Relief agencies have expressed concern over escalating maize prices in Zambia and reiterated calls to close the gaps in food-deficit areas.
Muweme Muweme, coordinator of the economic and social development research project of the Jesuit Centre for Theological Reflection (JCTR), said in some areas the price of a 25 kg bag of maize-meal, Zambia's staple food, has shot up from US $7 to $10 within two months.
"We are concerned that as we enter the lean period, the price of food has been going up," said Jo Woods, spokeswoman for the World Food Programme (WFP) in Zambia. The lean season in southern Africa, when the previous harvest has been consumed and the next one has yet to come in, traditionally lasts from December to March but drought has hastened its arrival.
According to a Zambia Vulnerability Assessment Committee report, more than 1.2 million Zambians were in need of food assistance and the country would need at least 118,000 mt of cereals to bridge the food gap.
The Zambian government has yet to launch a formal appeal for assistance after this year's poor harvest. "We are sorting out a technical problem," explained Dominiciano Mulenga, national coordinator of Zambia's Disaster Management Unit.
The delay in the appeal has also hampered the unit's plans to distribute emergency rations in 27 drought-affected districts this month.
Woods said the WFP was struggling with low resources and had only been able to provide food assistance to about 35 percent of vulnerable Zambians because of a lack of funding.
The government was considering releasing the maize stocks in Food Reserve Agency (FRA) depots in the rural areas onto the commercial market to ease the price burden, said Mulenga, noting that "there is little else that we [the state] can do in a liberalised economy".
Muweme cautioned against such a move because releasing FRA stocks onto the urban market could negatively affect rural farmers with unsold maize.
He reiterated calls for an urgent "comprehensive situational assessment, to have full and accurate information on maize-deficit areas, the actual magnitude of the deficit ... and how and when any deficits, national or regional ... will be met".
The Zambia National Farmers Union has also reportedly called on the FRA to offload an agreed amount of maize from reserves in October 2005.
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