Dreams of a more affordable staple are fading for vulnerable Zambians as the Zambia National Service (ZNS) grapples with the devastating impact of the prolonged dry spell. A staggering 76% of maize crops cultivated by the ZNS, intended for the production of cheaper mealie meals, have been ravaged by drought, raising concerns about a significant decline in its availability and potential price hikes.

“This is a major setback for our efforts to provide affordable mealie meals to the most vulnerable segments of our society,” expressed Lieutenant Colonel Titus Chanda, ZNS Public Relations Officer. “The drought has significantly compromised our production capacity, and we are currently assessing the situation to determine the extent of the impact on our ability to meet the existing demand.”

Mealie meal, a finely ground maize flour, is a cornerstone of the Zambian diet, particularly for low-income households. The ZNS, a government department with agricultural ventures, plays a crucial role in offering this essential foodstuff at a subsidized price. However, the current crisis threatens to disrupt this vital program.

“With such a significant portion of the harvest lost, the availability of cheaper mealie meals is bound to decrease,” said Joseph Ng’ombe, an agricultural economist. “This could lead to price increases, putting further strain on already stretched household budgets, especially for those who rely heavily on this subsidized option.”

President Hakainde Hichilema recently declared the drought a national disaster, highlighting the widespread devastation across the country and impacting over a million households. The government has pledged to implement various measures to mitigate the crisis, including food aid distribution and exploring alternative sources for maize procurement.

“The government is committed to ensuring food security for all Zambians,” affirmed Minister of Agriculture, Reuben M’thunzi. “We are working tirelessly to address the immediate challenges posed by the drought and explore long-term solutions to enhance our resilience against future climate shocks.”

However, the situation remains concerning, with the potential for increased food insecurity and hardship for vulnerable Zambians in the foreseeable future. The government’s response and the international community’s support will be crucial in navigating this crisis and ensuring access to affordable food for all.