Author: Gigi Wing-Davies, Programme Development Manager, Hivos Southern Africa
The goal of the Lusaka Food System Lab is to give all residents better nutrition and health through a wide range of healthy diverse local foods. The Lab has a focus on the participation of the informal food traders and vendors, because of their critical role in the local food system.
Zambia has the highest levels of malnutrition in southern Africa. Around 36% of under 5-year-olds in Lusaka are affected to some extent by stunting. Even among affluent residents, lack of dietary diversity and reduced consumption of traditional nutritious foods is increasing diet-related illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease. As economies in sub-Saharan Africa transition from lower- to higher-income, diabetes’ prevalence in some countries has reached almost 22% in the adult population and as high as 30% in men and women aged 55-65 years, spurred in part by growing and aging populations, changes in lifestyle and eating habits, urbanization, and changing work practices.¹ The WHO says that by 2030, deaths from non-communicable diseases (i.e. from poor diet and lifestyle) in Africa “are projected to exceed deaths due to communicable, maternal, perinatal and nutritional diseases combined.”
Informal markets everywhere play a critical role in providing affordable, accessible and diverse food for the urban poor, while at the same time supporting the livelihoods of millions of small-scale farmers, traders and vendors. Approximately 80 % of Lusaka’s population get their food from the informal food sector yet they (the informal food sector) tend to be excluded from food system discussions and developments.
Visioning the future of Lusaka food system
In 10 years, this is how we vision the food system in Lusaka: We wish for all citizens to feel a sense of connection to, agency and pride in their local food system, valuing its critical role in their wellbeing and culture. A wide and growing range of traditional nutritious foods will be easily available and growing in popularity among low- and higher-income residents of Lusaka. Healthy local food will have equal prestige to western fast food such as KFC. The informal food sector will be respected, empowered and well organized, playing a key role in promoting good nutrition. High levels of awareness and increased demand for safe food – which Includes food from soils not contaminated by chemical poisons. More investment will be done into ‘people’s markets’ rather than shopping malls. These markets will be clean, safe and pleasant shopping experiences, with renewable energy-powered storage and processing facilities helping to reduce food losses and enable value addition. Diet-caused illnesses such diabetes will decline, as city residents embrace traditional foods as critical to good health and local culture.
Targeting diversity in stakeholders
One key lesson we learned from running previous food system labs was that they are good for connecting local experiences to national lobby efforts and that this is best done when lab participants are as diverse as possible. Mixing high-level policymakers with farmers or informal street food vendors, for example, is valuable and mutually appreciated. The Lusaka Food System Lab has a wide range of participants who attended the launch event in November 2020 – farmers, food processors, retailers, civil society organisations (CSOs), policymakers, local experts and of course the local authority.
The Lusaka City Council Director of Public Health, Mr Edgar Mulwanda gave welcoming remarks at this launch. Mr Mulwanda is deeply concerned about the rise of non-communicable diseases, a health burden which Lusaka cannot afford, and one which can be avoided by healthy diets.
Mr Mulwanda is a key participant in the Lusaka City Council’s own Food Policy Council (FPC) which was established in 2020. This FPC will eventually produce a food policy for Lusaka – an exciting innovation in the SADC region that can hopefully inspire other cities to follow suit.
Our Food System Lab will work closely with the FPC, providing a platform for different voices, and gathering and sharing experiences and evidence to help the FPC develop a policy for Lusaka that reflects residents’ priorities, and gives them access to healthier more diverse food.
Innovations to be piloted
The innovations we want to pilot in Lusaka have yet to be agreed on and developed by lab participants. Now that working groups are being formed under the lab, each one can focus on a different topic and can propose ideas they wish to pilot. A small budget will be available to support the best ideas. Other funding will be sought to top this up and pilot initiatives that can start the shift of Lusaka’s food system so that it is healthier and more resilient.
We anticipate that since a big focus of the lab is the informal sector, the innovations will be by/for informal food workers e.g. establishing a small Public-Private Partnership (PPP) at Soweto Food Market between the council and vendors, around food cooling and processing to reduce loss and increase income.
¹ Harvard School of Public Health 2017 https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/press-releases/diabetes-in-africa/