HIVOS Southern Africa regional advocacy manager for sustainable foods William Chilufya says the high cost of living prevailing in Zambia has the potential to reverse the gains the country has made in fighting malnutrition.

And Chilufya says government should extensively roll out the COVID-19 rescue package to the informal economy to ensure the majority of citizens have access to the facility.

In an interview, Chilufya said that the high cost of living was compromising the domestic households’ ability to focus on quality as they would rather focus on quantity on food items, which compelled them to consume non-nutritional food.

“So, in this case, the high cost of living is actually compromising the households’ ability to look for more diverse foods because the situation now is that if I have K100, I will have to get food that I can afford within that K100, meaning that I will mostly think about the issue of quantity, ‘what will my family eat, and what will be enough for my family,’ this means we are suppressing the issue of quality. When you remove the issue of quality in our dieting, then that exposes you to poor nutrition, that also exposes you to these things that we hear about, you know, food poisoning and the like, it just exposes you to bad food. So, it is important that the cost of living is at a level that does not suppress people’s livelihoods in terms of access to good nutrition. So far, there are some good recordings that have been done in terms of improving the nutrition status of Zambia. Like, for example, we moved from 40 per cent stunting in terms of malnutrition to about 35 per cent. So, what will happen, now is that we could possibly be reversing the gains that we have done in addressing malnutrition,” Chilufya said.

“So, number one is that we’ve noticed the cost of living is actually going up despite recording a lower inflation rate in the recent month [June], which has been attributed to the bumper harvest. So, the thing for us is that bumper harvest, yes but you see, the presence of maize alone on our plates doesn’t really guarantee you that you are going to have access to a variety of foods that will lead to your improved nutrition. So, we have to think beyond maize.”

He added that citizens should use the ‘stay at home’ period to grow a backyard garden to ensure that they have access to safe and nutritious vegetables.

“So, right now, at a personal-level, the advantage with the ‘stay at home,’ assuming that the household has access to water, it’s an opportunity to actually do a backyard garden and that’s very important for households to consider, you know. Growing one or two vegetables that you’ll be consuming as a family. It’s not only the availability of the vegetables around you, but it’s about you having or being very sure of what you are growing. Most of these vegetables that we find in our markets we are not guaranteed in terms of how safe they are. So, if you are growing your own garden, you at least bear in mind or get to record properly when you last sprayed, for instance, so that you don’t harm yourselves in terms of the chemicals. So, it is very important that you reduce the cost of buying vegetables or relish by ensuring that you grow some at your household level,” he advised.

And Chilufya observed that targeting the informal economy with COVID-19 relief funding would ensure that funds quickly trickle down to households to enhance food security during the pandemic.

“On the government-level, there is talk of the rescue package for COVID-19, for instance, to what extent has the formal economy or informal market benefitted from that? Our recent preliminary survey just shows that four per cent of marketeers know about this rescue package that the government has put up, and then these are like the four per cent that have actually even accessed. So, it is important that we target, even the informal economy that is actually very close to the people. Remember that almost 90 per cent of our foods come from the informal market so it is important that we target these rescue packages, especially to the informal economy because we know that it will quickly trickle down to the majority of the people and that it’s going to address the issue of food security. But also, like what our friends have done in South Africa, they have targeted these resources to the production side of agriculture so that we produce more,” said Chilufya.

“Remember that most of these that were coming out of the country, now, it’s very difficult for them to get in and reach households, meaning that we need now to see how we can seize the opportunity to produce more, which can be filled in our stores, just as the President (Edgar Lungu) had said earlier on to say, ‘this is a silver lining’ and we can pick it up let’s start producing locally.”

The average cost of living for a family of five in Lusaka currently stands at K7,195, an all-time high, according to the latest Jesuit Centre for Theological Reflection (JCTR) Basic Needs and Nutrition Basket (BNNB) data.