Zambia reconsiders maize exports


Lusaka –  Zambia might shelve its plans to export maize, as a food security measure, following a drought forecast that threatens to have a negative effect on the country’s harvest next season, says agriculture minister, Wilbur Simuusa.

Zambia earlier revealed plans to export the bulk of its maize surplus to fellow Southern African Development Community (SADC) member states who experienced poor harvests last season.

According to the agriculture ministry’s schedule of requests, Zimbabwe had asked Zambia to provide over 500 000 tonnes of maize, the Democratic Republic of Congo 200 000 tonnes, while Namibia, Kenya and Tanzania have each requested 100 000 tonnes.

As at the end of 2013, the Food Reserve Agency (FRA) had exported 32 175.35 tonnes out of 205 000 tonnes of maize to Malawi, Tanzania and Zimbabwe through government-to-government agreements.

But Minister Simuusa noted that given the unforeseeable drought, Zambia might not give away most of the maize planned for exports under the “open border policy” but that will reserve as much of the staple food as possible to avoid local food shortage.

“We are assessing the oncoming drought, which will be necessitated by the poor rain patterns in the country and if it persists, we may have to reduce or cancel altogether all planned exports,” he said.

Given the looming drought in the country, the government says it has come up with additional 11 new varieties of maize seed for the 2014/15 farming season to suit different soil types in light of climate changes, said the minister.

The new varieties will assist small-scale farmers to adapt to the changing climate patterns and in turn boost productivity, Minister Simuusa said in parliament recently, adding that a number of trials were also conducted to determine fertilisers that can be suitable for different types of soils.

“Government, through research, has come up with 25 new maize varieties of seed for the 2014/15 farming season from previously 14, to suit different soil types in light of climate change,” he said.

He said his ministry conducted multi-location root, tuber tests and grains such as maize, rice, sorghum and millet as well as oil seeds and conservational plants for small-scale farmers considering the changes in the weather pattern.

Government will promote the improved seed varieties among farmers in the 2014/15 farming season, which will contribute to the country’s food security. Minister Simuusa, however, noted that in a quest to assist farmers adopt to climate change and reduce dependence on rain-fed agriculture, the agriculture ministry has handed over three irrigation schemes at Zenga, Sinazongwe and Nega Nega in southern Zambia to support 1 633 households.

On the outlook for 2015, Minister Simuusa said the government proposes programmes and activities to address challenges that hinder the development of the agriculture sector by increasing the budget allocation in 2015 and that the increased allocation will help the ministry to scale up the interventions that will increase agricultural production.

Last April, the government said it was seriously considering a proposal by commercial farmers who want to export 180 000 tonnes of maize to some neighbouring countries.

Minister Simuusa said commercial farmers had asked government to help facilitate the export of grain to neighbouring countries, which have requested for it.

He, however, said government was considering the proposal by the farmers because Zambia could earn some foreign exchange through maize exports, adding that countries like Malawi, Tanzania and Zimbabwe, were all dependent on maize from Zambia. Commercial farmers have requested to export 180 000 tonnes of maize to neighbouring countries but this will be subject to consultations, as national food security is the government’s top priority.

December 2014
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