MARGARET KANGWA, Lusaka
WHEN in boarding at Evelyn Hone College in Lusaka, Mary Nambela, who comes from Ndola, is limited in the choice of meals.
In school, it is usually eggs, rice, pasta and nshima. Other than the fact that they are relatively cheap to obtain, they are easier to store and prepare. Mary says she rarely eats vegetables and fruits in school because buying them every day is what makes them expensive. And if she was to buy in bulk, they would go bad as she does not have a refrigerator.
“Things like beans also take much time when cooking while meat and other nice foods are very expensive,” she says. “Moreover, I need money for typing my assignments and other academic materials, so I can’t afford to buy them.”
But when Mary is home in Ndola, the variety is wide including the ‘luxury’ of fruits, which her mother routinely buys on her way from work.
“What hurts is that I stay in campus for six months and only two weeks twice in a year at home,” Mary says.
But another Evelyn Hone student, Joe Banda, says he prefers nshima to any other foods because it is the staple he has been brought up on.
Joe says foods like rice, fruits, pasta and pizza do not quite make him feel that he has had a proper meal.
“And in school, we don’t have time to prepare a variety of foods because time is never with us and money is another challenge, if you concentrate on eating different foods, then with school, it won’t be things,” he said.
Recently, there has been talk and emphasis on diversifying from maize and instead promote the production and consumption of alternative foods.
About a fortnight ago, the Consumer Unit and Trust Society (CUTS) International, in collaboration with the World Food Programme (WFP) and HIVOS, held a breakfast meeting at Radisson Blu Hotel in Lusaka to highlight some of the findings from their report titled ‘Promoting Sustainable Diets in Zambia’.
The report provides insights on food consumption patterns in Lusaka which are critical for any efforts to influence households’ food consumption patterns in the future.
CUTS International Lusaka centre coordinator Chenai Mukumba says the timing of the report is advantageous as debates over nshima dependency have been sparked from as high as the President.
The Radisson Blu Hotel meeting had representation from Government, civil society organisations, the private sector and the media. On the panel were representatives from the Lusaka City Council (LCC), Hivos, National Food and Nutrition Commission (NFNC) and UNILEVER.
Some interesting findings came out of the report.
For instance, the report shows that out of the three meals of the day, breakfast is less common among poor households compared to richer ones. Only 29 percent of the poorest 20 percent of households in Lusaka eat breakfast on a daily basis, as compared to 88 percent of the richest 20 percent of households in Lusaka who are eating breakfast on a daily basis.
The reason why they do not eat breakfast was simple – they could not afford.
Ms Mukumba says another factor that stood out was that consumption of fast foods is significant especially among richer households.
“About 19 000 households in Lusaka consume processed fast foods and this is cause for concern as this may rise as living standards improve. Our results show that households that are relatively wealthier and households that are in wage employment are more likely to eat fast foods,” she says.
“[About] 62 percent of the 20 richest of households in Lusaka reported they consume fast foods on certain days while only 9 percent of the poorest 20 percent of households in Lusaka said they consume fast foods on certain days.”
Ms Mukumba says this is expected as the richer households tend to have incomes from employment allowing them to be able to buy different foods.
“With regard to fruits and vegetables, the study found that most consumers consume vegetables daily but regarding fruits, it is worrying as only a small share of poor and rich households eat them frequently,” she says.
“When it comes to fruits, only 27 percent of the richest 20 percent and 6 percent of the poorest 20 percent of households in Lusaka said they consume fruits at least once a day and according to the World Health Organization, consumers should have at least five fruits a day.”
The biggest influence in people buying the kinds of food that they do is mostly pricing. In fact, price was also brought out as a limiting factor to eating healthy foods.
“The most common barrier to eating healthy foods is that they tend to be expensive. Therefore, making healthy foods affordable would promote their consumption,” Ms Mukumba says.
“From the study, most households demonstrated high knowledge of healthy and unhealthy foods but their source of such information is more from friends/family and health personnel than food labels.
“Results show that only one percent and six percent from the poorest and richest wealth quintiles actually get their information on foods from the packaging label.”
Another key finding was that local markets are the most common sources of food for both rich and poor households. However, Ms Mukumba says while local markets are easy and quicker to access because they are found within neighbourhoods, a concern arising from this is that the hygiene statuses of some of these local markets can be put into question, as they would contribute to the spread of water-borne diseases.
Chief Government spokesperson Dora Siliya says there is common agreement that maize is less nutritious compared to other food crops like cassava and millet.
Ms Siliya says as a result of that, diversification, which has been song by successive administrations, is now real with other crops now being added to the Famer Input Support Programme (FISP).
“Patriotism is not just saying that I am Zambian, but means being proud of what is found in the country including foods, we must not wait for farmers to export the soya beans to the Chinese and make money; instead we must be the first ones to buy it,” she says.
“No-one is advocating that we should get rid of eating nshima, but let us have a variety of foods and find means of finding more markets for our farmers.”
The National Food and Nutrition Commission of Zambia (NFNC) says that Zambia has 13 groups of foods but only five get to the dinner table.
NFNC acting executive director Musonda Mofu says people need to change their mind-sets away from believing that nshima is the only food that they can eat.
“To ensure that we have a variety of foods, we had realised that traditional recipes are slowly diminishing, including in the villages. We’ve documented traditional recipes and recipe booklets on how to prepare different foods, one for infants and another one for adults,” Mr Musonda says.
He says they are supposed to undertake a national food consumption survey in May to quantify how Zambians are consuming different foods across the country.
“Once we know the levels of consumption of different foods, we’ll come up with a strategy of promoting different foods,” Mr Musonda says.
MARGARET KANGWA, Lusaka