The latest JCTR press release on food :
Diversify food crop away from heavy dependence on maize, says JCTR, Press Release, 5 December 2008
“Zambia needs to diversify the production and consumption of its food crop away from heavy dependence on maize if it has to attain food security and we call upon the recently constituted taskforce to critically examine this issue,” says Miniva Chibuye, Coordinator of the Social Conditions Programme of the JCTR.
Such diversification, according to Ms. Chibuye, will not only introduce variety in the food being eaten by most households with attendant outcome of enhancing nutrition but will also mean promoting food crops that have less input requirement (e.g., rain, chemical fertilizer, etc.)
In pursuing the strategy of food crop diversification, Zambia should draw from the experiences of other African countries. But even within the country, there are pockets of experiences that can inform the process in a very meaningful way.
Moreover, this strategy is not outside Zambia’s development strategy. For example, the Fifth National Development Plan explicitly mentions that “food crops such as maize, cassava, sorghum, millet, sweet potatoes, beans, wheat and groundnuts will be targeted for increased production and productivity”. In some way, therefore, this strategy is actually to implement what already exists on paper coupled with the promotion of consumption of these diversified food crops for household food security.
According to Ms. Chibuye, “The current status regarding the price of maize seems to suggest that Zambia is not moving forward in its agricultural development and strongly suggest failure to learn from historical experiences. For example, at the height of the same problem as recent as in the year 2005, the JCTR did make observations that touched on policy proposals as being mentioned above”.
Based on previous and current experiences, it appears an approach to agriculture development that will not practically introduce food crop diversification at both the production and consumption level will mean continued transitory and chronic hunger among Zambian households.
The current difficult of households’ meeting food needs is revealed by the JCTR Basic Needs Basket which measures cost of living for a family of six. According to the November JCTR Basic Needs Basket, average prices of mealie meal have increased in all towns where the Basic Needs Basket is conducted. A 25 kg bag of mealie meal in Ndola is currently fetching K65,800, an increase of K11,900 from K53,900 recorded in October 2008. The same bag costs K64,200 in Kitwe increasing from K56,700 in October. Luanshya recorded an increase of K6,100 from K56,600 in October to K62,700 in November. On average, the same bag costs K60,300 in Mongu, K57,300 in Lusaka, K57,200 in Livingstone and K56,200 in Kabwe.
In Lusaka, the cost of food items alone increased by K19,500 from K686,350 in October to K705,850 in November 2008. The highest increase of food prices was recorded in Kitwe by K78,080 from K652,750 in October to K730,830 in November. This translates into a 12 percentage point increase of food prices alone within Kitwe town. Unprecedented increases have been recorded across all other towns with the price of mealie meal being a major contributing factor followed by dry fish.
The overall cost of the Lusaka BNB, that is, taking into account cost of food and essential non-food items such as rentals, charcoal, wash and bath soap, amounted to K1,914,450. This figure represents an increase of K59,600 from the cost recorded in the month of October. This certainly makes it a challenge for households to meet their required household needs.
In select rural areas where the JCTR does its Rural Basket, recent results have shown that most households have ran out of maize stocks.
In seeking solutions to the current high prices of mealie meal, it is important that an optimal balance is found that will promote the interests of both rural and urban households. A lopsided approach might result in impairing growth of the small scale farmers or making food affordability difficult among urban populations. One of such measures would be to facilitate high production among small scale farmers while introducing community hammer mills in urban areas -- as has been recommended by other groups before -- to reduce on the overall cost of mealie meal.
As the JCTR expresses happiness with Government establishment of the taskforce on Rising Food Prices, it will remain keen to learning what will come out of this taskforce. It is hoped that this taskforce will be the turning point in broadly improving Zambia’s agricultural practices and food consumption patterns.