Drought-Ravaged Zambian Corn Crop May Fall to Seven-Year Low

  • Prolonged dry spell could lead to 30% reduction in harvest
  • Country already facing crisis amid power deficit, copper price

Zambia’s corn production may fall by about 30 percent this year as long dry spells hurt crops, a farmers’ lobby group said, potentially reducing the harvest of the staple food to the lowest since 2009.

Output fell 22 percent to 2.6 million metric tons last year because of erratic rains, the Zambian Farmers’ Union said Monday. A further 30 percent decline would imply 1.8 million tons of production of the country’s staple crop in 2016, the lowest for seven years, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

“It’s still a bit too early to give precise figures for this year, but because of the severity of the situation we expect that reduction in yields could be as much as 30 percent,” Kingsley Kaswende, spokesman for the union, said in an e-mailed response to questions. “These are modest estimations. If the current weather pattern continues, we are likely to have a reduction well above 30 percent.”

Africa’s second-biggest copper producer is already facing its biggest economic challenges in at least a decade as an electricity crisis and plunging prices for the metal hurt growth and cause in excess of 10,000 job cuts. There are “strong indications” the country may require corn imports this year, according to President Edgar Lungu, who is seeking to retain power in elections set for Aug. 11.

Zambia’s corn harvest fell last year from a record 3.4 million tons in 2014. The country had 876,768 tons available for potential exports following the 2015 season, while its total corn stocks were 1.6 million tons in September, according to the government.

While the southern parts of Zambia were struggling with low rainfall by the end of the year, northern areas had normal precipitation, Agriculture Minister Given Lubinda said last month. The government had anticipated this and focused on delivering seed and fertilizer to those areas first, he said.

“I’m hoping that in the event that there is total crop failure in the southern part of the country, that the northern part can produce sufficiently to feed the country,” he said at the time.

Prices for corn meal, which Zambians used to make a porridge know locally as nshima, rose by 17 percent in December from a year earlier, according to the country’s statistics agency. That helped to push up yearly general inflation to 21.1 percent.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal. LEARN MORE