MP gives harrowing tale of hunger in Gwembe

The Mast Online, August 23, 2019

GWEMBE UPND member of parliament Malungo Chisangano says her constituency has been greatly affected by the prevailing hunger situation.

Speaking at the launch of the CSO crop diversification report in Lusaka yesterday, Chisangano said the people of Gwembe were vulnerable as there was total crop failure due to the drought that hit most of the southern and western parts of the country.

“Actually, last week, I was in Gwembe in the constituency visiting families. What I saw, my brothers and sisters, was very pathetic. Of course, we have been reporting to the government so that they can assist because there is nothing that these families can do. They didn’t grow anything, there was just 100 per cent crop failure. People didn’t grow anything so they are all vulnerable. Most of them – we can’t say just a few that are vulnerable – most of them are very vulnerable. I can say all of them, maybe except for those civil servants that are working,” Chisangano said.

She added that the bringing in of relief food in the area had not helped much as the supply was too inadequate to sustain the population of Gwembe Constituency.

“The hunger situation is bad. We received our first relief food in February which was just about 100 metric tonnes of maize, whoch translated to 2,000 x 50 kg bags but when you look at the population of Gwembe Constituency, which is above 54,000, how can you definitely share the 2000 bags of maize that we received? Although we were assured that the relief food would be given on a monthly basis, the first one came in February, then the next one came end of June and then the supply actually reduced because we just received about 56 metric tonnes of 12.5 kg of maize,” she added.

“So we just received 4,408 those 12 and half kg bags so you can see from 100 to 56 and then now we have been told we have received 8,000 12.5 kg bags of maize but when we were in Parliament, we were told that Gwembe is going to be given 200 metric tonnes just like they have started giving in Eastern Province. But already you can see that we are nowhere near the 200 metric tonnes of maize.”

Chisagano lamented that a pregnant woman died as a result of the situation after she ate poisonous cassava.

“So as I went round visiting my constituency last week, the situation was very bad, families were telling me that they even spend three, four days without eating. You look at the health of the children, most of the children are in a very bad state. I dropped tears when I was in a community called Mapenzi. I saw a baby who looked like was four months old but when you look at that baby, that baby was really emaciated, very small, very small. Then I went further, I found a woman, an old woman who stopped me and said ‘madam’…she even showed me her tummy, it was flat like that of snake. She told me she hadn’t eaten for two, three, four days,” said Chisagano

“So what I did, because I usually carry this food mealie-meal to my meetings in the community, I just said ‘no! Let us live this bag of maize for this woman’. I know it is just temporary way of helping somebody. Then I went further, I found a funeral…I was told that a pregnant woman died, that pregnant woman ate poisonous cassava…. The situation is very bad. As we are receiving this consignment which has just come in, 8000 bags of 12.5 kg bags of maize. I don’t know how far it will go because the history that we have had, those bags are too few, the population is very big. Vulnerable people are many, they end up sharing the relief bags of mealie-meal using cups…. So just know the people of Gwembe are starving.”

Meanwhile, the report stated that despite the government’s intention to diversify agriculture, the country was still heavily reliant on a narrow range of crops.

The report noted that two-thirds of the total area under crop cultivation was devoted to maize.

“There has also been a
 shift in the food supply towards greater availability of
 root vegetables, eggs, cooking oil and sugar, and less availability of pulses, vegetables, fruit, meat, fish and milk. Consequently, the Zambian food system is not delivering enough affordable or nutritious foods for the majority of the population,” reads part of the report.

The report added that diversifying agriculture production had the potential to increase availability, affordability and accessibility of diverse and nutritious food, and was one of the major contributions the agricultural sector could make to food security and nutrition.

“In addition, diversification has positive impacts on income and creating more resilient communities. This discussion paper explores the reasons for the lack of diversity from the perspectives of smallholder households, market actors and extension officers. It presents the results of the ‘Beyond Maize’ study, conducted as part of the Sustainable Diets for All (SD4All) project through
a collaborative effort by the Indaba Agricultural Policy Research Institute (IAPRI), Civil Society for Poverty Reduction (CSPR) and Consumer Unity Trust Society (CUTS) and facilitated by Hivos. The study involved a cross-sectional survey of the perspectives on agricultural diversification 
of multiple stakeholders, including farmers, market actors and extension workers. The analysis shows that smallholder farmers understand the benefits of diversifying but find it difficult to implement.”

“The key barriers are their limited access to land, lack of a diverse range of agricultural inputs, inadequate finance, lack of small-scale irrigation equipment and the inadequate access to and absorption capacity of markets for diverse and nutritious foods. These challenges are worse for women and youth. A specific issue is that neither the public or private sector have made deliberate efforts to increase fruit production, despite its nutritional and income-generating potential. The study clearly shows that diversifying agricultural production requires a holistic approach involving a range
of stakeholders. Agro dealers are ready to support crop diversification, but their stock is driven by farmers’ demands and input supplies; whilst traders are risk-averse, preferring to trade in crops with a known profitability, which may reduce the incentive to trade in a wider range of crops. Extension officers face challenges in changing the mindset 
of farmers to increase diversity, and also lack transport and adequate training materials on diversification,” read the report.

The report further stated Zambia’s diversification agenda should be based on 
the priorities and requirements of farming households.

It noted that to succeed it would require the collective efforts of key players, and a range of coordinated policy changes.

“Recommendations include convening a high-level policy process involving smallholders, consumers and civil society to bring about a sea change towards diversification; supporting market actors to pull towards more diverse agricultural production; stimulating demand for healthy
and nutritious diets; and redirecting investments towards more diverse production and research and development that support agricultural diversification.”

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