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Mobilizing for local food plants to combat malnutrition.

The USAID report on nutrition updated in 2018 indicates that 1.12 million children (40 percent) under 5 years suffer from chronic malnutrition (stunting or low height-for-age) and 420,000 children (15 percent) under 5 years suffer from acute malnutrition (wasting or low weight-for-height), according to the most recent Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) (Central Statistical Office [CSO] [Zambia], Ministry of Health [MOH][Zambia], and ICF International 2014)1. The SD=HS programme in Zambia works with 38 farmer fields schools working on improving nutrition using local food plants. A total of 1,214 farmers of which 503 are women and 337 are youth are participating in participatory research in nutrition with different research objectives. The research objective includes home gardening, food preparations, food preservations, harvesting from the wild and seed collection and multiplication.

The FFS report the following as some of the underlying causes of malnutrition; limited access to seed diversity, limited knowledge on nutrition, low productivity, poor hygiene, poor diets, under valuing local food plants and poor cooking methods. Due to the limited number of crops that are being cultivated and ultimately consumed, the nutrition status in rural communities has been compromised; furthermore, local food plants have been neglected due to various reasons such as taste, color and long process of food preparation.

During the diagnostic stages the farmer field schools reported that women make the decisions on what to eat in the households while men are the most powerful household member to access food and the children are the weakest members of the household to access food. This power imbalance in terms of food access explains why so many children in rural communities are threatened with malnutrition. Due to programme implementation, communities are reporting equitable food distribution within households, ensuring that children who are still growing and pregnant women access adequate food and nutrition.

The programme and farmer field schools have been mobilizing and influencing for increased consumption of local food plants. In July 2023 farmers organized seed and food fairs that were themed “My food is African”. The farmers showcased various local food plants and their production methods, cooking methods and their nutritional benefits. A total of 1,243 farmers and 30 stakeholders participated in these events. See here link to the seed and food fairs.

Local food plants showcased in Chikankata and Rufunsa respectively during food fairs themed “My food is African.”

“We should increase the production of our local foods. When we have produced more, we should be able to consume more of these foods. These foods if well utilized have the potential to improve our nutrition. Over the years, we have seen a rise in a number of non-communicable diseases because of eating unhealthy food. Let’s get back to our local food; if we do that, we will have healthier communities. This knowledge must also be passed to our children,” Eunety Mweene Chikankata Farmer speaking at the food festival.

Eunety Mweene speaking during the seed and food fair themed “My food is African” in Chikankata.

Doreen Chimutafu is a youth farmer in Rufunsa who plants a diversity of crops at her farm, she encourages other farmers to not only end at cultivating crops but also think of how they can add value to their produce for income generation. “Being a youth, I noticed that my other fellow youths hated farming; I love farming different crops. It’s something that helped me better my life. I plant different crops, but what I have discovered is that for us to improve our nutrition and generate income from these crops we should not only end at farming but also think of how we are going to add value to the crops we harvest. Value addition is more lucrative than just having these crops raw as they are.’’
Doreen Chimutafu showcasing her products during My Food is African food fair conducted in Rufunsa.

“I cannot go away from my heritage; we should not lose track of who we are as Africans. Our heritage is very rich. If continue consuming our local foods, we will go back to our life span of 70-100years. “Buy Zambia, buy local.” The rise in global food markets is threatening because of different systems and climate change and that’s the more reason we should be producing and consuming our local foods. Producing local foods will enable us to have food and nutrition security at household level.” Richard Mabena, Rufunsa District Commissioner.

Rufunsa District Commissioner, Richard Mabena giving his speech during the seed and food fair.

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