Fr Peter Henriot (JCTR) belongs to a rare breed of notable Zambian columnists who are very balanced, insightful and always offering something worth reading. In his latest piece Is there a Zambian food crisis?, he offers some policy suggestions on how Zambia can avoid a deepening food crisis :
So whether or not Zambia has a serious and extended food crisis will ultimately depend on some wise national policies. Discussion of these policies might not make such dramatic or entertaining headlines as the shouting matches between politicians but would definitely contribute more to the well-being of the citizens of this very rich country that has very impoverished people.Most of the suggestions are fairly sensible. However, I am intrigued by the call for "removal of food from strictly market considerations". Peter seems to equate the goal of equal access for every Zambia to affordable food, with a system of delivery that is not specifically subject to "market manipulations". If Peter is correct, then Zambia should currently have no problems with maize prices, because right now we have a maize market that is indeed free from the workings of the market. Its not just the monopsony power of the Food Reserve Agency, but also the way government imposes outright export bans in certain areas, coupled with the permit system for controlling exports and imports of staple crops. I would also ask Peter to carefully reflect on the fact that as the food prices have risen, many SADC nations have responded with more government intervention primarily prioritising their own food security needs over foreign exchange through international trade. This is exacerbating the problem. It is more governments' interventions across the SADC region that are worsening the regional food crisis not less government intervention. I remain ever more convinced that the path to Zambia's food security must start here , here , here and here.
What might some of those policies be? More space than this short column is required for a full answer, but some obvious suggestions include greater emphasis in the national budget on agriculture (not, as in the 2008 budget, a significant cut in expenditure), removal of food from strictly market considerations (a central human right should not be subject to market manipulations), perhaps some careful luring of foreign investors into the agricultural sector (and not simply into the mining sector), rural development that includes better infrastructure (e.g., roads, markets, health and education facilities), and some caution on the rush to bio-fuels at the possible expense of food production (prudent use of land).
[By the way, I happen to think Peter's article does not fully demonstrate that Zambia is yet in food crisis, over and above the usual problems - yes prices are rising, but is that all the evidence for a crisis?]