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Country Briefs


Reference Date: 13-November-2020


  1. Planting of 2021 crops underway amid generally favourable weather conditions

  2. Bumper cereal harvest estimated in 2020

  3. Import requirements fall in 2020/21 marketing year

  4. Prices of maize grain fell sharply between March and October 2020

  5. Food security aggravated by effects of COVID‑19 pandemic

Planting of 2021 cereal crops underway amid favourable weather conditions

Land preparation for, and planting of, the 2021 cereal crops are ongoing and are expected to be finalized by the end of the year. Rainfall amounts in October 2020, which normally marks the start of the rainy season, were average to above average, boosting soil moisture levels and creating favourable conditions for crop germination. The weather outlook for the November 2020‑January 2021 period indicates a higher‑than‑normal probability of above‑average cumulative rainfall, which portends to favourable yield prospects for the 2021 cereal crops. A potential risk to cereal production is, however, the infestation of African Migratory Locusts (AML), with outbreaks first reported in Southern and Western provinces earlier in the year. FAO is supporting the Government to contain potential further outbreaks of the AML.

As in previous years, the Government is supporting farmers’ access to agricultural inputs, primarily through the Fertilizer Input Subsidy Programme (FISP), which is targeting 1 million smallholders. Although the allocated funds to the FISP for the 2020/21 cropping season have significantly increased compared to the previous year, the effects of the COVID‑19 pandemic on Government resources, both through a reduction in public revenues and an increase in unforeseen health expenditures, are likely to constrain the financial support to the agriculture sector in general. The Government has also proposed to remove domestic taxes on tractors in 2020 to encourage the mechanization of the agriculture sector.

Bumper harvest gathered in 2020

Total cereal production in 2020 was estimated at 3.7 million tonnes, the second largest output on record. Most of this quantity is maize and the harvest was estimated at a well above‑average level of 3.4 million tonnes, 66 percent above the reduced outturn in 2019. The substantial increase in maize production was due to an expansion in the area planted and a recovery in yields, following a mostly favourable rainy season.

Import requirements fall in 2020/21

Import requirements of cereals in the 2020/21 marketing year (May/April) are estimated at a near‑average level of 73 000 tonnes, moderately down from the previous year’s level. Import requirements of wheat and rice are estimated at 40 000 and 28 000 tonnes, respectively, while only negligible amounts of maize imports are foreseen due to the bumper domestic output this year.

Exports of maize are expected to increase substantially in 2020/21 compared to the previous year, although they are likely to remain below the average level as the country seeks to bolster the national stocks following the drawdowns in the previous two marketing year years. A secondary factor weighing on export prospects in 2020/21 is the large harvests in neighbouring countries that have cut domestic import needs within the subregion. In addition, a large output in South Africa, the main maize exporter in the region, will also limit export opportunities for Zambian grains.

Prices of maize fell sharply between March and October 2020

Since hitting record highs in March 2020, prior to the start of the main harvest period, prices of maize grain declined by about 40 percent between April and October 2020. The decline was mainly driven by the recovery in the 2020 maize production compared to the previous year, leading to large domestic supplies.

However, the weak national currency is expected to put upward pressure on prices in the coming months, particularly as the dampening effects of the large harvest abates. On a yearly basis, the currency depreciated about 50 percent as of October 2020.

Food security aggravated by effects of COVID‑19 pandemic

Prior to the COVID‑19 pandemic, about 2.3 million people were estimated to be facing severe acute food insecurity (IPC Phases 3 and 4) in the October 2019‑March 2020 period, more than double the number in the corresponding period in 2018/19. Although there have been no nationwide assessments since the outbreak of COVID‑19, the pandemic is likely to have caused an overall increase in the number of food insecure people and the prevalence of malnutrition. The primary cause of the aggravation to food insecurity is the loss of incomes and livelihoods, as the slowdown in the global economy reduced export demand for Zambian resources and services, while movement restrictions curbed economic activities. The impact is expected to have been particularly acute in urban areas, where job losses have been more prevalent. Based on preliminary results from a rapid urban food security assessment, carried out by the Government and some partner agencies, an estimated 322 000 people are in need of humanitarian assistance in four urban zones.

Disclaimer: The designations employed and the presentation of material in this information product do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of FAO concerning the legal status of any country, territory, city or area or of its authorities, or concerning the delimitation of its frontiers or boundaries.