The maze of maize: improving input and output market access for poor smallholders in southern African region: the experience of Zambia and Malawi

The maze of maize: improving input and output market access for poor smallholders in southern African region: the experience of Zambia and Malawi

Causes of the food crisis in Zambia and Malawi

This study evaluates the causes of the 2001-3 food crisis in Zambia and Malawi, looks at existing policies and makes recommendations to avoid future crises.

The study differentiates causes of the crisis (the maize harvest shortfall in 2001, as well as to why the shortfall caused a food emergency) between:

  • immediate causes, such as reduced plantings due to low food prices the previous growing season
  • fundamental causes, such as high reliance on one crop, maize, that is harvested once a year, low incomes which contribute to the government having limited resources to encounter crises
  • proximate causes which relate to how government and donor policies in the two countries have failed to achieve higher and broad based income growth.

The study partly disputes claims that liberalisation is the cause of the food crisis, arguing that the food crisis was augmented by poorly designed government policies and market interventions.

The study proposes policy recommendations:

  • Governments should commit to a consistent, predictable, and transparent policy towards agriculture and rural growth
  • Governments should provide for better monitoring and information systems of trade flows and prices, improve infrastructure, remove export and import bans, and reduce interest rates
  • Policies must be evaluated against the alternative of reduced spending, improved balance, lower interest rates and lower inflation, as well as against other policies that might address the same objectives
  • Public strategic grain reserves should be small and need very clear rules as to when and how reserves should be released and how and when reserves should be restocked
  • Policies should stimulate storage by households and firms. The system of warehouse receipts and inventory credit is a promising initiative that should be supported in both Zambia and Malawi
  • Invest in improved communication and transportation infrastructure to facilitate a rapid import response when an impending emergency is identified
  • Efforts to improve market information systems should be further strengthened
  • Continued efforts to diversify food production and consumption (away from maize) will contribute to reducing the sensitivity of the economy and households to variations in maize yield, and reduce price volatility
  • Increase productivity through research and extension and better infrastructure, as an alternative to seed and fertiliser subsidies
  • Food for distribution by government and donors should as far as possible be purchased domestically
  • Well-targeted programmes to assist the poorest will be needed to ensure food security, even during normal years e.g. public works programmes, subsidies for investment in human capital, transfers in cash or in kind for those unable to engage in labour activities
  • Improve administrative capacity to deal with land property rights formalisation and transactions. Emphasis should be placed on making current procedures simpler and less expensive, facilitating a demand-driven process of formalisation
  • Measures to increase the output per unit of labour input is crucial for poverty reduction. The HIV/AIDS epidemic does not change this argument. It only makes it even more urgent.
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