Rhodesia spinoff: Zambia faces serious food shortages

With less than two months supply of maize (corn) in stock, Zambia could face a serious shortage of its staple food by the end of April -- unless planned imports of more than 200,000 tons of the grain are speeded up.

The emergency supplies to see Zambia through to the next harvest in June should have started flowing into the country early this month. But delays in arranging payments and logistical problems have held up deliveries, and there is growing concern here that a crisis could develop by May.

"The way things are going, it will be touch and go whether sufficient maize can be delivered in to avert a potentially serious shortage," says a foreign aid official working on the supply program.

Foreign experts point out with some concern that all of Zambia's current shipment estimates are based on postelection stability in Rhodesia, through which most supplies come, and the willingness of both the incoming Rhodesian administration and the South African government to bend over backward to help Zambia.

"Such assumptions are precarious, given Zambia's hostility towards South Africa and its apparent unwillingess to accept anything but a Patriotic Front [ guerrilla organization] government in Rhodesia," one expert said.

The Times of Zambia newspaper, owned by the country's ruling party, suggested in a recent editorial that Africa should reject the results of the feb. 27-29 Rhodesian election -- unless the Patriotic Front won.

"Zambia has to decide what it wants quickly," the foreign-aid expert said. "And if it's food it wants, it will have to move quickly."

Zambia's maize shortage stems from a poor harvest in 1979, when the crop met only half the country's annual consumption of 700,000 tons.

Small amounts of relief maize were ordered and delivered from South Africa, Tanzania, and Malawi last year, but the two substantial orders, 120,000 tons from South Africa and 104,000 tons from the United States, have yet to be shipped.

As a result, serious bottlenecks are expected to develop on landlocked Zambia's transportation routes, which can only be eased by giving priority to maize at the expense of other imports.

Zambia's two railway links with the coast, the Chinese-built Tazara line to the Tanzanian port of Dar es Salaam and the older southern route through Rhodesia to South African ports, are already under strain.

The southern route is more efficient but is subject to political developments in Rhodesia and to the fact that traffic has to be shared with Zaire's Shaba Province.

To take the pressure off the railways, plans are being prepared to truck a substantial amount of maize from railheads in Rhodesia. But the logistics of such an exercise raise doubts that targeted tonnages can be reached.

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