The Famine Early Warning Systems Network says given the good seasonal rainfall, crop conditions are good and households will start consuming their green harvest and supplementing it with market purchases by March.
It says by April and May, household level food stocks will significantly improve, reducing dependency on food purchases.
It adds that by June, households will start consuming staples other seasonal foods, improving their food consumption and dietary diversity.
FEWSNET however notes that Maize and meal prices have remained exceptionally high despite the large in-country stocks and the continued maize export ban.
It said these above average prices are increasingly making it difficult for poor households to access food.
“Given the continued high demand for maize and meal from the DRC and Malawi, maize prices are projected to remain high up until March. In April, maize prices typically begin to decrease as food supplies from the green and main harvests enter the market and demand for food purchases declines. By June, maize prices will remain above the five-year average, but will fall to levels below last season,” it says.
On the rainfall situation, FESNET says after a 10 to 20-day delay to the start of season, rainfall improved by mid-December in terms of both amounts and distribution.
“Since mid-December, widespread moderate to heavy rainfall has been received, which has promoted planting and good crop development. Due to the slight delay at the beginning of the season, most planting was completed in mid-December, which is still within the optimal planting period.”
It says in January and February, widespread heavy rainfall continued and improve water availability for domestic and livestock use.
“These rains have increased the water bodies required for domestic and livestock use. As of February 10th, all areas had received in excess of 400 mm of rainfall. Consequently, many areas especially in western Zambia show surplus water requirements for the maize crop. It should be noted that most of these areas produce low amounts of maize but high amounts of rice therefore, the rice crop will benefit from increased moisture after two consecutive below average rainfall seasons.”
It notes that field reports indicate that farmers planted additional rice in February due to the good rainfall, which is likely to increase overall rice production for the country.
“After receiving persistent heavy rains in the first twenty days of January, there was reduced rainfall for the remainder of January in western Zambia, reducing the risk of flooding. So far, there are no reports of atypical flooding in the Zambezi plains. The crops typically affected include the off-season crops planted along the Zambezi River, which as usual were already being harvested.”
It says, “At the start of the season, most seeds (maize, soybeans, sunflower, and beans) and fertilizer were generally available on the market for purchase, allowing farmers to plant on time.”
It observes that government subsidized input support was very late and was mostly made available in January, outside of the optimum planting period for most crops.
“In some cases, farmers began to use inputs/ vouchers as late as February. Groundnut seeds were received so late at district level such that farmers decided not to redeem the seeds, since it was too late to plant them and instead planted recycled seed. Based on field observations and information, during the planting period groundnuts and cowpea seeds were in high demand, but appeared in short supply,” it said.
“Since most planting took place in mid-December, most crops are currently in the flowering to grain filling stage and field observations and reports indicate that crops are mostly in good condition. In response to the good market and prices, field reports indicate that farmers planted more maize, soybeans, groundnuts, sunflower, and cowpeas this season, with respect to the previous year.”
It added, “In contrast and as expected, due to the poor prices in recent years, the area planted to cotton and tobacco is reported to have significantly reduced this season with respect to both average and the previous season.”
It observes that armyworms and stalk borers affected 77 districts out of the 105 districts in Zambia.
“The Fall armyworm was identified for the first time in Zambia. The Copperbelt Province, parts of Western (including Luampa, Nkeyema and Kaoma districts), Southern Province (including Kalomo, Choma, Namwala, Mazabuka, and Siavonga districts), and Eastern Province (including Nyimba, Mambwe, and Lundazi districts) were most affected by the outbreak. The infestation was highest for maize crops in the vegetative stage,” the report said.
It said that although the pests were first sighted and reported in late November, lack of an effective early warning system and an under-resourced agricultural extension service resulted in delayed interventions and widespread infestation beyond the initial Copperbelt Province outbreak area to the remaining nine provinces.
FEWSNET says that overall, based on current crop conditions and continued good rainfall, prospects for the green and main harvest are good and expectations are that at the very least an average crop output will be attained for maize for the 2016/17 season, assuming that the increased area planted to maize could to some extent make up for potential yield losses due to pest infestations.