NANCY MUKELABAI, Kalabo
VITAMIN A deficiency has been recognised as one of the serious deficiencies affecting many people in Zambia.
Government, through the Zambia Agriculture Research Institute, has been working with Harvest Plus, an international organisation that works to develop better crops for better nutrition.
Together, they have introduced the orange maize 664 GV to the farmers.
This type of maize is rich in beta-carotene that gives it the orange colour which has Vitamin A.
Kalabo district in Western Province is among the first 14 districts in the country to be identified with high malnutrition levels, and this has led to it being included in the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) programme.
Kalabo is a rural district which has more than half of the population
living in abject poverty. Most of the people live on very little food which is not even balanced. This has led to high malnutrition levels being experienced among the local people.
The district also has a poor road network, therefore most of the trips are on foot hence subjecting the already malnourished people to more energy loss.
People have to walk long distances and for some, days to access any government services. This in itself is a challenge to most villagers as they are in need of so much to improve their lives.
The Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock in Kalabo has 14
agricultural camps of which 10 are being manned by camp extension officers.
These officers are working with the people in agricultural programmes to improve food security at household level and to impart technical knowledge in local people on farming for increased production.
The SUN programme has been appreciated by the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock staff in the district as it will also give
them the opportunity to improve nutritional levels among the residents through growing orange maize right within their villages.
Through this programme, 25 kilogrammes of orange maize seed was given out to the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock in Kalabo to distribute to five lead farmers as demonstrations. The demonstrations on this maize variety were a way of introducing the crop to farmers in the district.
Kalabo district acting crop husbandry officer Royd Sarenje said four lead farmers were given five kilogrammes each of the orange maize seed. These farmers are in four camps; Luanginga, Mapungu, Namatindi and Ngâ€™uma.
The other five kilogrammes were planted at the districtâ€™s Farmer Training Centre for trainings to farmers who did not benefit from the orange maize seed.
Mr Sarenje said the promotion of orange maize production has come at the right time when malnutrition levels in the district arehigh, and that maize is a highly consumed crop by almost 80 percent ofthe people. This means that it is easier for all people to access vitamins through maize than any other crop.
He explained that the lack of Vitamin A in children resulted in frequent illnesses leading to poor class attendance and performance among school going children as most of them have to walk long distances to the nearest school.
Kalabo district has not been spared by the HIV and AIDS pandemic and this has led to so many school going children being orphaned and some being kept by their aged grandparents. This explains why Vitamin A deficiency is also high among children who are not able to take care of themselves.
â€œIn as much as the Ministry of Community Development, Mother and Child Health is administering folic acid for treatment of Vitamin A deficiencies, it is not everyone who can have access to a health centre as Kalabo is a rural district.
â€œBut maize as a staple food is consumed by most people in Zambia, therefore the adoption of orange maize production can improve nutritional levels in the district,â€™â€™ Mr Sarenje said.
He said the promotion of orange maize production has been appreciated due to the high poverty levels in Kalabo because most people cannot afford to buy food rich in Vitamin A. Foods which are Vitamin A supplements are also not available in rural markets.
Even if there are farmers growing other crops such as cassava, sweet potatoes, rice and sorghum, maize is highly considered and grown, making vitamins found in maize readily available for all.
Apart from consuming this orange maize as nshima, it can also be eaten as fresh maize (boiled or roasted), samp, porridge or munkoyo. Since children below the age of five are also targeted, the availability of this vitamin is guaranteed as consumption of this maize is not restricted to one method of preparation.
The Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock in Kalabo is working hand in hand with the farmers in scaling up nutrition through agriculture.
Agness Chomba, one of the farmers who benefitted from the orange maize seed, hailed the government through the SUN programme for introducing this maize seed variety to farmers in Kalabo.
She said the orange maize has performed well and encouraged other farmers, especially female farmers who are taking care of orphans, to take up the challenge and help improve the nutritional levels in their households.
Mrs Chomba also urged farmers who recently attended a field day in Kalenga to embrace all government programmes and initiatives for them to improve their lives.
Mrs Chomba is the only female farmer who benefitted from the programme. She encouraged other women to take up the challenge as they normally take care of their children because men are seldom at home.
This entails that the nutritional aspect is fully handled by women at household level.
She urged farmers in the district to grow orange maize even as a winter crop by taking advantage of the wetlands as water in the flood plains dries out.
These wetland fields are normally used for vegetable growing as they are closer to the main river for easy watering/irrigation. Kalabo district experienced very little rainfall this year, leading to low crop harvest.
But Mrs Chomba said her orange maize has performed very well while other maize varieties have wilted and dried up in most fields.
Another farmer, Simushi Likando of Ngâ€™uma area, also had a very good harvest of the orange maize despite the poor rainfall.
He also called on fellow farmers to take up orange maize production as a way of improving nutritional levels and food security at household level.
Mr Likando planted his orange maize in three different fields at different times and phases for him to assess its adaptation to different times and weather.
This is an initiative that he took up on his own as a way of trying to have a reasonable harvest despite the poor rain pattern. It has been observed that this maize variety has responded well while his other crops have failed.
It is governmentâ€™s aim and commitment to maximise production and consumption of nutritious foods to have a healthy nation. It is therefore important to have more farmers adopting orange maize production.
With governmentâ€™s emphasis on scaling-up nutrition, the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock in Kalabo is committed to closely working with farmers in improving nutritional levels in the district. – NAIS
The author is Kalabo district agricultural information 0fficer.
NANCY MUKELABAI, Kalabo