THE Ministry of Health’s decision to keep the National Food and Nutrition Commission (NFNC) at the Ministry is motivated by greed in response to growing attention from cooperating partners, says HIVOS Southern Africa regional advocacy officer for sustainable foods William Chilufya.

In an interview, Chilufya said keeping the NFNC at the Ministry of Health through the Food and Nutrition Act was an act of greed by the Ministry.

“The move to keep the NFNC at the Ministry of Health is as a result of greed, especially over the attention that nutrition is getting in terms of resources from the cooperating partners. I think the Ministry just wants to control NFNC because of the resource envelope that is coming from cooperating partners. And I would like to urge the Ministry to also be supportive of the NFNC to ensure that government starts matching up in terms of funds to the institution. So far, it is poorly-funded that it affects its ability to coordinate interventions that are aimed at improving nutrition in the country,” Chilufya said.

“But then, the most challenging one, especially for us in Hivos, we had expected that the National Food and Nutrition Commission would actually move away from the Ministry of Health to move to the Vice-President’s office, but I think there are so many interests at the Ministry of Health such that they have really managed to defend that and ensure that it’s kept under there, which is unfortunate. We would have loved it to move under the Vice-President’s office because malnutrition on its own is a cross-cutting issue so you need to move from one Ministry to the other, and each Ministry must be held accountable. But you have the Ministry of Health that is holding accountable all others so that becomes a bit of a challenge. We know there are committees put in place even at Cabinet-level, but that amounts to almost nothing! What would have been nice was basically to move the Commission to the Vice-President’s office.”

He stressed that the Ministry of Health was “too sleepy” to manage nutritional matters due to their operational inefficiencies.

“Another positive thing that has come out of this Act is that in case of disaster in terms of hunger and the like, I think the Vice-President’s office has now been mandated to have that heavy hand and we hope that it will be guaranteed in terms of delivery of nutritional relief. So, whatever relief they give, we hope that because of that, this could result in the delivery of food relief, which is diverse in nature and not only the mealie meal that the Vice-President’s office or DMMU has been known to be doing. But the most important thing for us is that the Ministry of Health should not have been at the helm of that because, for example, for so many years now, the Ministry of Health has failed to employ a director for FNC. Up to now, the Director for the Commission is in an acting capacity, this is three years down the line! So, the Ministry of Health is too sleepy to manage nutrition,” Chilufya argued.

“We also realise that, yes, there are some technical steps like which would comfort some people to say the Vice-President’s office now has a whipping stick because the Commission will be on the committees under the Vice-President’s office. But again, like we were saying, it’s not enough to be part of the Committee, no, that’s not enough, we would have loved the whole institution to be managed and co-ordinated by the Vice-President’s office because of its cross-cutting issues or nature.”

He, however, noted that Act’s enactment was a relief to the nutrition community because it had been long overdue.

“First of all, it’s that relieving moment for the nutrition community in Zambia to have a new Act in the sense that the one that was there before had over-stayed; it was so archaic in the sense it did not respond or it couldn’t address the current dynamics around nutrition because then, it was just talking about stunting as a form of malnutrition. But now, things have become complicated; we are now talking about obesity and overweight, the macronutrient deficiency and the like. So, on that side, we are so happy that we have a new law that would guide us in improving the nutrition situation in the country, all kinds of malnutrition in this country,” said Chilufya.

The Food and Nutrition Act was finally enacted recently after sustained calls by several stakeholders to repeal the Act that previously governed the fight against malnutrition in the country.