To be hungry because there is no food is a bad thing. Starving because you have no money to buy food is humiliating. We human beings can survive without many things but air, water and food are vital for our very lives. We die when anyone of them is not available. Lack of air and water kills. Hunger, lack of food, kills too, a bit slower than air and water but definitely kills.

To eat badly, also called malnutrition, harms our physical, mental and spiritual growth. Malnutrition may rob us of our ability to use our brains to their full potential. Prolonged hunger exposes us to all sorts of diseases as it weakens our minds, bodies and our immune system.

A hungry population is therefore a population whose full development potential is curtailed, by hunger. The majority of Zambians today starve frequently, and those who can afford food are unable to buy all the different kinds of food they need because food is very expensive and the majority of Zambians cannot find work. Economic opportunities, good ones, are available only to a tiny minority, largely connected to politicians and the rich.

With plenty of food to eat, our bodies are ready to work and play, to burn the food and at the same time grow and develop our bodies, and this increases the need for more food which positively feeds into the agriculture and food value chains, by sustaining demand for more food. Society benefits by having an active, ever developing and productive population, when food is plentiful and no one goes hungry.

Today the science of agriculture and availability of technologies for mass production of food combined with the advanced developments in storage, processing and transportation of food mean that in fact food must be a universal human right; no one should go hungry because the world produces more food than it needs, at any time. Further, more than a third of this food goes to waste, globally.

In Zambia, the chaotic cruel increases of fuel since the UPND came to power is causing the cost of living to rise too fast, and food is becoming too expensive. On social media someone has kindly but sarcastically suggested we resort to eating only when we are about to faint. The situation is going to get worse, with our farmers with some surplus food exporting it and the war in Ukraine raising oil and gas prices and chocking global fertiliser and wheat supplies. Unbelievably, our clueless government has begun to raise petrol and diesel prices even before the effects of the Ukraine war begins to be felt, and, as usual, lied about why they have done so.

It is babies and young people in and out of school who suffer the pangs of hunger the most. Their mental, physical and social developments are retarded. Because they are hungry most of the time, they play very little and prefer to sleep, to save their bodies and minds from wasting, because of hunger. They live life in slow motion. Sadly, because we starve our children and young people, we literally kill our future, as a people and a country.

Before the August elections last year, I privately wept tears of joy every time I heard the UPND promise free education and that no child would go to school hungry. You see, publicly funded education from our taxes (very wrongly called “free education”)and well-fed learners and students is the only hope we have of escaping our current humiliating, impoverished, over indebted and backward state. The sooner the majority of Zambians realise this most obvious of facts, the better for the country!

I applaud the chaotic progress towards free primary and secondary education since the UPND became government, in August last year. I tentatively applaud the continuation of school nutrition programmes where they exist, and call for their expansion. Every journey starts with the first step, we all know this. Chaos and failure must be anticipated and actually hoped for, when we embark upon any difficulty journey. Together, chaos and failure lay the basis for rapid progress if properly managed, and hard lessons learnt.

I finished my last two years of secondary education at Luwingu Secondary Boarding School, in the Northern Province, in the late 1970s. We used to starve. We survived on “imyungu” (a variety of pumpkins, but with pimples, simply boiled, and very nice to eat especially when you are starving) from surrounding villages when they were in season. We were meant to be fed on tiny portions of maize samp and even tinnier pieces of meat or boiled beans. Frequently it was just sugar sweetened samp for breakfast, lunch and supper!

Corruption, fraud and theft were not invented by the PF, they just took these evils to a higher level. Our Boarding Master decided in his wisdom to pocket some of the money meant even for this small bad food, and I think he did it in cahoots with other members of staff. In my last senior year, we decided enough was enough and, shall I say, we “disciplined” the Boarding Master.

To reward us for a job well done, the headmaster decided to freely gift us with corporal punishment – 10 stinging slashes on our impoverished behinds! With our behinds swollen not from good food but from the savagery of the school beatings, for several days it was impossible to sit on a hard chair. Needless to say, I am a militant campaigner for the abolishment of corporal punishment in schools. A good number of my friends actually wrote the final examinations coming from police cells. They were only rescued from police cells by Zambia National Service personnel who came to fetch them to take them to the military camp.

If it was bad then, it is impossibly tough and very bad now, with a completely collapsed economy, this situation of hunger for our learners and students. Food in Zambia is very expensive, and prices are bound to keep rising for a very long time to come. The majority of Zambians who want work cannot find it. Economic opportunities are extremely scarce. The only way to prepare to get out of this situation is by nurturing all our children and young people by insisting that education from birth to university be a right, fully publicly funded, and the nutrition needs of our children to be a state responsibility, as much as it will be a parental one. This means school, college and university state funded nutrition programmes must be instituted immediately.

If Zambia must be delivered out of its current situation into a happy, developing and debt free country, we must demand full government investment in the only force capable of lifting Zambia out of its current status: our children and young people. We must make their education and lives priority number one.

We must demand from the UPND government comprehensive plans and a time frame for “free education” from birth to university, and get out of the current chaotic situation. We must demand comprehensive plans for college and university nutrition programmes to guarantee food for every learner and student. The government must democratically work with Zambians willing to get the country out of its current horrible predicament and interested in education and the right to food, as the solid foundation upon which the country can develop.

These are historic times. Any country which will not massively invest in its people, especially in its children and young people, is doomed to a long period of violent instability as the world economy clearly sinks deeper into recession, the cost of living shoots to the roof, unemployment rises, poverty worsens and inequality deepens from the combined weight of the coronavirus pandemic and the effects of the war in Ukraine, on the global economy.

An excellent starting point is to hold a multi-party, multi-sectoral national social and economic summit to beat out a national plan to urgently respond to the mounting hunger and crises in the country, before things explode. Such a Summit could then beat out a process for the creation of a national rescue plan, for Zambia. To do nothing, and let things continue as is the case right now is to plan to plunge the country into unimaginable chaos.

(Comments welcome at: [email protected])