Drought-stricken Zambia turns to Uganda for maize


What you need to know:

  • Currently, Zambia is facing prolonged dry spells and drought caused by El Niño affecting most of its districts.

Lusaka banned the exports of maize grain and flour in February, following a prolonged dry spell that has adversely impacted the production of the crop in 84 out of the country’s 116 districts

Zambia is in talks with Uganda for a possible supply of more than 500,000 metric tonnes of maize to replenish its depleted reserves that have exposed more than two million people to starvation.

Lusaka banned the exports of maize grain and mealie (maize flour) in February following a prolonged dry spell that has adversely impacted the production of the crop in 84 out of its 116 districts.

Uganda’s Ministry of Agriculture, Animal, Industry and Fisheries says through a correspondence seen by The EastAfrican that Kampala has received a request to supply up to 500,000 metric tonnes of the grain to Lusaka.

“The Government of Uganda has received an expression of interest for up to 500,000 MT of maize grain to be exported to Zambia. This has certain requirements including quality and available volumes to enable us to meet the export successfully,” the ministry’s Permanent Secretary David Kasura-Kyomukama says through a letter dated March 25, 2024.

“The purpose of this letter is to invite you to a stakeholders meeting to discuss the process and requirements for this opportunity.”

Zambia’s vulnerability assessment report (2023) projects over two million people to be food insecure spanning the period October 2023 to March 2024.

Zambia, the second largest maize producing nation in Southern Africa after South Africa, declared drought a national disaster in February and introduced a state of emergency.

This has put pressure on South Africa to supply its neighbouring countries with maize even when its own prospects do not look promising, according to the South African-based agricultural services firm AFGRI.

Last year Zambia turned down a proposal to supply maize grain to Kenya even as Kenya’s Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Mithika Linturi hinted that a memorandum of understanding had been signed, contracting Zambian farmers to grow maize exclusively for the Kenyan market.

Historically, Kenya has sourced most of its imported maize from Tanzania, however, traders have had difficulty exporting the grain from Tanzania following the implementation of new export procedures by the Tanzanian Authorities.

As a result, Kenya traders started sourcing more of the grain from non-traditional sources such as Zambia and South Africa.

According to the US Department for Agriculture (USDA), Kenyan traders imported maize from Tanzania, Zambia, Uganda and South Africa in 2023 but imports from Tanzania declined as a result of the imposition of export restrictions by the Tanzania authorities.

Kenya’s maize imports from Tanzania contracted to 63 percent of the total maize imports in the 2022/2023 marketing year from 97 percent in 2021/2022 marketing year, while that from Zambia and South Africa increased to 13 percent and 10 percent from one percent and 0.38 percent respectively.

On the other hand imports from Zambia increased by more than eightfold to 88,050 tonnes from 10,728 tonnes, while imports from South Africa increased by 2,218.94 percent to 64,513 tonnes from 2,782 tonnes.

According to Zambia’s Food Security Cluster Joint Rapid Assessment Report (March 2024) drought has affected food availability in the country leading to significant shortages of key food commodities in the local market.

Smallholder farmers account for more than 90 percent of maize production in Zambia.

As a landlocked country, Zambia usually focuses on other Southern African countries for maize exports, with the government assuring traders of an open border policy that will give traders an opportunity to export maize into the region. However, in April 2023 the Zambian government announced that it would no longer allow maize exports in the MY 2023/24, following tight stock levels of below 500,000 MT, though the government said it was a temporary change in policy to ensure Zambia stays food secure.

According to USDA, Zambia’s prohibition of corn exports is mostly affecting the southern provinces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), which depend heavily on Zambia for corn as a staple food.

In 2019, Zambia signed a memorandum of understanding with the DRC to provide annual maize exports. The agreement aimed to deter informal trade flows and promote formalized maize exports to the DRC.

Zambia’s production of maize for grain was projected at 3.26 million metric tonnes (Mt) in the 2022/2023 agricultural season representing a 23 percent increase from 2.65 million produced in the 2021/2022 agricultural season, but this output still remains low compared to the five-year average.

The Zambian economy has been facing significant macroeconomic challenges as reflected in low growth, high fiscal deficits, rising inflation and debt service obligations as well as low international reserves.

“Zambia is experiencing a serious humanitarian crisis resulting from climate change making weather patterns more extreme, with more frequent droughts, floods, and heat waves,” the report says.

“These disaster risks are affecting Zambia’s poorest communities, especially in rural areas who rely on rain-fed agriculture.”

Such extreme weather events are impacting the productivity of the agriculture sector which is driving deterioration in food and nutrition security with increasing severity and prevalence of food insecurity.

Currently, the country is facing prolonged dry spells and drought caused by El Niño affecting most of its districts.