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Wesley Wakunuma

Zambia faces a double malnutrition burden: 40 percent of under-fives are stunted, and 23 percent of Zambians are overweight. A major cause is the limited diversity of Zambia’s food production and consumption - because 94 percent of Zambia’s agricultural produce is maize. Our short film ‘Life Beyond Maize’ takes a close look at the problem and how we can solve it.

In Zambia, SD4ALL helps develop and implement policies that diversify Zambian food production. We support smallholder farmers in growing more indigenous crops such as millet, sorghum, cassava and a range of legumes and pulses. We also pioneer work that supports consumers in diversifying their diets, by increasing consumer awareness of their rights to affordable and varied nutritious foods. Our work with consumers is also closely tied to the need for policy and regulatory support for informal markets for food.

Zambia Food Change Lab

In 2015, Hivos, IIED and approximately 20 partners and stakeholders began discussing the food system in Zambia, including local production practices, traditional food culture and access to healthy food.

These discussions gave rise to the Zambia Food Change Lab, a multi-stakeholder innovation process designed to generate ideas for change in the food system and test these innovations on the ground.

The Lab aims to create a collective understanding of Zambia’s current food system and challenges for the future. It has identified maize monocropping as one of the key issues threatening the health of the Zambian population and its soils, and aims to tackle this issue by offering a space for collaboration between consumers, farmers, entrepreneurs, civil society and government.


Four areas for change

During 2016/17, Lab participants identified a number of areas where they wanted to try and effect change, and formed cross-sector working groups to create ‘prototypes’ - small scale interventions designed to test potential solutions to specific challenges.

The prototypes were implemented during 2017 and 2018 and ranged in duration from six to 12 months.

The prototypes tackled four topics:   

1. Crop diversity: This group lobbied for the introduction of an e-voucher system to allow farmers to get seeds and inputs for crops other than maize. The system was introduced, but has faced significant challenges most of which are administrative and logistical, and government has committed to addressing the identified challenges. The crop diversity group will continue to talk with the Ministry of Agriculture and politicians to emphasise the importance of moving away from monocropping and promoting the production of local foods for nutrition.

2. Awareness raising: members of this group commissioned research on consumption patterns in Lusaka and developed animations on nutrition for radio and television. They met with Lusaka City Council to discuss a municipal food policy and are involving local policymakers in talks on radio and other media channels to push for wider public awareness on the effects of not eating a healthy, balanced diet.

In October 2017, Hivos and IIED released a film highlighting the importance of diversifying agricultural production in order to improve Zambians’ diets.

3. Youth inclusion: The Change Lab aims to engage future leaders in thinking about food system issues and invited young leaders into the Lab process from the start. These leaders have established a group called Youth for Sustainable Food Zambia. With support from the Lab, they have organised a food festival, given presentations at external events and symposia, and run a side event for Zambia Youth Day 2018, focusing on business opportunities in agriculture. They continue to promote farming as a positive choice for young people. In September 2018, they embarked on a sack gardening project in various neighborhoods to show how young people in agriculture can deal with limited land access.

4. Informal food systems: A coalition of four Zambian organisations is looking at how the informal sector can contribute to the availability of healthy food for low-income consumers – an angle often overlooked by official policymaking. They have completed research on the informal sector in Lusaka and Kitwe. The coalition is looking to establish dialogue platforms where informal sector players can participate in formulating by-laws that affect informal food provision.

More information on these groups, the Lab process, our learnings and results can be found in our publication “Taking stock: The Zambia Food Change Lab”.


Further Reading

In spring 2018, the Zambia Food Change Lab published a booklet entitled Celebrating Local Food Value and Diversity. Listing a variety of local foods together with their nutritional benefits, the booklet was launched at an event attended by Zambia’s Minister of Agriculture.

We have also published a summary report about the Lab’s work.


The Sustainable Diets for all Programme also runs food labs in BoliviaIndonesia and Uganda

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