Over the last 30 years agricultural production has continued to form the basis of livelihood strategies in rural Zambia. There are wide variations, and combinations depending on ecological zone, land suitability, cropping pattern, year round water availability, and potential for livestock/poultry production. All households engage in a range of non-agricultural natural resource use, for example: fishing, forestry and wildlife utilisation. In addition households are involved in various alternative informal income generating activities, however, these tend to be short term, seasonal and with low rewards, e.g. petty trading, crafts, and casual labour.
Livelihood portfolios are dynamic both on an intra-annual (seasonal) and inter -annual basis. Livelihood strategies respond to changes in climatic conditions, institutional context, rural-urban linkages, market opportunities and household demographics,
While the context and conditions influencing livelihood strategies have shifted there are elements of continuity. The "copper spoon" years, after Independence in 1964, ingrained a belief in a munificent state that would reach and provide to all in perpetuity. Political patronage did bring benefits to the outlying provinces, (or "the outliers") in the post Independence period. The macro-economic shocks and stresses of the late 1970s and 1980s reinforced earlier structural contradictions in the economy. During the 1990s, the outliers became more marginalized and isolated with reduced ability to benefit from improved market opportunities. Since this period it could be argued that they are regaining a certain degree of internal resilience. However, the "global market" in which they want to participate in continues to work against them.
Macro and micro factors that have impacted on livelihoods
Trends in demography, poverty and assets
- The dichotomies between rural and urban populations, and between "the line of rail" and outlying areas are rooted in the colonial period and have never been adequately addressed.
- Maize, as both the urban staple food, and the anticipated pathway to national staple food self-sufficiency has formed the basis of political patronage.
- During "the years of the copper spoon", NAMBOARD and the cooperative movement were the vehicles through which the state was able to subsidise both producers and consumers. However this was on the basis of continued high copper revenues.
- The economy began to decline in the mid-1970s following the oil shock (1973) compounded by a sharp decline in world copper prices (1974). No major substitutes from other economic sectors came on stream. The increased decline in the economy in the 1980s was due to the lack of sufficient responses to these external factors, declining terms of trade and shifting demand patterns for the raw materials that Zambia produced.
- The early domestic structural reforms and later Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) included a range of measures that were aimed at restructuring and stabilising the economy in order to restore growth. These actions included: removing subsidies especially in the agriculture input and output markets, rationalising the civil service and cutting public expenditure, closing or selling public enterprises, devaluing the local currency, and opening up the local economy to foreign competition.
- However, even after the removal of input and marketing subsidies, the government continued to intervene in the maize economy. One example of this was immediately before the 2001 elections, MMD agents were appointed as the fertiliser distributors for the Food Reserve Agency. The most recent manifestation (2003) of this is the distribution of 100 x 50kg bags of maize to every chief in Southern Province - "because they should not need to stand in a queue for relief maize, like everyone else".
- The key role that maize plays in supporting political patronage has led to policy vacillation in the forms of policy dualism, constrained policy intent, and reactive policy.
- The extension of political patronage has contributed to the failure to see through the civil service reform process. The obligation to meet high wage and salary bills reduces available investment in social and productive sectors.
- In the early 1990s the government adopted a cash budget at the behest of foreign advisers. While this initially contributed to curbing inflation, it reduced the transparency and accountability of the budget and disbursement process. Such that a small ad hoc group makes decisions about priority spending on a monthly basis. These priorities in turn are influenced by political patronage, and act towards maintaining resources in the hands of the elite at the centre.
- Decentralisation may have occurred in some sectors but without the requisite devolution of authority. At the local level the relationship between elected and appointed authorities is unclear. Political patronage is used to co-opt "traditional" leadership structures.
- Mixed signals from the government have contributed to the incomplete liberalisation of the maize economy. This has acted as one of the brakes on the trend towards diversification of cropping patterns.
- In contrast, it would appear that the government has completely abandoned the livestock economy, to the extent of failing to support even the provision of public goods such as disease control measures. This has led to asset depletion, reduced draught power, diminished area under cultivation, and reduced access to milk and manure.
Trends in agricultural production
- The 2000 Census of Population and Housing found that the urbanisation rate has decreased, and that there was a net urban-rural migration. The proportion of urban population has decreased from 40% in 1980 to 36% in 2000. In-migration to the Copperbelt, Lusaka and Southern Provinces has decreased, perhaps reflecting a reduction in the availability of formal employment. In-migration to the rural areas has increased. This may reflect retirees or retrenched workers re-settling in rural areas or perhaps PLWHA or HIV/AIDS related orphans returning to rural based relatives.
- Over the period 1992-1998 the percentage of overall poverty in Zambia has increased from 70% to 73%. However, disaggregation of the data by rural and urban populations shows that during this period, the percentage of rural poverty has declined slightly while the percentage of urban poverty has increased.
- The apparent decrease in rural poverty appears to mask increasing differentiation within the rural population. For example, the percentage of commercial farmers below the poverty line has decreased, while the percentage of small-scale farmers below the poverty line has remained relatively stable over the period.
