Hivos Zambia in partnership with Civil Society for Poverty Reduction (CSPR), Indaba Agriculture Policy Research Institute (IAPRI), Consumer Unit Trust Society (CUTS) and Civil Society Scaling Up Nutrition (CSO-SUN) have launched a “Beyond maize” study report which explores various diversification options in the Zambian agricultural sector.

Speaking during the launch, Minister of Agriculture Michael Katambo noted that the Zambian food system was not delivering enough safe, affordable and nutritious foods for the majority of the population.

he said this in a speech read on his behalf by Chief Agriculture Extension Officer at the Ministry of Agriculture Katupa Chongo.

“The Zambian food system is not delivering enough safe affordable and nutritious food for the majority of the population. This beyond Maize study paper aims to better understand the reasons for the low levels of diversification from a perspective of smallholder households, market actors and extension officers. This is important because increasing agricultural diversification has the potential to increase the availability, affordability and accessibility of diverse and nutritious food, and is one of the major contributions the agricultural sector can have on food security and nutrition. In addition, diversification has a positive impact on income and creating more resilient communities,” said Katambo.

“I am delighted to report that since 2015, HIVOS, IIED, government and some civil society organisations in Zambia came together to address the food system challenges that we have been facing and today marks the celebration of what these efforts have achieved and what lessons we have learnt thus far. This multi stakeholder platform known as the Zambia Food Change Lab aims at creating a collective understanding of Zambia’s current food system, its challenges and where the opportunities lie. Through this process, the lab has strengthened collaboration among consumers, farmers, entrepreneurs, civil society and government to foster long term engagement, Collective leadership and joint initiatives.”

And Hivos Southern Africa regional director Tanja Lubbers stressed the need for the country to diversify it’s crop production, warning that maize production was becoming difficult due to prevailing environmental conditions.

“I don’t need to tell you how rich Zambia could be and how rich Zambia is in natural resources; your land, your water, your fertile ground, it could really feed the national. But despite that we see hunger on the one hand, quite a few people are under nourished and on the other hand we saw a lot of people, we see people who are obese and this is the consequence of poor diet, a diet that is too much lining on starch and to little on healthy foods like fruits and vegetables,” advised Lubbers.

“It is because of over dependency on maize, and not only is it bad for our health but it is also bad for soils because it is an important crop and that your indigenous crops are far more suitable to the environment in Zambia than maize especially now that we see climate change, it is becoming harder and harder to sustainable crops in maize. So we really need to diversify our crops, we have to diversify our diets and I think we all know that it is not news that what am telling here especially to the Zambians.”

And sustainable diets senior program manager Frank Mechielsen said climate change and the mono cropping of maize were among the major problems Southern Africa faced.

The beyond maize report revealed that crop diversification can increase the affordability and accessibility of diverse and nutritious foods, generate income for farmers, and make the agricultural system more resilient to climate change.

The report also indicated that while the Zambian government intends to increase agricultural diversification, there is still heavy reliance on a narrow range of crops, namely maize.

It also stated that Small-holder farmers understand the benefits of crop diversification, but challenges such as limited access to land and resources, insufficient finance, lack of small-scale irrigation equipment, and inadequate access to markets make it difficult for them to implement.

The report further indicated that Zambia’s approach to diversifying agricultural production depends on the needs of farming households and required the collective effort of agro dealers, farmers, traders, and extension officers, and coordinated policy changes to support market actors and stimulate demand for healthy diets.

The report can be downloaded below