Poor Zambians depend on nshima for survival – CUTS

CUTS International says it is difficult for Zambians to shift from maize dependency to other crops because they cannot afford them.

CUTS International Centre coordinator Chenai Mukumba stated in a statement that Zambia for decades has had a mono-diet culture that has been heavily dependent on maize.

“In a meeting with farmers in Chisamba, President Edgar Lungu expressed that it is time to take stock of the dependency on maize as a staple food and begin to look at alternatives. He spoke of the need to look at other cereal crops such as cassava and relook at whether maize should be the ultimate crop for survival. This has greatly influenced agricultural policies that have been maize focused with over half of the agriculture budget going towards providing maize subsidies and maize marketing,” Mukumba stated.

“Preliminary results from a study on ‘Sustainable Diets for All’ that CUTS with support from Hivos and in partnership with the World Food Programme undertook on 1,000 households in Lusaka earlier this year, indicate that most Zambians eat nshima everyday. In the poorest quintile, 83 per cent said they eat nshima at least once every day compared to 62 per cent in the richest quintile. This clearly shows that nshima has dominated all foods when it comes to household consumption in Lusaka.”

She stated that compared to the frequency of eating other foods, nshima is eaten more times than all other starches as well as other foods such as vegetables.

“Also of importance is that the graph indicates that wealthier households consume nshima less. While our focus on reducing nshima dependency should be focused on all households, our most concerted efforts should be focused on low-income households. Indeed, in our study on ‘Sustainable Diets for All,’ one of our key findings was that ‘more than 80 per cent of households in both the poorest and richest quintile said they would eat more diverse foods if they were more affordable.’ From this finding, it is clear that affordability is an important barrier to the food choices that households may make,” Mukumba stated.

“This is true as households have budget constraints and cannot manage to buy all they would want in one instance. Considering the low rainfall experienced this season, maize production is expected to be lower than normal, finding alternative foods on that account would help curb the expected negative effects that potential high maize-meal prices will have on consumers…As President Lungu has expressed the need to rethink dependency on maize as a staple food, we must begin to look at the promotion, production and consumption of alternative foods.”

She stated that at present, Zambia’s dependency on maize had crowded out investments for strengthening markets for other agricultural products, and making them more affordable for consumers.

“Reducing nshima dependency would therefore require supporting the production of alternative foods and thereby make them affordable. As CUTS, we agree with the President and share the view that as a nation, we must minimise our dependence on maize and promote the production and consumption of alternative foods,” stated Mukumba.

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