Zambia Keeps Corn-Export Ban as It Seeks to Build Reserves

  • Smuggling into neighboring countries seen pushing up prices
  • Country says it has enough corn to last until next year

Zambia, the only southern African country except Tanzania to produce a corn surplus this year, will maintain a ban on exports of the crop as it struggles to build strategic reserves amid rising prices and surging regional demand.

“The ban will last as long as necessary until we are fully satisfied that we feed the Zambian nation,” Julius Shawa, permanent secretary at the Agriculture Ministry, said Wednesday by phone from the capital, Lusaka. “The demand from some of our neighboring countries is way above what we have in the country, so we cannot allow exports at the expense of Zambians.”

The government had by last month bought slightly more than a quarter of its 1 million metric-ton strategic-stock target for white corn, the staple that’s ground into a powder to make a thick porridge known locally as nshima. Private buyers are offering as much as 41 percent more than the price the government pays, with record prices in some provinces, according to the Famine Early Warning Systems Network, or Fewsnet.

High demand and prices in neighboring countries including Malawi and the Democratic Republic of Congo mean corn continues to exit Zambia despite the formal export ban, Fewsnet said in an Oct. 1 report. The government is allowing the World Food Programme to export 48,000 tons of corn for food relief in Malawi, Zimbabwe and Mozambique.

“We’ve tried to as much as possible contain the smuggling,” Shawa said. “It is being brought to manageable levels but of course the borders are so long you cannot control each and every point.”

Regional Drought

Zambia increased corn production this year to yield a 634,681-ton surplus despite a regional drought that’s the worst in 35 years, the Agriculture Ministry said in May. The government later that month suspended exports until the end of September to secure the country’s stocks. The country has enough corn to last into 2017 even as it sees losses to smuggling and the government’s Food Reserve Agency missed its stocks target, Shawa said.

Tanzania, normally a major regional exporter of corn, in August said its farmers were expected to produce about 6.1 million tons against demand of 5.2 million tons. The nation is discouraging food exports until July 2017, saying local production of grains is enough to cover domestic demand, with very little to spare for shipments.

“We are food-secure as a country,” Zambia’s Shawa said. “Between the private sector and government, we have sufficient stocks of maize to take us up to next year.”

The increasing prices private buyers are offering farmers could incentivize them to plant more in the upcoming season, provided fertilizer and seed was affordable and rainfall is good, Fewsnet said.

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