This post is part of our International Relations & Security coverage.
Nshima, the stodgy porridge-like substance cooked out of maize-meal, has divided families and triggered food riots in Zambia at one time or other. This is why subsequent governments have kept a keen eye on the growing, harvesting, buying and selling of maize-meal to consumers.
The production of maize — or corn as it is known in other parts of the world — is an even bigger issue in the mining region of the Copperbelt and metropolitan areas like the capital, Lusaka, where large working populations rely on the commercial supply of the product. Accordingly, maize determines the political direction of the nation.
In May, the World Bank urged the Zambian government not to interfere in determining the floor prices of maize sold by farmers to the Food Reserve Agency and other interested parties in the agri-business chain. Despite such calls, the Ministry of Agriculture announced this year’s floor price of maize at K65,000 (about $13 USD) per 50 kilo bag.
World Bank country director for Zambia, Malawi and Zimbabwe, Kundhavi Kadiresan criticized the decision and claimed that poor Zambian farmers were being exploited as some traders were buying maize from them in anticipation of re-selling it at a higher price to the state-run Food Reserve Agency. Kadiresan also indicated that the World Bank is deeply concerned that not only does the government’s policy fail to ensure the long term sustainable growth of the agriculture sector, it also does very little to create jobs and reduce poverty.
Kadiseran could be excused. Zambia’s agriculture sector revolves around maize, never mind the growing of other crops and livestock. The bulk of the maize is grown by peasant farmers who are faced with regular droughts during the rainy season, an unreliable and expensive supply of fertilizer, and difficulties transporting the commodity to markets.
In 1986, Zambians in the Copperbelt and Lusaka regions rioted because the price of maize increased several fold when incomes were stagnant. Four years later, unrest over price increases even sparked a coup attempt.
Announcing the new maize floor price, agriculture and livestock minister Emmanuel Chenda said:
We have taken this decision in order to protect the food security of the country and also to ensure that small-scale farmers are not discouraged from producing the crop in subsequent years… To ensure that Zambian maize is competitive on the international markets, the Government will ensure that production costs are reduced through, among other strategies, the provision of agricultural extension training and transportation for mobility to extension workers with a view to increasing productivity among the small-scale farmers.
Chenda also revealed that the Government was putting in place programs to build additional storage facilities as a long-term measure to avoid wastage under the Food Reserve Agency (FRA). A few days before the minister’s statement, the FRA had destroyed huge stocks of rotten maize in various districts of the country. Said Chenda:
I wish to inform the nation that most of the waste under the FRA we have been experiencing is due to inadequate and unsuitable storage facilities… In order to address this challenge, Government has begun to put in place programs to build additional storage facilities as a long-term measure.