Global Voices

Zambia Fixes Maize Price Again, Flustering World Bank

A giant Nshima pot
A giant Nshima pot, Zambia 2008. Photo by Mark Hemsworth (used with permission)

Nshima, the stodgy porridge-like substance cooked out of maize-meal, has divided families and triggered food riots in Zambia at one time or other. This is why subsequent governments have kept a keen eye on the growing, harvesting, buying and selling of maize-meal to consumers.

The production of maize — or corn as it is known in other parts of the world —  is an even bigger issue in the mining region of the Copperbelt and metropolitan areas like the capital, Lusaka, where large working populations rely on the commercial supply of the product. Accordingly, maize determines the political direction of the nation.

In May, the World Bank urged the Zambian government not to interfere in determining the floor prices of maize sold by farmers to the Food Reserve Agency and other interested parties in the agri-business chain. Despite such calls, the Ministry of Agriculture announced this year’s floor price of maize at K65, 000 (about $13 USD) per 50 kilo bag.

Food Crisis Looming?

Food crisis looming? photo: Peter Casier/WFP/flickr

A review of commodities reports and price indices over the last six months seems to point to a ripening of conditions that will likely spark a food crisis later this year.

The specific causes of the 2007-2008 food crisis are still debated, but it is clear that a combination of high oil prices, low food stocks, a low value of the US dollar, and market speculation, drove world food prices to an unprecedented level, sparking riots and unrest around the world. There are important similarities between observable conditions then and now.

Since the summer of 2010, there have been several important crop failures around the world and among major global grain producers, including: Argentina (drought), Australia (heavy rains may impact output), Canada (heavy rains); EU (dry conditions), Kazakhstan (drought), Pakistan (flooding), Russia (drought), Ukraine (drought), United States (drought). Moreover, South America experienced drought and dry conditions as result of La Nina, while China suffered from severe dry conditions and the rest of Asia experience delayed and erratic rains. In Southern Africa severe rains and flooding continue to cause problems.

According to the International Grains Council, “World production is expected to decline by 3.8 percent, to 1,726 million tons: the wheat estimate is lifted […] but the maize total is cut. By far the biggest fall in grains output was in drought affected Russia, with big reductions too in the EU, the US, Kazakhstan and Ukraine.”