and March 2021 in southern and western parts, where nearly 30 percent of the national maize output is produced, as the abundant rainfall has been conducive for insect breeding. With support from FAO, the Government conducted an evaluation of the affected areas to establish the level of infestation and assess the damage to crops as well as households’ food security; the results of the assessment will be released in April. FAO is also supporting the establishment of an early warning system that seeks to collect accurate and timely data about the AML situation and this is expected to be launched in May.

Cereal imports in 2020/21 forecast above five‑year average

Cereal imports in the 2020/21 marketing year (May/April) are forecast at about 74 000 tonnes, moderately down from the previous year’s level, but 15 percent above the five‑year average. Imports of wheat and rice are estimated at 40 000 and 28 000 tonnes, respectively. Imports of maize are expected to be negligible reflecting the large domestic availabilities from the 2020 above‑average harvest and expectations of a bumper production to be harvest in 2021.

Exports of maize in 2020/21 are estimated at 100 000 tonnes, about three times more than the reduced volumes in the previous two marketing years. The large exportable quantity reflects ample availabilities from the 2020 bumper harvest and the increased import demand, particularly from Zimbabwe, United Republic of Tanzania and Kenya. In addition, a weak national currency supported the high level of exports. The Zambian kwacha has steadily lost its value against the US dollar since early 2020 and as of February 2021 had depreciated by about 50 percent on a yearly basis.

Prices of maize lower year on year reflecting large market supplies

Following a sharp decline between April and October 2020, prices of maize and maize meal increased between November 2020 and February 2021 in line with seasonal trends. The price gains were tempered, however, by the large market supplies from the above‑average 2020 maize output, which also helped contain inflationary pressure stemming from the weak national currency. As of February 2021, the annual inflation rate stood at 22 percent, while prices of maize and maize meal were 15 percent below their earlier‑year values.

High prevalence of food insecurity in early 2021 amid economic downturn associated with COVID‑19 pandemic

According to the latest IPC acute food insecurity analysis, about 1.73 million people are estimated to be facing food insecurity (IPC Phases 3 and 4) during the February‑March 2021 period, which corresponds to the peak of the lean season, when rural households are more reliant on market supplies and daily wage labour to meet their consumption needs. Although the total number of food insecure has fallen year on year, food insecurity still affects more than 20 percent of the rural population, reflecting severe constraints on access to food following the reduction of incomes due to the pandemic‑associated economic downturn in 2020. Infestations of AML also remain a concern, as they could result in localized production losses and have negative impacts on households’ food security.

To mitigate the adverse impacts of the COVID‑19 pandemic, the Government expanded the coverage of its social protection schemes with technical and financial support from international partners and, in the second half of 2020, initiated the Emergency Cash Transfer (ECT) programme. The ECT consists of a monthly grant of ZMF 400 (about USD 20) and continues to assist about 204 000 vulnerable households in 2021.