NANCY SIAME, Lusaka
DESPITE government policies aimed at improving food and nutrition security, Zambia’s food and agriculture systems seem not to be providing
adequate food security for all.
Seasonal hunger still affects many families as a significant proportion of children still suffer from stunted growth, while obesity and associated diseases are increasing in adults.
In recent years, agricultural systems worldwide have mainly concentrated on producing a handful of staple grain crops, providing for full bellies and farmer income, but not making available the range of foods needed for health.
Therefore, agriculture systems fail to provide foods that would allow for diverse, nutritious, affordable and sustainable diets for all.
Staple crops such as maize are high in carbohydrates, but do not contain all the proteins, vitamins and minerals needed for a healthy diet, so increasing the availability of and access to a nutritionally diverse range of foods is key to improving diets.
As the diet in Zambia is heavily dominated by maize, food security is often equated with maize production, thereby making most families miss out other nutritious foods.
In line with this vision of ensuring improved diets, Zambia is a signatory to several international agreements, among them the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) movement aimed at reducing stunting.
The country has adopted the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Plan compact, which aims, among other things, to improve food security and nutrition. It has also signed up to the new universal Sustainable Development Goals, which include both nutrition and agriculture targets.
Zambia has similarly adopted the World Health Assembly targets committing the world to end malnutrition in all its forms.
Hivos Southern Africa Hub Zambia recently hosted a series of Sustainable Diets for All (SD4ALL) meetings which brought together a total of 60 participants from different parts of the world to consider sustainable food programmes.
Hivos Southern Africa Zambia utilised the opportunity to position the sustainable food programme in Zambia both locally and globally, after which a policy brief which describes the potential of the agriculture and food systems in Zambia was launched.
The policy brief provides clear policy recommendations on how the food and agriculture sector can better serve the country’s population with sustainable diets for all.
The agriculture diversity paper notes that the major focus of the agriculture sector remains national food security through staple food production, normally equated in political rhetoric, with maize self-sufficiency.
“While the Second National Agriculture Policy may address this, agricultural production in Zambia has been heading away from making diverse and healthy diets available,” the report notes.
The report indicates that diets in Zambia are heavily reliant on maize, and are not diversified.
The National Nutrition and Agricultural Policy in Zambia recognises the need to increase and diversify the production of nutritious foods to improve availability and bring down prices.
In practice, however, most government agricultural funding is spent on food security programmes promoting maize production, despite repeated findings that these do not reduce food insecurity in the most vulnerable farming households.
The policy further states that agricultural policy and infrastructure in Zambia are not supportive of diverse and sustainable diets as they currently stand.
“There is therefore a strong case for improving diversity in both food production and consumption,” the report says.
Recommendations in the report include investments in research and development, in agricultural extension and seed system services; improving diet and nutrition considerations in existing food security programmes, and making sure they target households most vulnerable to hunger and malnutrition; increase consumer demand for diverse nutritious foods; and collecting data on Zambian diets and food procurement strategies to better frame future responses.
Hivos Southern Africa regional advocacy manager – sustainable foods William Chilufya commended Government’s efforts in promoting good health through healthy diets and exercise, to help reduce the number of non-communicable diseases and other associated illnesses in the country.
Mr Chilufya made reference to the establishment of a social determinants department under the Ministry of Health to promote good health.
“We note Government’s efforts in trying to bring to the attention of the public the importance of dieting and exercising, and we will ensure that we give them the necessary support,” Mr Chilufya said.
He said a lot of Zambians are getting over-weight and this has resulted in an increase in non-communicable diseases.
Mr Chilufya called on Government to ensure crop diversification in the country is seriously implemented to enable people have a variety of food.
“If we focus on producing a lot of maize we will be giving ourselves less option for different foods that would be good for us as a country,” he said.
Mbala Member of Parliament (MP) Mwalimu Simfukwe, who is chairperson of the parliamentary Committee on Estimates, in his presentation, said mono-cropping is a very big problem in the country.
Mr Simfukwe said agriculture in the country means ‘maize only’ for small-scale farmers but the committee is trying to change this culture.
“Farmers should be allowed to buy other seeds and not just what government wants them to buy through the electronic voucher system,” he said.
Kaputa MP Maxus Ng’onga member of the Parliamentary Committee on Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries, said some traditional seeds are slowly getting forgotten by the people because there are no investments to promote them.
Meanwhile Hivos senior programme manager Frank Mechielsen in his presentation on SD4ALL, emphasised the need to change food systems in the world.
“Due to unhealthy diets, we have a double burden of malnutrition and obesity, it is a time bomb,” he said.
Mr Mechielsen said Hivos wants to look at what is best for both the farmer and the consumer when it comes to crops grown and food consumed to help promote diversity.