- Provincial disaggregation of poverty data also shows that while overall levels of rural poverty among small-scale farmers may have remained stable between 1991 and 1998, in Luapula and Western Provinces total poverty has increased from 73% to 82% and 85% to 89% respectively. Total poverty among the rural population has decreased in: Eastern, Northern, North-Western and Southern Provinces.
- An examination of trends in rural household asset levels indicates that although while still low, the percentage of rural households owning radios, bicycles, and ploughs has increased during the decade of the 1990s.
- During the 1990s, the monetary and energy value of agricultural production remained stable.
- While the contribution of maize production to the overall value of agricultural production has declined, there appears to have been a trend to diversify cropping patterns, and non-agricultural sources of income. However, what might appear to be diversification in the provinces close to the line of rail, could be regarded as a reversion to narrower cassava dominated farming systems in the outlying provinces.
The 2001/2002 drought
- The implications of this for the right to food security and freedom from malnutrition and its debilitating effects, is in part dependent on whether the private sector has taken up the space vacated by the state subsidised marketing system. Private trading networks are establishing themselves, where it is profitable to do so i.e. where there are sufficient volumes of production, and where transaction costs can be contained.
- However, in the outlying provinces the state has retracted from the provision of marketing, extension services, education, health and water provision. The demand for private or market provision of services in the outlying areas is weak. Health services have become dependent on donors and focus on mobile campaigns to provide preventative services such as immunisation, and Vitamin A supplementation.
- National Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) have witnessed a steady increase in the percentage of stunted children from 40% to 47% during the 1990s. These are among the highest in Africa. In the outlying provinces such as Northern, Luapula and Eastern Provinces, chronic malnutrition rates are even higher. In Eastern Province stunting increased from 48% to 59% between 1992 and 2000, and in Luapula stunting increased from 56% to 58% over the same period.
- The stress and sometimes shocks of the SAP have perhaps been felt most keenly in urban areas in terms of declining formal employment opportunities and increasing poverty. On the other hand, it is the outlying provinces that have been most affected by the government's market liberalisation policy, reductions in public sector spending and consistently high rates of chronic malnutrition.
- Economic stresses have also been overlaid and compounded by the risk of natural calamities such as drought and floods in some parts of the country. The risk of drought is higher in Southern, and parts of Western and Eastern Provinces, however the link between drought-induced food insecurity and vulnerability to child malnutrition should be questioned and needs to be examined in more depth.
So what happened?
- The impact of the 2001/2002 drought was felt worst in Southern Province where maize production was 56% lower than the previous season's harvest of 2000/2001. The vulnerability of Southern Province to drought shocks is well recognised. The trend towards more diversified cropping patterns in provinces away from the line of rail, is not so pronounced in Southern Province. This is perhaps because, in a good weather year and when fertiliser is applied in time, good maize yields are possible. However, the government's continued involvement in the acquisition and distribution of fertiliser is a clear example of policy dualism. This has had at least two results: on the one hand it has sent mixed messages to the private sector for them to be able to commit fully to input distribution; and on the other hand it has continued the addiction of Southern Province farmers to maize production. 2001/2002 saw both delayed delivery of fertiliser in order to time with the election campaign, and reduced rainfall.
- While there was a maize production deficit in Southern Province, there was also the sale of considerable amounts of maize to urban-based traders soon after harvest. Prices were good reaching import parity as other parts of southern Africa were expected to be in maize deficit. Maize sales were also influenced by the anticipation that the on-going GRZ/WFP food relief distribution would continue. There was little incentive to store maize for own consumption.
- The continued allocation of scarce government resources to support the maize economy and political patronage, diverts thinking and resources away from alternative perhaps drought tolerant crops, or from strengthening more diversified livelihoods based around livestock, fishing, forestry, and wildlife.
- In normal times in Southern Province, the pattern is to sell maize after harvest and then purchase maize or maize meal later in the year (November/ December) from the proceeds of animal sales, cash crops, vegetable production, milk and poultry sales.
- The use of GMO maize for relief food in Southern Africa raised awareness and debate around the right to culturally acceptable and safe food. However, this debate again highlighted the hegemony that urban-based stakeholders have over the rural population.
- At least by January/February 2003, the predictions of impending "famine" and "starvation" by relief agencies and reports in the national and international media did not appear to have been borne out. Nutrition surveys undertaken by Care International and other agencies (see table) indicate that malnutrition rates have remained stable since July-August 2002, and are below the recognised cut-off of 10% prevalence of global acute malnutrition.
The literature review shows that while the 2001/2002 drought affected agricultural production in parts of Southern, Western, Eastern and Central Provinces, the response to this perceived transitory crisis has obscured a broader picture. This broader, more complicated picture reveals much higher levels of poverty and chronic malnutrition, differentiated on both a geographical and socio-economic basis. The review has identified multiple causes that have led to the current situation, which in turn are rooted in long-term trends.
