High m/mealie prices will compromise Zambians’ health, warns JCTR

JCTR has warned that current high mealie-meal prices could compromise people’s health in the country.

In a statement yesterday, Jesuit Centre for Theological Reflection (JCTR) deputy director Father Alex Muyebe said the situation could force people to compromise on the quality of food they were buying.

“This is bearing in mind that over 71 per cent of employed persons in Zambia are engaged in the informal sector characterised by uncertainty and unsecure livelihoods (Zambia Statistics Agency, Labour Force Survey Report, First Quarter 2019). Households are therefore forced to economise on the quantity and quality of their meals robbing them of dignified livelihood,” he stated. “This in turn affects their access to adequate and nutritious food and compromises the health of the vast majority which in this case are the poor and the marginalised in our society given the poverty levels in our country. Furthermore, this also poses a challenge on the ability of poor households to meet other important non-food expenses such as housing, education and health care. In addition, it also makes it difficult for households with already little or no income access to mobilise savings.”

Fr Muyebe urged the government to monitor activities of the Food Reserve Agency so that the institution offloads enough grain on the market.

“JCTR therefore urges the government to continue closely monitoring and building resilience of authorities such as the Food Reserve Agency to prevent any further shortages. The inability to do so has the potential to cause sustained high prices of the commodity in the long term,” Fr Muyebe stated. “Given the high levels of poverty experienced in the country, it is imperative that government increases the allocation of funds towards social protection to cushion the vulnerable households, specifically safety net programmes such as food or income transfer and nutrition programmes focused on the poor and the marginalised in our communities.”

Fr Muyebe stated that the government should also invest in irrigation agriculture as a long-term measure.

“Government must prioritise investment in the agriculture sector, especially in irrigation technologies and in crop diversification to promote drought resistant crops.  This will contribute to addressing prolonged dry spells that are becoming a common occurrence in some parts of the country,” he stated. “This is one of long-term measures as our country continues to experience changes in climate and rainfall patterns which have negatively impacted on crops or a farming system that largely rely on rainfall. A special attention must also be given to improving extension services to ensure that there is effective knowledge and skill transference to small-scale farmers in appropriate technologies relating to agricultural diversification and irrigation as well as other productive crop and livestock husbandry practices in order to improve general agricultural output and productivity.”

Fr Muyebe stated that such measures, coupled with an improved marketing system, would help improve the quality of life for small-scale farmers in the country.

He stated that people were already burdened with numerous economic problems, therefore they did not deserve more struggles.

“It is therefore rather unfortunate to see this shortage of the country’s staple food accompanied by an increase in the commodity’s price happening against an already overburdened citizenry.
Reports on the shortage of mealie meal in some parts of the country is a great concern to JCTR primarily because mealie meal is the country’s staple commodity and any further increases adversely affects the cost of living,” stated Fr Muyebe. “The price of mealie-meal has gone up to unimaginable proportion with some parts of the country recording the price of up to K215. While in some places it is ranging between K170.00 and K190.00. The effect on households, most especially poor households remains a threat as increased costs are detrimental for the well-being of individuals. Price distortions as evidenced by high demand for a commodity with limited supply puts pressure on households.”

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