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ZAMBIA: Families surviving on 38 percent of food requirements

JOHANNESBURG, 10 February 2003 (IRIN) - More than 75 percent of Zambians living in the country's Southern, Western and Lusaka provinces do not have a secure source of food and many households throughout the country are surviving on only 38 percent of their daily food requirements, the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET) said in its latest report.

According to the Zambia Food Security Update released on Friday, the estimated number of people who will need food aid until March/April rose from 26 percent of the total population to 28 percent - 2.77 million people.

This was partly attributed to low availability of maize in rural areas, resulting in sharp increases in maize prices after August.

"Most households simply cannot afford to purchase maize now, even if it is available in the local markets," FEWS NET said.

To survive, households have reduced the amount they eat and were found to be relying more on wild foods than in recent years. Assessments by the multi-agency vulnerability assessment committee (VAC) indicated that half the households had average incomes below US $11 per month between last August and December, which paid for only 38 percent of a family of six's food needs. This did not include money for schooling or basic items like soap and matches.

Families had also been unable to sell livestock to raise money for food due to an outbreak of anthrax and contiguous bovine plural pneumonia in North-Western Province. The ban has since been lifted, but a new ban has been imposed in part of Western province due to another anthrax outbreak.

The committee found that HIV/AIDS in Zambia was depleting human and financial capital and that 25 percent of rural households with chronically ill members did not harvest cereals during 2001 to 2002. The presence of a chronically ill family member could result in a 58 percent reduction in income from cash crop sales, most households' primary source of income. They also faced enormous funeral expenses, and 60 percent of these families were no longer sending their young children to primary school.

Food prices rose significantly towards the end of last year, eroding households' buying power and limiting their access to food. The government has blamed the private sector for failing to meet commercial import expectations and millers have been accused of hoarding maize in anticipation of price hikes, thereby creating artificial shortages.

In January the government announced that it would import over 200,000 mt of maize to reduce prices but this has not yet started arriving in the country, FEWS NET said. The organisation warned that uncertainty was high among farmers, millers and the government, creating conditions for speculation. It also warned that mis-timed importation would lead to a loss of confidence in maize production and marketing with possible implications in maize production next year.

"We are hoping to meet all our beneficiary targets in February and March through increased imports and by distributing government stocks, which are scattered around the country," World Food Programme spokesman Richard Lee told IRIN.

Theme (s): Food Security,

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

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