The Civil Society for Poverty Reduction (CSPR) says Zambia’s hunger situation could worsen as the country enters the forthcoming rainy season because farmers have not grown a sufficient amount of food.

Both the United Nations (UN) and the Red Cross have published reports predicting an increase in food insecurity as the country heads towards the rainy season.

Data contained in the UN’s latest Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) analysis undertaken by the Zambian government, data shows that about 1.72 million people in rural areas in the country are already in the IPC phase three crisis and phase four levels of food insecurity.

This figure is expected to grow during the lean season (October, 2019, to March, 2020) to 2.3 million people in the country, according to the UN.

In an interview, CSPR resource governance programmes coordinator Chimuka Nachibinga observed that the country’s worsening hunger crisis was likely to be driven by small-scale farmers’ inability to grow enough food for consumption ahead of the 2019/2020 farming season.

“Provisionally, when you look at our season the way it is, even if we had received enough rainfall, mostly as we go towards the rainy season from December up to March, the hunger levels, definitely, go up because the small-scale farmers that we have are not in a position to grow enough for their consumption,” Nachibinga said.

“So, definitely, we may not be surprised to see the hunger situation escalating as we go towards the rainy season because that is what has been the practice. What will make it more worse is that this time, we didn’t have enough rainfall, will have had prolonged dry spells, especially in the provinces that will do count as our food basket, which is Southern Province and Western Province. So, definitely, the hunger situation will escalate as will go towards the rainy season.”

He urged government to ensure that it enhanced its distribution mechanisms and seek for donor support if Zambia food reserves had diminished.

“If there is stock, which is there, definitely, government has to enhance their distribution mechanisms, especially to those provinces that have been highly-hit with hunger. If there is no stock that government has in the food reserves, then it will be also good to actually look for support from the donor community as it has already been indicated; several stakeholders outside the country are willing to come and help in terms of the hunger situation,” he added.

“I think what is the limiting most of these stakeholders outside the country is the fact that the government has not announced that Zambia is not in a hunger state (emergency), but if government will open up, definitely, the international community will be willing to help out. So, two strategies that we are recommending is that, if there is enough stock, then government should enhance the distribution mechanisms, especially to those provinces that are affected, and number two: if there is no stock, then government should open it up to international stakeholders to come and help in terms distributing and providing relief maize.”

Nachibinga stressed the need for the country to accelerate diversification of agricultural production.

“From the Civil Society for Poverty Reduction, we have definitely indicated that, we have released statements over the hunger situation; that if the stock is not there and there is no muscle to provide that stock, let them open up to the international community! They can be helped because hunger is serious, this is the fact that is known that the hunger situation is not okay, and we cannot over-emphasize the importance of being helped from outside. Our position on the hunger situation is that the long-term solution to the hunger situation is that we need to diversify in terms of agriculture,” Nachibinga stressed.

“We need to pump a lot of resources into smart agriculture, whereby, we should not depend on growing the staple food based on rain-fed (production) only. We need to invest more into smart technologies, such as irrigation; also investing in making credit facilities available to these small-scale farmers so that they can be able to access these small loans and when they access those loans, there are trained, you pump knowledge into them; you invest resources into them so that they are able to access equipment that can be used to diversify the agriculture sector in terms of irrigation and so on.”

Nachibinga outlined that government should play a leading role in establishing mindset change on the agricultural sector.

“I think they should be a mindset change. When we talk of food here in Zambia, we talk about maize, but there are other food crops that can grow even when we are experiencing climatic change, such as this. For example, you look at cassava, sweet potatoes, sorghum all those are foods, but what is in people’s mindsets is that there is no nshima on the table, then there is hunger,” said Nachibinga.

“So, we, definitely, need to diversify into other foods crops that will ensure that will secure in terms of food. And then the government has to come in, in playing a bigger role in changing people’s mindset on diversifying the agricultural sector. When you talk about agriculture, let us not only look at it from the point of growing maize; there other food stuffs that can be grown here in Zambia.”