Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Maize economics

In Swaziland more than a third of the population is in need of food aid, after its worst ever harvest, said a UN food agencies' report.A prolonged dry spell has left around 400,000 vulnerable people in need of approximately 40,000 metric tonnes of food assistance until the next harvest in April 2008 . This year's maize crop is nearly 60 per cent below last year's level, both reducing the availability of food as well as resulting in price surges that will curtail many families' access to food in the country where nearly seven out of ten people live on less than $1 per day.

Meantime in Zambia saw maize prices increase at least three times in the last quarter of 2006, with a 25kg bag selling for as much as US$11, making it unaffordable for the majority of the population, two thirds of which live on a $1 or less a day.

"Most of us can't afford a 25kg bag of mealie meal because we have no money... and there are no jobs, we are forced to buy pamelas (the local name for 1kg mealie meal packs) every day." Martha Daka, a street trader in the capital Lusaka, said.

Analysts said the torrential rains late last year and earlier this year, which swamped thousands of fields in at least five of the nine provinces, would likely hit maize production. About 1.4 million people were affected by the flooding and about 300,000 people, mostly in the agricultural producing rural areas, required food aid. Even without an accurate assessment of the expected harvest, the government has begun exports to neighbouring Zimbabwe, Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

While in Kenya the favourite food is ugali. Ugali is the Swahili word for porridge, a milled and cooked form of maize. Served with meat, it is a staple on most menus in local restaurants. It is also the mainstay of agriculture in Kenya. More than 70 percent of farmers are women. Yet in most instances they lack legal ownership of the land. Women might till the land, sow the seeds and harvest the crop, but they often do not see the fruits of their labour. The money ends up in the pockets of their husbands or male relatives.

"Due to natural disasters, such as floods and droughts, some areas cannot even produce enough maize for their own consumption..." said Elizabeth Muemi Kio of Oxfam Kenya

Wanjohi of the Edith Makandi Wanjohi of the International Gender and Trade Network points out that Genetically Modified technology has encouraged monoculture, eroding genetic diversity and "concentrating the benefits of 'new' varieties in the hands of commercial companies, all at the expense of poor farmers". Farmers now have to pay royalties for the varieties they buy."...poor performance has increased and led to the import of genetically modified foods and the dumping of food on the Kenyan market. As a result, farmers can no longer sell their produce at a good market price,"

The world market dominates all the way down to the individual .The value of maize is its exchange value , to be bought and sold as a commodity , and not to be as something to feed people to keep them alive .

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