Analysis: WILLIAM CHILUFYA
WE HAVE come a long way in understanding and agreeing on what must be done to improve the face of nutrition in Zambia.
From a time where we constantly called for the highest political will to address malnutrition to a point now, where we hear political leadership speaking about the importance of food and nutrition almost on a weekly basis. We have truly made tremendous strides in advancing the nutrition agenda.
President Edgar Lungu recently reminded Zambians on the need to rethink maize dependency for nutrition and economic reasons. His Vice-President, Her Honour Inonge Wina always strives to make herself available for nutrition discussions. Government ministers have also joined by emphasising diversity on the farm and on the plate, as the National Food and Nutrition Commission say that mono diets are worsening the poor nutrition status of our beloved Country.
All these stakeholders agree that food and nutrition security is vital for health and a key driver of sustainable development. On the other hand, there is overwhelming evidence suggesting that malnutrition, can result in ill health and impaired physical and mental development, thereby worsening the Country’s disease burden. Sustained efforts toward accelerated reduction of malnutrition will therefore significantly contribute to accelerated national development as a result of substantial Government savings.
Zambia is again on the spotlight as it hosts a powerful Nutrition Summit attracting the highest political will in the land as well as international nutrition champions.
The summit is aimed at exploring more progressive approaches in improving food and nutrition in the country. It is an opportunity for sectors playing a role in nutrition to interact with the various multi-disciplinary stakeholders and together, take stock of the numerous commitments made to nutrition development at national, regional and international levels in addition to the implementation status of nutrition relevant actions in sector policies and strategies.
Simply put, we are all getting tired of all the talk about nutrition. We need to shift gears to implementation. Undertaking concrete action to save lives.
For too long now Government has been silent on a non-controversial Nutrition Act!
The decision at the 23rd Cabinet Meeting held on October 19, 2015 at Government Complex to approve (in principle) the introduction of a bill in Parliament to amend the current National Food and Nutrition Commission Act No. 308 of 1967, gave us hope for Nutrition progress.
As Cabinet noted, the Act is outdated and does not address the current malnutrition crisis. The amended Act will facilitate and enhance the implementation of Government policy on Food and Nutrition.
To date, this new Nutrition Act remains just talk. We are yet to see the revised legislation. We need to challenge ourselves on why we have so much inertia to act for nutrition when we know that good nutrition is about saving lives.
The Act itself is hugely important for nutrition, as it is central to the governance of the nutrition sector in Zambia. It provides us the platform and legal framework to do what is right for the nutrition of our people so that we do not continue to deny hundreds of children their fundamental birth right of access to good nutrition which is cardinal to realise their potential to thrive, grow, and fully contribute to society.
One of the issues stakeholders are looking forward to in the Act is the aspect of high-level national coordination for nutrition. Currently, the responsibility of coordinating efforts to tackle malnutrition in Zambia is assigned to the National Food and Nutrition Commission (NFNC), an organ of the Ministry of Health.
Malnutrition is a multi-faceted problem that requires coordinated action from multiple sectors of Government. Coordination has also to be ensured with the many private sector companies working directly and indirectly on issues of food and nutrition, as well as with the civil society organisations (national and international) contributing to improving food security in Zambia.
Despite its efforts, NFNC’s placement gives it limited powers to convene and coordinate the different actors (Ministry of Local Government, Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries, Gender, Education among others) who need to work together to ensure adequate progress in tackling undernutrition.
It is important that stakeholders join hands and continue advocating the revision of NFNC’s mandate so as to enhance its ability to coordinate the national nutrition agenda. This includes changing the placement of the NFNC within the Government structure, so that it has the authority to call all stakeholders to the table and hold them accountable to their responsibilities and commitments.
It also includes the need for a strong, multi-stakeholder NFNC Board that represents the various sectors contributing to the national nutrition agenda and oversees the work of the NFNC. The current board does not inspire multi-stakeholder and multi-sectoral focus for nutrition. The Minister of Health can enhance this positive momentum of nutrition to make necessary changes to the board of the NFNC.
All in all, what we see today around food and nutrition deserves to be commended. We have indeed come a long way but, as a nation, we need to understand that investing in nutrition is non-negotiable, it is about saving lives and it is about having a flourishing Zambian population free from diseases.
The author is a regional advocacy manager – sustainable diets for Hivos southern Africa.
Analysis: WILLIAM CHILUFYA