Lusaka, October 15, 2019
Every year, 16 October is recognised as World Food Day in commemoration of the global effort to eradicate worldwide hunger in our lifetime. This year the theme is ‘healthy diets.’ It acknowledges that achieving zero hunger is not only about addressing hunger, but also nourishing people, while nurturing the planet. In Zambia, World Food Day is particularly pertinent this year given the hunger situation that certain parts of the country are facing. In addition to this, the theme is also particularly relevant as almost 40 percent of Zambia’s population suffers from malnutrition and according to latest statistics, Zambia is one of the most malnourished countries in the world.
While there are indeed a number of humanitarian responses that various actors have undertaken to address the current situation we are facing as a country, given the prevalence of climate change it is clear that a more long-term response is necessary in order to mitigate some of the negative impacts that climate change will be bringing. In order to do this it is essential that we actualise our national objective of agricultural diversification. In light of climate change it is imperative now more than ever that this goal be realised and there are two key ways of doing this. At present the bulk of the spending from the Ministry of Agriculture is spent on two primary subsidy programmes: the Farmer Input Support Programme (FISP) and the Food Reserve Agency (FRA). Both of these programmes are maize-centric in nature thereby limiting our ability to implement agricultural diversification. There is a need to reform both of these programmes to help us achieve diversification.
One of the ways to reform the FISP programme is by effectively implementing the e-voucher programme. While indeed it has suffered from several implementation challenges its benefits lie in that it provides farmers with choices of inputs instead of constraining them to maize seed and fertiliser. This choice is particularly beneficial for women farmers who at times prefer to rear chickens or grow vegetables instead of maize. To this end CUTS recently released a policy brief on this on 14 October that showed the benefits of the e-voucher. The FRA is another subsidy programme that if reformed could contribute to diversification. At present the bulk of purchases by the FRA from farmers are maize. As such, most farmers grow maize as they are assured of a market for their maize by the FRA. There is therefore a need to explore diversifying the foods that the FRA purchases to promote diversification.
One of the benefits of making these two programme more efficient is that it ultimately releases funding for investment in other areas in agriculture which are crucial to increase our efforts at agricultural diversification, productivity and production. As such, in addition to making the current subsidy programmes more efficient, there is a need to increase more spending in other areas of the agriculture sector. This includes increasing the allocation for research and development in agriculture, investment in infrastructure such as storage facilities and feeder roads.
As we all commemorate this day it is also important to note that ultimately, consumers too have a role to play in promoting agricultural diversification. Farmers will not increase the production of diversified foods unless there is a demand for these foods. As consumers begin to diversify their diets, we will move closer towards ensuring a healthier Zambia.
Please quote Ms Chenai Mukumba, Centre Coordinator, Consumer Unity & Trust Society
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