We have no reason to doubt the Minister of Agriculture and Livestock Mr Given Lubinda when he states that the country has sufficient maize stocks to last us through the current production deficit occasioned by the poor rainfall that has afflicted most parts of the country.
Our other hope is that no public funds have been used to support the price of maize sold to our millers at the so-called “subsidized” rate.
There is need for clarity on these matters because the problem of maize deficit this season is not limited to Zambia alone but covers the entire southern Arica region.
For the first time in many years South Africa is also importing maize because of the worst drought they are suffering since 1992. It has been estimated that South Africa requires about 934,000 metric tonnes of yellow maize worth about $137million.
South Africa has always been the largest grain producer on the continent but the drought this year has destroyed the crop in the Free State and North Western Province which provinces produced 64 percent of the national output.
Their main worry, which should also be our main concern, is next year. They are worried that the same pattern may be repeated in the next season, forcing the country to import once again. They have so far brought in three shipments of 30,000 tonnes of mziz each from Latin America. Fortunately too most of the maize is used for stockfeed.
Next year is precisely our concern.
We were blessed last year with a bumper harvest which burst our storage sheds and some of it went to waste because there was no room for storage. As a result we still have huge quantities in stock, leaving very little room even for the poor harvest we may have this year. It is for this reason we believe that Government has decided to sell and export some of the maize to some of the neighbouring countries to make a profit rather than see it go to waste.
What happens next year if we have a repeat of the poor harvest?
Do we have the capacity to import white maize from Latin America and other parts of the world where it might be available at a premium or should we find resources today to create more storage capacity to ensure the country is protected for more than two bad rain seasons?0
There is no doubt that incremental weather has come to stay. Climate change will not spare Zambia just as it has not spared many parts of the world which are in the throes of drought or indeed flooding, both of which have played havoc with agriculture.
We still have time and the stocks to see us through a number of seasons, during which time we would be able to diversify and find more appropriate measures to address our situation, either by massive irrigation or total change of our food habits.
What we don’t have is time for complacency.