The New Deal and future vulnerability
- Hypothesis I: while in 2001/2002 there was a maize production deficit in parts of the country, the extent and severity of a food security crisis was overestimated. Factors to be considered in this include:
- Contribution of cassava, other tubers and small grains were not adequately factored into crop forecast estimates.
- Cash income from the cotton crop was not fully considered.
- While Corridor Disease has affected the livestock economy, livestock and milk availability continues to play a role in household food security.
- In vulnerability assessments, the maize production shortfall was closely equated with the need for relief food.
- Methodological inadequacies in vulnerability assessments (sampling), led to inappropriate extrapolation of the numbers affected and the severity of the problem.
- Hypothesis II: household coping strategies were underestimated:
- Internal livestock re-stocking mechanisms, sharing of animals among families.
- Contribution of wild nuts, fruits and roots, which in the past formed part of the staple diet (e.g. mantembe root).
- Mothers are "protecting" their children.
- HIV/AIDS does impact at household level. However with 11% prevalence in rural areas, communities have not been "devastated and laid to waste" as portrayed, and the requirement for large amounts of food aid assistance to HIV/AIDS affected households may not only undermine community support mechanisms, but also act as a disincentive to agricultural production, and distort market dynamics.
- While the delivery of food relief was well below estimated requirements, deliveries were targeted to the worst affected geographical areas and most vulnerable households. This contributed to the maintenance of household assets and well-being in the short term.
- Hypothesis III: There appears to be a reversion to cassava production in provinces away from the line of rail and major consumption centres.
- In some farming systems this may represent increased crop diversity, but in others it may indicate a narrowing of cropping patterns that would be reflected in decreased dietary diversity.
- It would appear that the contribution of cassava production and consumption to nutritional outcomes, depends on its combination with other livelihood strategies (e.g. fishing)
- The potential impact of this on nutritional well-being and for HIV/AIDS affected households should be more closely examined.
- Hypothesis IV: New institutional landscapes are evolving:
- The state and its institutions have retracted from local level. The private sector has not filled this space as was expected. Is there an institutional vacuum, or what is happening?
- What is happening to social relations within the extended family, and how do these kin networks relate to and access wider societal institutions?
- What has been the impact of Non Governmental Organisations' (NGO) efforts towards capacity building of Community Based Organisations (CBO) and group formation at the local level?
- Hypothesis V: political patronage and the maize economy have become entwined in a web of relationships and actions that continue to act as a constraint on efforts to reduce vulnerability to chronic food insecurity. Examples of the impact of this detrimental relationship include:
- Continued government interference in the maize economy that has jeopardised diversification into other crops and non-agricultural activities.
- Policy vacillation continues to send mixed signals to the private sector.
- Failure to adopt fiscal discipline in government budgeting processes, has led to inadequate and disrupted disbursements to key ministries.
- Failure to devolve authority to decentralised structures has meant that communities do not have control over the resources that are central to their livelihood security.
- Hypothesis VI: there is an on-going failure to understand the complex aetiology and relationship between food insecurity and malnutrition. This is also compounded by the lack of distinction in the pathways leading to chronic and transitory food insecurity in Zambia. Arguably this has diverted attention and resources away from addressing the unacceptably high levels of stunting among children in the country, and the long-term impact that this will have on the Zambian development process. Factors that have contributed to this include:
- Inadequate awareness among key decision makers of the role of nutrition in national development.
- Absence of a national food and nutrition policy.
- Inadequate multi-sectoral coordination and collaboration on food and nutritional issues.
- Commercial agriculture and in particular non-traditional exports (horticulture and floriculture) are seen as the beacons for future economic growth. It is anticipated that the small-scale farming sector will benefit from this growth through participation in out-grower schemes along the line of rail, or as agricultural labour on newly opened commercial farming blocks. Once again the outlying areas look likely to be marginalized further.
- In this context, what is the new institutional landscape in the outlying areas? What institutions (formal and informal) are now important to households and communities? What are the obligations and responsibilities and support that bond households in production and social transactions? How do changing institutional landscapes at the local level provide social protection for the chronically sick, elderly and other vulnerable groups and what are the appropriate forms of support to them?
- There is considerable concern about proposals to target food aid to HIV/AIDS affected individuals and/or households. Will this be at the expense of long term efforts to reduce poverty through supporting positive livelihood outcomes and identifying strategies to strengthen existing or evolving social networks and institutions at the local level, that assist vulnerable community members?
- Is there a voice from civil society and from how deep in civil society? What role can increased political sensitisation and awareness, the media, and the justice system play in ensuring that the New Deal benefits all?
- The right to food and freedom from malnutrition is more than the right to be fed, but, incorporates the right to feed oneself and one's family. Could this be one pillar of a rights based platform for civil society, CBOs, the media, and concerned informal and formal private sector stakeholders to advocate for shared responsibility to address the unacceptable levels of malnutrition in Zambia?