Food Diversity Can Boost the Health and Wealth of Zambia

September 19, 2016

Hivos Southern Africa congratulates the people of Zambia for a peaceful election that resulted in the election of Edgar Lungu as Zambia’s sixth President. Today, Zambia faces many challenges, one of which is high rates of malnourishment.

As Hivos, we are concerned at the state of the country’s food system which has a strong focus on growing a single crop, a practice called mono cropping of maize. This mono-cropping is eroding ecosystems, reducing crop diversity, depleting the soil and as a consequence, vastly limiting the diversity of foods on our plates. We note that the Zambian government has on average spent 80 per cent of its agricultural budget on supporting the production and procurement of maize through the Farmer Input Support Programme (FISP) and on output price support through the Food Reserve Agency (FRA).

We believe that in addressing nutrition challenges in Zambia, it is important to realise the enormous importance of the food diversity. The “agriculture policy” in relation to maize production and consumption in Zambia must be pursued with due consideration to nutrition and development. The current focus on maize is essentially stifling improvements in nutrition and distracting us from the much more important need to promote and support a diversified diet for Zambians.

Today in Zambia, thousands of children and women suffer from one or more forms of malnutrition, including low birth weight, wasting, stunting, underweight, overweight and multiple micronutrient deficiencies such as vitamin A, iron, zinc, and iodine deficiencies.

But this need not be the case. Zambia’s agricultural landscape provides an opportunity to grow a variety of food species. However, some foods are disregarded and pushed into oblivion – and eventually extinction – by the prevailing food production system.

Agricultural biodiversity and biodiverse farming systems are also more productive and more resilient to climatic changes and other shocks. Ensuring that biodiversity is understood as an important asset to a country’s health and wealth is something President Lungu’s government can achieve by highlighting the importance of agricultural biodiversity and implementing policies that are urgently required to move away from the direction of mono-cropping towards diverse food production instead,

At the same time, households in Zambia have a key role to play by adopting positive behaviours that support diverse food production and consumption. To foster these behaviours, leadership around awareness raising and sensitisation is needed. We therefore expect our new government to prioritise developing policies that promote the production of a diversity of foods and shift away from mono cropping production and consumption.