• Dry weather has cut harvest and pushed up price of food staple
  • Southern African government is trying to curb corn smuggling

Zambia suspended the export of corn and products made from it as the government takes stock of supplies as food prices rise, Deputy Agriculture Minister Maxas N’gonga said.

The government will also target any illegal corn shipments by checking that exporters are properly licensed, during the one-week suspension that takes effect immediately, he said.

“There have been a lot of trucks that have been carrying maize destined for our neighboring countries,” N’gonga said by phone on Tuesday, using the local term for corn. “There is an apprehension that some of these trucks don’t have the necessary documentation.”

Dry weather drove up retail corn-meal prices by 21 percent in March from a year earlier, fanning inflation, which has hovered around 22 percent this year. Food shortages have hit border towns particularly hard, even as the government has clamped down on smuggling to neighboring countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Malawi and Zimbabwe.

The region is suffering its driest rainfall season in 35 years and 14 million people are facing hunger, the United Nations said in February.

While the wet season started late in Zambia, the rainfall improved after January and the country had enough corn stocks to last until August, Agriculture Minister Given Lubinda told lawmakers last month. The government held 518,781 metric tons of corn supplies as of March 3 and it was considering allocating more than $70 million to buy 227,000 tons of the grain that trading companies had planned to export, Lubinda said at the time.

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