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ZAMBIA: Inflation, shortages erode food security

Lusaka, 6 November 2002 (IRIN) - Spiralling inflation, worsened by a serious food shortage, spell further hardship for ordinary Zambians, the majority of whom are low-income earners, analysts have warned.

Mulenga Kabungo a married Zambian police officer with six children is among those expected to be worst hit by rising food prices, especially that of the staple maize meal.

According to the Jesuit Centre for Theological Reflection (JCTR) - which collects monthly cost-of-living data - Kabungo will have to find a means of supplementing his Kwacha 120,000 (US $26) salary in order for him to feed his family.

The price of a 25kg bag of maize has risen from US $7 to US $10 in the capital city, Lusaka, and could rise further.

JCTR said a family like Kabungo's needed at least Kwacha 825,600 (about US $179) to purchase monthly supplies of such basic commodities as maize meal, cooking oil, sugar and coal.

Up to 2.9 million Zambians are threatened with starvation due to two consecutive droughts. President Levy Mwanawasa's government recently rejected genetically modified (GM) maize donations from the United States, citing uncertainty regarding the health and environmental impacts of GM maize.

The government has been forced to adjust its yearly inflation target upwards from 13 percent to 16 percent, while real gross domestic product growth of 4 percent has had to be adjusted downwards to an as yet undisclosed figure.

But analysts at Citi Bank Zambia believe that end-of-year inflation will jump to a "realistic" 25 percent, it's currently at 23 percent, instead of the "ambitious" 16 percent the government has targeted.

This is bad news for officer Kabungo, who has started rearing chickens and growing vegetables in his backyard. Such activity has become a common feature among most low-income earners in Zambia.

"It is clear here that if you do not want to go an extra mile in terms of taking care of your family, the government will not do it and you will die of hunger. That is why my wife and I are rearing chickens, which we sell to co-workers on credit. That is the way it is if you want to survive," Kabungo said.

However, Kabungo can be considered fortunate in comparison to other low-income earners like security guards, who earned on average Kwacha 40,000 (US $8), just about enough to buy one 25kg bag of maize meal, said JCTR.

Denny Kalyalya, director of economics at Zambia's Central Bank, told IRIN that the handling of the importation of the 634,274 mt shortfall of non-GM relief food was of concern to the Bank.

"It is a major source of concern with regard to food price developments and overall inflation. Therefore, concerted efforts and closer collaboration between government and cooperating partners are urgently required," he warned.

Western donors who fund almost half of the Zambian national budget have not come through with the US $134 million pledge in balance of payment [BOP] support for the year 2002-2003, remitting only US $75 million since they made the pledges in July. This was because they had expressed doubt over the legitimacy of the latest presidential elections, which Mwanawasa won.

"If all the money pledged came through now it would ease inflation and increase the level of foreign currency reserves and therefore strengthen the kwacha," Kalyalya added. This would have a positive effect on household purchasing power.

In the meantime, families have been forced to reduce their food consumption, say civil society groups.

The situation is expected to worsen in the last two months of the year, the traditional lean season, a double blow for poor Zambians as food prices traditionally rise during the festive season.

Theme (s): Economy, Food Security,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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