DFID's development programme in Zambia

06 September 2012

Zambia is a long way from eliminating extreme poverty despite an improving economy and the benefits of copper resources, according to a report by the International Development Committee which examines the UK Government’s development programme in the country.  UK support should be focused on reproductive health services, secondary education and rural poverty, the MPs argue.

Chairman of the Committee, Malcolm Bruce MP, said:

"The Zambian economy has grown significantly over the last ten years, but the country is still one of the poorest in the world and will not meet many of the Millennium Development Goals without a renewed focus on maternal mortality, secondary education and rural poverty.

The number of deaths during childbirth in Zambia is appallingly high and some simple health interventions could start to get these numbers down.

The economy is improving in Zambia, but if the country is to succeed in creating a modern economy more needs to be done to improve secondary education.

Delivering services to the rural population in such a large country presents a particular challenge."

Although Zambia has enjoyed significant economic growth in the last decade, it remains one of the least-developed countries in the world, ranking 164 out of 187 countries in the 2011 UN Human Development Index with a third of the population unable to meet even basic food needs. The country is seriously off track on the poverty Millennium Development Goal (MDG1) and inequality remains very high. Women suffer disproportionately; violence against women is widespread and maternal mortality rates (MDG5) are high.

The foremost challenge for the Zambian economy is to spread wealth to rural areas. Three quarter of rural Zambians live on less than a $1 a day and nationally only 10% of the population are formally employed, half in the public sector. The rural poor rely on agriculture with their crops providing both food and income. Smallholder agriculture is therefore key to economic growth and the Committee welcomes DFID's proposed rural markets development programme, which seeks to increase the productivity of poor smallholder farmers by strengthening markets for inputs and crops.

Lack of access to reproductive health services is one of the key reasons maternal mortality is high. There is a particular need for contraceptive implants, which are restricted by national health policy to provision by doctors only. The report recommends that DFID encourage the Zambian Government to allow clinicians other than doctors, including nurses and midwives, to be trained to provide Long-Acting and Permanent Method contraception. DFID should focus its efforts on rural areas and young people.

Secondary, tertiary and vocational education should also be prioritised in DFID's education expenditure. There is a particular need for business education with a lack of competent middle management across the Zambian economy in the public and private sector.

The report also highlights  major inefficiencies in Zambia's public expenditure - - which, if removed, could free up revenues to improve public services. The biggest of these is the maize subsidy, which costs 8% of the Government budget – a sum which considerably exceeds DFID’s bilateral aid programme in the country.  In 2010 the Government’s floor price for maize was set at $100 per tonne above the regional market price. Following a record maize harvest the Government was then forced to buy 840,000 metric tonnes at a cost of $280 million – leading to a net loss to the Zambian treasury of around $140 million. This problem was repeated in 2011. Phasing out the maize subsidy would free up funds to provide much needed service, for example, free secondary education.

In the past Zambia was highly dependent on overseas aid. According to DFID dependence on traditional development aid has fallen from 37% in 2002 to 7%. And the bulk of the public expenditure needed to meet the country’s vision to become a "prosperous middle-income nation by 2030" will come from the Zambian Government's own revenues. The UK spent £54.7 million on programmes in 2010-11, a figure that will increase to £63 million in 2014-15 according to DFID plans.  

Further information

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