Author: Mangiza Chongo
National statistics from the Zambia Nutrition profile 2021 reveal that Zambia’s nutrition challenges are rooted in multidimensional poverty and systemic challenges to food, water, sanitation, hygiene health, social and economic systems.
Zambia is said to face a double burden of malnutrition, meaning it has a coexistence of overnutrition (overweight and obesity) alongside undernutrition (stunting and wasting). 35 % of children under five years old are stunted and about 46 % of Zambians cannot afford a healthy diet. To address nutrition, the Food System Lab (FSL) in Lusaka focuses on promoting dietary diversity and interventions that support supplying quality food to the community in Lusaka.
The campaign to diversify diets in Lusaka (Zambia) has been ongoing through different food system stakeholders for a number of years. Maize has been recognized as the country’s staple food and its predominance has resulted in the development of a mono-diet culture whose implications have included unacceptably high levels of undernourishment, particularly in children. Therefore, part of what the FSL has been working towards is to develop value chains that effectively process, store, market and sell legumes, vegetables and fruit. This has been in collaboration with other work packages within the Healthy Food Africa project. Identified value chains include groundnuts, tomatoes and leafy vegetables.
The project is working with different stakeholders in-country to stimulate demand for legumes, fruits and vegetables amongst consumers. The program is running radio programs about nutrition and what benefits come from a diversified diet especially for children 0-23 months and for adolescents and women in child bearing ages. Though the process of diversifying diets and alleviating malnutrition is long, there is need for constant messaging and interventions to inspire the change that is envisaged.
Education for correct care of foods
With regard to the supply of quality food to the surrounding community, the Lusaka FSL primarily works with informal food sellers. FSL educates them on the need to properly transport and store their fresh fruits and vegetables in order for the products to not lose nutrition by the time they are being sold to the consumers. The most common trend of vegetable transportation within the city is in 50 kg sacks instead of baskets. This is because the sacks pack more vegetables and are easier to carry on public transport. However, they result in more damage and hence food waste.
In addition to the stress from transportation, the conditions under which the vegetables and other fresh foods are stored and sold further limit the nutrition and is not safe. Most are exposed to direct sunlight and not sold at correct temperatures losing certain nutrients in the process. Others are exposed to dust, flies and other particles that question the safety of the food for consumption. Therefore, the FSL is carrying out sensitization campaigns in markets and to consumers about the importance of good care of foods on sale to preserve their nutrition content.