Minister of Information and Broadcasting Dora Siliya says President Edgar Lungu did not suggest that Zambians should get rid of nshima and look for other sources of nutrition, but that he reminded citizens of the need to diversify from maize dependency in view of the climate change which would negatively affect its production.

And Silya says US$90 million had so far been organised for climate change activities across the country.

Speaking at a public discussion organised by News Diggers! in partnership with HIVOS Southern Africa held at Southern Sun Hotel in Lusaka on Friday evening, Siliya noted the need to take the climate change awareness to small scale farmers on the ground.

“I think there is no doubt that we can see the effects of climate change. Our challenge now is to take this discussion further down to the ordinary person and explain what climate change means. Last year, we experienced rains in June and tomato planters in Lusaka were absolutely shocked because their crop was devastated because they lost their income. When you lose income, it means you can’t send your children to school, it means you can’t look after yourself and you can’t get the things that you want. So the reason for rains in June was actually climate change,” Siliya said.

“We have seen that even in some areas where we expected to have normal rains, there is actually no rain and this year was a greatest example. We started with almost no rains for 30 days in Lusaka and then suddenly it was raining all the time. It was the same in Eastern Province, no rains for almost two months and then suddenly, it was raining all the time. The explanation we are being given by scientists for all this is that climate change is real and that it affects all of us in many ways. It affects development pathways because it becomes difficult to plan. One minute you are planning for a bumper harvest and then the next minute you are planning for food relief. So climate change affects all of us.”

She clarified that President Lungu did not suggest that nshima should be done away with.

“The President did not say stop eating nshima. He was urging Zambians to rethink their dependency on maize and start considering other crops which can adapt to climate conditions that are already affecting various parts of the country. When you go in the supermarkets, you will find cassava meal, sorghum, millet, potatoes, rice and so on. What we are saying is that we must cultivate these crops ourselves instead of importing, so that we have a variety of foods on top of nshima. That is what the President was suggesting,” Siliya explained.

She said there would be need for various government ministries and stakeholders to work together if the climate change policy was to be well implemented.

“As a nation, we will not be spared from this and what government decided to do was create a national climate change policy to provide a framework for coordinated response to climate change. Whether be it adaptation or mitigation, it is important that this is coordinated within government. There are issues of agriculture, there are issues of health. We did find that sometimes coordination has been a problem. In fact, sometimes we always think that climate change only affects issues of agriculture and health. We’ve seen that this country, being a hydro power country, we are affected terribly by climate change. When there wasn’t sufficient water a few years ago and (we didn’t have) enough power, that meant a stress on the treasury and delivery of social services because we had to make sure that power is coming in the country,” Siliya said.

“So government decided that we had to look at climate change across ministries. And we created a framework through the policy and we have a council of ministers which is headed by the Vice-President and then there is a technical committee headed by Permanent Secretaries. The idea is to ensure that the left hand is talking to the right hand as we discuss these issues, that there is harmony in the way government is addressing the issues of climate change.”

Meanwhile, Siliya who disclosed that $90 million had so far been organised for climate change activities, said the United Nations had been financing climate change programmes in selected African countries, including Zambia.

“Adaptation and mitigation issues need financing and with stress already from three years ago when there was a world economic ressesion and Zambia was not spared, it means that government’s priority is to deliver these social services like education, food, health. How do we then look at the issue of sustainable development? So being part of the international community and realising that the UN has provided a framework to support financing of climate change to countries like Zambia, we have in the county a designated authority which is an interface between government and the UN resources. So far, almost $90 million has been organised to support climate change activities in the Western Province and Kafue basin. There is an agriculture project in Kazungula,” Siliya said.

She also observed that the long processes involved in the government system to effect policies was hindering development.

“Two years ago, we spent a lot of money in trying to import power and I should concede that even the President himself would have wanted to see accelerated development in other sources of energy. In Solar energy, in wind energy and I think again this is a chicken-egg situation because the processes in government sometimes take so long that sometimes we wonder if we are serving ourselves. One of the things I should agree is that we need, as government, while being transparent discourage long processes to hinder progress so that we can get things done quickly. We do know the problem that sometimes processes just take so long that we end up losing focus on what was an emergency and it just becomes a way of life,” said Siliya.

“I think we should have seen more investment in solar energy by now, in wind. So we do concede and I think much more needs to be done to make sure that processes in government do not hinder progress. But at the same time, we should continue to be transparent and prudent and accountable but that should not be an excuse to have processes that just fail to result in progress.”

Meanwhile, National Food and Nutrition Commission of Zambia (NFACZ) acting executive director Musonda Mofu said climate change also had a direct impact on nutrition.

“We appreciate that government has diversified in terms of grain but we are also appealing that apart from grain, probably we could move also to other things like vegetables because they will give more money to farmers. And probably appeal that FISP does not close so that farmers continue diversifying throughout. Since the issues of climate change are real, there is need for people to have a variety of crops to grow to avoid experiencing economic shocks due to climate change,” said Mofu.

And Hivos regional manager for advocacy William Chilufya said the country needed to consider other sources of nutrition, other than depending on mono diets.

“We are here as an institution that was inspired by the remarks from President Edgar Lungu where he said that it’s time for us to begin rethinking our maize dependence. Hivos has been, for sometime working on ending mono diet and I am glad the National Food and Nutrition Commission is represented today. In one of their reports, the National food and Nutrition Commission said that the reason why we find ourselves with such high levels of malnutrition is because we’ve put a lot of premium on one type of food, on mono diets. So as Hivos, we’ve been campaigning towards diversity in terms of food. We were very excited when we heard the Head of State reminding us that we need to rethink our maize dependence. When you think of this rethinking first of all, we are threatened by climate change, secondly, we are threatened by malnutrition,” stated Chilufya.

“For several years, we’ve produced these bumper harvests but then they have not produced into our desired health health outcomes and that is where we are concerned as Hivos. The issue of dietary diversity is very important and as a civil society organisation, we feel it’s time to begin to discuss how we should move from here. When you look at new research that is taking place, you will find that there are more and more people that are dying out of dietary related infections than those that are dying as a result of sexually transmitted infections. So this should challenge each one of us to think of how we can act.”