Zambia expects maize production to increase this year, pushing stocks into a surplus and reversing an earlier warning that it may need to import the food staple amid an El Nino-induced drought.
Higher crop yields would help to boost production to 2.87-million metric tonnes from 2.62-million tonnes last year, even with a smaller area of cultivated land, Agriculture Minister Given Lubinda told legislators on Tuesday in Lusaka. That was about 635,000 tonnes more than was required for domestic consumption in the 2016-17 marketing season, he said.
Mr Lubinda had as recently as March predicted a shrinking harvest this year due to erratic rains, while President Edgar Lungu in January said the government was considering importing maize to cover a potential deficit.
Zambian agriculture is faring better than other nations in Southern Africa, where the driest season in 35 years has pushed up prices and hit poor households the hardest, according to the Famine Early Warning Systems Network’s website.
As many as 14-million people in the region faced hunger because of the drought, the World Food Programme said in January.
“There were fears that the El Nino phenomenon would lead to a very low crop production, especially for maize,” Mr Lubinda said. “However, the rainfall situation in most parts of the country did improve significantly from January up to the end of the rains in April.”
Zambia’s government in April ordered a review of the country’s maize stockpiles and suspended cereal exports for a week to clamp down on food smuggling into neighbouring nations. Prices for maize meal that is used to make porridge have climbed by more than a fifth compared with a year ago.
In SA, the continent’s biggest maize producer, output would fall to 7.05-million tonnes this year from 9.96-million tonnes in 2015, the Crop Estimates Committee said last week. The country might need to import 3.8-million tonnes of the grain this year to supplement domestic supplies, Grain SA said.
Zambia’s increased maize production will help boost economic growth, which slumped to the slowest pace in 17 years last year.