Interview With WFP's Country Director In Zambia

Simon Cammelbeeck answers questions about the food security situation in Zambia...and about the country's role as an emerging producer and exporter of maize in southern Africa.

1.    For the past three years Zambia has bumper harvests - how has this affected WFP’s operations in Zambia?
First of all, it’s good news that Zambia is now food secure but, at the same time, many people are still facing food shortages, particularly in rural areas where nearly 80 percent of people are either moderately or extremely poor. WFP Zambia’s country programme is currently in transition but we continue to support the Government in specific areas such as Home Grown School Feeding, Disaster Management & Mitigation, nutrition and exports as well as giving technical support to several government programmes.

2.    This year WFP bought 54,000 metric tones of maize from Zambia, mainly for export to other countries in the region and beyond. What is your take on Zambia emerging as a maize hub?

Zambia has all the right conditions to produce maize in terms of available land, experienced farmers and rainfall (although this is becoming more erratic). However, small-scale farmers’ productivity is low, inputs are expensive and changing agriculture policies are sometimes an impediment. Zambia is now seen more as land linked than landlocked. This is true for export within the SADC region but not beyond (e.g. the Horn of Africa) when transport costs add considerably to the retail price due to the long distances involved. The fact that rail transport is in poor shape means exports must go by road which is relatively expensive for a low-value crop like maize. The fact that Zambia is producing white, non-GMO maize has in a way created a niche market because few countries are able to meet the global demand. Most of WFP’s traditional food relief countries, in particular, insist on this kind of maize.   

3.    WFP works closely with the Zambian Food Reserve Agency (FRA). What are some of the challenges the FRA faces in exporting maize? What is WFP doing to alleviate these challenges?
WFP would like to work in partnership with the Government and the FRA to overcome some of the challenges they are facing, particularly with respect to quality and post- harvest losses. The FRA operational scale is very large, hence the considerable risk of crop losses and planning challenges and so on. WFP has offered to assist the FRA in developing a quality assurance strategy which should reduce the losses incurred during transport and storage. Secondly, the FRA has no direct and real-time system for collecting basic stock data from the many depots in the country. WFP has offered to help develop a stock tracking information system based on tonnage in the fall. This will also help in providing data to prioritize logistics for moving stocks from depots which are at high risk when the rains start.   

4.    Does WFP Zambia anticipate more exports in 2013 and beyond?

Yes. WFP’s Zimbabwe operations require food assistance until April. The Horn of Africa countries are also expected to continue to have significant deficits. So, white, non-GMO cereals produced in Zambia will continue to be in demand in 2013 if priced competitively and as long as they meet the quality standards.

5.    What other operations is WFP Zambia currently engaged in?  
WFP is currently engaged in several activities in Zambia. As I mentioned earlier, we are supporting the Government in specific areas such as Disaster Management and Mitigation, Home Grown School Feeding, nutrition and exports. WFP's Purchase for Progress programme that links smallholder farmers to local markets so they get a fair price for their products has been running successfully since 2011 and will continue until 2014. Nutrition is also a very important part of our country programme. With the average stunting (height for age) levels in the country at 45 percent, WFP and its partners are engaged in several initiatives to combat the scourge of “silent hunger” that’s sweeping the country.