Zambia expects corn production to increase this year as rains improved, pushing stocks into a surplus and reversing an earlier warning that it may need to import the food staple amid an El Nino-induced drought. Higher crop yields will help boost production to 2.87 million metric tons from 2.62 million tons last year, even with a smaller area of cultivated land, Agriculture Minister Given Lubinda told lawmakers in Lusaka, the capital. That is about 635,000 tons more than is required for domestic consumption in the 2016-17 marketing season.
Lubinda had as recently as March predicted a shrinking harvest this year due to erratic rains, while President Edgar Lungu in January said the government considered importing corn to cover a potential deficit. Zambian agriculture is faring better than that of other nations in southern Africa, where the driest season in 35 years has pushed up prices and hit poor households the hardest, the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Famine Early Warning Systems Network said. As many as 14 million people in the region faced hunger because of the drought, the World Food Programme said in January.
Zambia’s surplus would improve supplies in the broader Southern African Development Community, whose members such as South Africa and Zimbabwe are forecast to be net importers of grains because of the drought, Wandile Sihlobo, head economist at South Africa’s Agricultural Business Chamber said. Zambia’s increased corn production will help boost economic growth, which slumped to the slowest pace in 17 years last year.