Whether or not the President decides to declare hunger a national disaster, the fact remains that there is acute hunger in this country and government needs to find long-term solutions to this problem. In one of the most hit regions, we have observed that government has banned the movement of agricultural goods from one place to another in an attempt to control animal diseases.

The sad part about this is that the movement of other food commodities like maize, which people depend on for survival, has been affected. Even people who have some resources to buy maize are starving because the commodity is not available on the market. One would hope that when a nation is hit by hunger, government would ensure that there is free movement of food commodities from surplus regions to deficit areas.

But this has not been allowed, particularly in Southern Province where the government is using the excuse of the Foot and Mouth disease outbreak. Now, denying people this right to free trade without putting precautionary measures in place is not only economic sabotage (sponsored by government) but also vindictive segregation inspired by political interest.

There is growing speculation that the PF regime is using hunger to achieve social cleansing in the areas most hit by famine. If government wishes to alley any such speculation, it must step up its efforts to make food available to these regions. Let the Disaster Management and Mitigation Unit make sure that no life is lost through hunger because there is no maize in those areas.

Now, that is just the short-term solution to the hunger situation in this country. The long-term solution has to first deal with the attachment that Zambians have towards this highly politicized crop called maize. We are seeing that the real problem for Zambia is not hunger, but maize itself. As long as we remain with the cultural mindset that maize is the only STAPLE food, this annual hunger crisis will never leave us as a country.

This is what William Chilufya, the regional advocacy manager for Sustainable Foods at Hivos Zambia, is saying in his call for stakeholders to take interest in the “Beyond Maize” study report. Hivos and its partner organisations who include the Civil Society for Poverty Reduction (CSPR), Indaba Agriculture Policy Research Institute (IAPRI), Consumer Unit Trust Society (CUTS) and Civil Society Scaling Up Nutrition (CSO-SUN) are this Wednesday expected to launch a report from a study on how to actually implement crop diversification in Zambia’s agriculture sector.

This initiative deserves commendation because we are told that some parts of the country received poor rainfall in the 2018/2019 farming season as a result of climate change. This has resulted in a decline in maize production as most small-scale farmers in Zambia rely greatly on rain for their agriculture. According to the Disaster Management and Mitigation Unit (DMMU), the numbers of districts in need of food support are 68, which is more than half of the country’s 116 districts. This is, indeed, a wakeup call for Zambia to think beyond maize.

“Maize dependency in Zambia greatly contributes to problems of poverty, malnutrition, vulnerability to drought, pests and diseases. The high proportion of arable land devoted to maize production contributes to poverty – both because maize is a low value cereal and because it restricts the economic multiplier effects of agriculture, by hindering the scope and scale of agro-processing, trading and input supply. Crop diversification from an agricultural perspective is important as heavy reliance on a narrow range of crops, crop varieties and animal breeds brings long-term risks for agricultural production, biodiversity and livelihoods while undermining the ability of agriculture to adapt to climate change,” says Chilufya.

“Maize, the most important grain crop in Zambia, is more vulnerable to drought than some other indigenous staple crops such as millet and sorghum. Crop diversification can improve resilience in a variety of ways; by increasing the ability to suppress pest outbreaks; buffering crop production from the effects of greater climate variability and extreme weather events; and improving soil fertility through diversification with leguminous crops. An example of the importance of diversification is the major outbreak of the Fall Armyworms that affect maize to a much larger extent than other crops.”

We cannot agree more with Chilufya and Hivos on their analysis of the looming hunger crisis in Zambia and its causes. Our role now is to urge the government to not only listen to this very timely advice from Hivos, but also take keen interest in the “Beyond Maize” study report that will be launched on August 21. The five organisations which are spearheading this crop diversification campaign are not political parties seeking to remove the PF from power, so please listen to them. It will not hurt anyone to take their report and actualise the options outlined for the benefit of all Zambians.

Well done Hivos, CSPR, IAPRI, CUTS and CSO-SUN for this progressive initiative. Please help this country by making citizens understand that one can live a healthy life without Nshima. There are plenty other varieties of starch that you can enjoy your Legana sausage with.