Kachasu, the traditional homemade spirit, has long been a part of Zambian culture. It is available in various forms, from the refined tujilijili to the raw and unfiltered kachasu presented as Number 1, number 2 ,3 and so on. The recent statements by Local Government and Rural Development Minister Gary Nkombo have sparked a heated debate about its future. While the health risks associated with kachasu are real, demonizing it and imposing outright bans is not the solution. Instead, we need to invest in research and development to make kachasu safer, a challenge that the National Institute for Scientific and Industrial Research (NISIR) should spearhead.

Understanding the Popularity of Kachasu

Economic hardships and high unemployment rates have led many to turn to kachasu as an affordable source of alcohol and a means of livelihood. The proliferation of kachasu dens in areas like Kaunda Square, Kamanga, and the central business district is a testament to its growing popularity. It is important to acknowledge that kachasu is not just a drink; it is a significant part of many lives, providing both economic support and social cohesion.

As a forester, I have often found kachasu to be the only available beverage in remote areas. Its presence in almost every corner of our communities indicates its deep-rooted place in our society. Kachasu has been here for a long time, and it will continue to be here. It addresses underlying social and economic challenges, offering a means of survival for many.

Health Risks and the Need for Regulation

Honourable Minister Gary Nkombo highlighted the dangers of unregulated kachasu production, referencing the tragic deaths in Southern Province due to the consumption of homemade illicit alcohol known as “chiyabi.” These incidents underscore the need for immediate action to make kachasu safer for consumption.

However, banning kachasu outright could drive its production underground, making it even more dangerous. Instead, we should focus on regulating and improving the production process. This is where the National Institute for Scientific and Industrial Research (NISIR) comes in. By investing in research and development, NISIR can help create safer brewing techniques and establish standards for kachasu production.

Investing in Safer Production

NISIR should undertake comprehensive research to identify harmful contaminants commonly found in kachasu and develop methods to eliminate these toxins. Training programs for local brewers on safer production practices can also be implemented. This approach can help mitigate the adverse health effects while preserving the cultural and economic benefits that kachasu provides.

Economic and Social Benefits of kachasu

Kachasu is more than just a drink; it is a means of economic survival for many families. There are numerous stories of families that have educated their children through the income earned from kachasu sales. Young men often dilute and resell kachasu to make a living, highlighting its role in the informal economy. For many, kachasu is a way to manage their drinking habits economically, often combining it with lager from conventional bars.

The economic benefits of kachasu cannot be ignored. Banning it without providing alternative livelihoods could plunge many families into deeper poverty. Instead, we should look at ways to regulate and improve the safety of kachasu while supporting those who depend on it for their livelihood.

A Call for Balanced Action

The prevalence of kachasu shabeens in our compounds indicates a larger societal challenge of alcohol abuse in Zambia. Addressing this issue requires a balanced approach that includes economic empowerment, education, and support for local businesses. By improving the safety of kachasu production, we can preserve its cultural and economic value while safeguarding public health.

In all respects, kachasu should not be demonized. Instead, we should invest in research and development to make it safer. The National Institute for Scientific and Industrial Research (NISIR) has a critical role to play in this endeavor. By focusing on safer production methods and supporting the livelihoods of those who depend on kachasu, we can address the health risks without losing the socio-economic benefits. As someone who has experienced the reality of kachasu firsthand, I urge our leaders to consider a balanced approach that acknowledges and addresses the deeper issues at play.

-If it wasn’t for BEER and God, I would have committed suicide. Kachasu at some point saved my life. I drank it with Combonians in Kamanga, Chelstone, and Kaunda Square. Today, I am not ashamed to add my voice. The challenge is real and depicts a bigger challenge of alcohol abuse in Zambia.

Chaliafya Katungula