IT’S nearly a month now since some areas in the country experienced significant rains and the crop is wilting if not already drying up.
Some of the crop including maize has been found at a critical stage of growth such that even if the heavens opened up today, it would fall short of being a redemption!
These are evident and clear warning signs that require proper planning rather than a mere acknowledgement of the crisis at every level starting from the farmer to the policy maker.
It’s no longer a secret that the prolonged dry spell in most parts of the country will significantly affect the crop growth and ultimately reduce the harvest by farmers.
We realise that the implications are wide and large; reduced harvest may not only result into household food insecurity, but also push high the price of the country’s staple food to a point that would be hard for many to afford.
For a long time since 2003 when the Government started providing subsidised inputs under the Farmer Inputs Support Programme (FISP), the country has boasted of bumper harvest.
Many are times that the country has had the luxury of even feeding its neighbours through exports without its citizens going hungry because of the excess in the production.
In fact it was only mid last year when the Government announced that it would raise up to US $13 million from maize export of 100,000 metric tonnes to east Africa as well as the Great Lakes region.
However, it is no longer a secret that the country is currently faced with extreme weather pattern which is set to induce reduced harvest and threaten our food security.
The figures coming from Central Province for instance are not encouraging. About 36 per cent of more than 192,500 hectares of maize in the region has been damaged beyond redemption due to the prolonged dry spell according to a preliminary report seen by the Times.
Most cereals particularly, maize are at mid-vegetative and tasseling stage of development but lack of rains has seen premature drying up of the crop in all the districts except Chitambo and some parts of Mkushi and Serenji.
According to the preliminary report, Ngabwe is the most affected district where 60 per cent of maize in 1,000 hectares that was planted has been lost followed by Chisamba with 50 pe rcent loss of the 28,220 hectares.
While the province might not portray the most accurate situation of the country, the state of affairs is hardly different in many parts of Zambia especially in the southern half where the average rains have been below normal.
There is a popular adage that ‘failing to plan is planning to fail’.
One doesn’t need rocket science to realise that the current situation is dire and needs necessary measures that will address any possible food shortages.
The Government should immediately start planning for measures that would mitigate the impact of the pending reduced crop harvest and avert any possible hunger that might arise from the current situation.
In this regard, we call on the Ministry to Agriculture through the Food Reserve Agency (FRA) to take stock of the current available maize in national reserves and establish whether it is sufficient enough to control the skyrocketing of prices that are usually associated with the shortage of the staple food.
This is important knowing that the Agency only managed to buy 500,000 metric tonnes of maize in the last marketing season. The majority was purchased by private buyers, particularly millers who apparently have always been accused of arm-twisting the government on the pricing of staple food.
Additionally, the Government should review the ongoing maize export and ensure that it does not compromise the food security situation this year. It will not make sense to hear that Zambians are going hungry by December this year after the country sells its food to the neighbouring country.
We still recall how hard it was to reconcile the bumper harvest of the 2016/17 season when Zambians were subjected to high prices of mealie-meal.
Apparently, like in the fight against Mukula trade, our soldiers were used to guard massive smuggling of maize and mealie-meal to neighbouring countries as a measure to stabilise the prices.
With the pending shortage, this situation is likely to repeat itself while the price of the commodity might prove difficult to control.
Much as we mourn with farmers on the loss of their crops, we strongly recommend that measures to address the pending hunger should start now. We subscribe to George Patton’s popular say that: “A good plan violently executed right now is far better than a perfect plan executed next week.”