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The food system in Zambia can greatly benefit from tapping local foods available in the wild and in small scale farming, according to a new publication titled: "Celebrating Food Value and Diversity." The publication commissioned by Hivos and International Institute of Environment and Development (IIED) states that the more local food groups people consume, the more healthy communities will be.

The Zambian diet is dominated by maize – the high carbohydrate, low vitamin cereal which is processed into mealie-meal, and cooked into “nshima”. Unfortunately, this Zambian diet remains monotonous, providing little benefit to the people in terms of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients essential to the body.

Speaking at the launch of the publication, Zambia's Minister of Agriculture, Michael Katambo said that his government is keen to promote local foods, “The Government of Republic of Zambia recognizes the importance and value of consuming local foods in our diets. In this regard, one of the thrust areas in the second national agricultural policy, is to promote the production, processing and consumption of local foods of value,” he said. “I wish to call upon other stakeholder to emulate Hivos Southern Africa and IIED to partner with the government in creating awareness on the production and consumption of local foods.”

Chongwe dance group celebrating local food value

Hivos Southern Africa Executive Director, Tanja Lubbers, said promoting increased production and consumption of local and traditional foods is vital to breaking the predominate of maize in the Zambian diet.

FAO Country Representative Dr George Okech said the publication is key to promoting dietary diversity. “This book has direct relevance to the Food Based Dietary Guidelines: the work that Ministry of Agriculture with Technical Cooperation Agreement with FAO embarked on earlier this year. The Food Based Dietary Guidelines are evidence-based guidance and advice to the general public to promote healthy eating and provide harmonized nutrition messages. One of the key issues of consideration is promoting health eating through local foods and also promote sustainability.” he said.

Commercial food production has partly contributed to the disappearance of indigenous vegetables that would grow alongside maize and other cash crops in traditional agricultural systems.  The investments in maize production and processing, including consumption, have shaped most local diets. The Zambian diet is dominated by maize – the high carbohydrate, low vitamin cereal which is processed into mealie-meal, and cooked into “nshima”.

The local food value book was developed through focussed group discussions conducted with adult members in Chongwe to identify commonly consumed indigenous foods.

Kevin Mazorodze is Regional Communications Officer, Hivos Southern Africa