Curbing nshima dependency

Lusaka, February 06, 2018

In a meeting with farmers in Chisamba, President Edgar Lungu expressed that it is time to take stock of the dependency on maize as a staple food and begin to look at alternatives. He spoke of the need to look at other cereal crops such as cassava and relook at whether maize should be the ultimate crop for survival.

Zambia for decades has had a mono-diet culture that has been heavily dependent on maize. This has greatly influenced agricultural policies that have been maize focused with over half of the agriculture budget going towards providing maize subsidies and maize marketing.

Preliminary results from a study on ‘Sustainable Diets for All’ that CUTS with support from Hivos and in partnership with the World Food Programme undertook on 1000 households in Lusaka earlier this year, indicate that most Zambians eat nshima everyday.The figurebelow shows the frequency of households eating nshima in Lusaka. In the poorest quintile, 83% said they eat nshima at least once every day compared to 62% in the richest quintile.

This clearly shows that nshima has dominated all foods when it comes to household consumption in Lusaka. Compared to the frequency of eating other foods, nshima is eaten more frequently than all other starches as well as other foods such as vegetables. Also of importance is that the graph indicates that wealthier households consume nshima less. While our focus on reducing nshima dependency should be focused on all households, our most concerted efforts should be focused on low-income households.

Frequency of eating Nshima as the main source of starch

Indeed, in our study on ‘Sustainable Diets for All,’ one of our key findings was that ‘more than 80% of households in both the poorest and richest quintile said they would eat more diverse foods if they were more affordable.’ From this finding, it is clear that affordability is an important barrier to the food choices that households may make. This is true as households have budget constraints and cannot manage to buy all they would want in one instance.

Considering the low rainfall experienced this season, maize production is expected to be lower than normal, finding alternative foods on that account would help curb the expected negative effects that potential high maize-meal prices will have on consumers. As a country this year provides us with an opportunity to begin to embrace more nutritious diets that indeed are better for the health of our population.

As President Lungu has expressed the need to rethink dependency on maize as a staple food, we must begin to look at the promotion, production and consumption of alternative foods. At present our dependency on maize has crowded out investments for strengthening markets for other agricultural products, and making them more affordable for consumers.Reducing nshima dependency would therefore require supporting the production of alternative foods and thereby make them affordable. As CUTS, we agree with the President and share the view that as a nation, we must minimise our dependence on maize and promote the production and consumption of alternative foods.

For further information please contact:
The Centre Coordinator, Consumer Unity and Trust Society (CUTS), at or 097 8055 293.