By Natasha Mhango –NAIS
“It is not just about getting enough to eat, it is about having the right food to eat.” These words were part of a speech by the UNICEF Zambia Country representative Noalar Skinner, during the recent World Food Day commemorations that were held in Mwembeshi.
The 2019 theme – Our Actions are Our Future, Healthy Diets for a Zero Hunger World – intended to bring awareness on the continued strides needed towards realizing the Zero Hunger Vision that was launched by the United Nations in 2012.
World Food day is a day of action against hunger. Hunger manifests itself in different ways namely: undernourishment, malnutrition and wasting. The 2018 report by the African Regional Overview of Food Security and Nutrition reveals that 257 million people in Africa are undernourished. Put differently, 257 million people in Africa are hungry and furthermore, 237 million of these hungry people are in sub-Saharan African.
In response to such alarming figures, the Zero Hunger Vision aims at ensuring access to nutritious food for everyone and ending all forms of hunger by 2030.
Currently, the world wastes a third of all the food produced while rising food prices are being induced by low food production predominantly as a result of climate change.
The prefix phrase to the World Food Day theme – Our actions are our Future – reiterates the fact that prominence on ending world hunger lies in the kind of choices that are being made and actions that are being taken today towards promoting sustainable agriculture and supporting small scale farmers in protecting food supplies in times of disaster.
Our Actions are our Future compels the need to make better food choices and avoid food waste at individual household level.
During the World Food Day commemorations, Food and Agriculture Organization(FAO) Country Representative, George Okech, highlighted the fact that with the proliferation of globalization, urbanization and increase in income, African diets have diversified away from traditional and mainly plant-based diets to diets that contain more refined sugars, fats, salts and processed foods.
This diversification of diets has unfortunately led not only to continued cases of undernourishment but also rising cases of obesity. According to Mr. Okech global statistics on obesity reveal that 1 in 3 adults is obese and projections reveal that the statistics will be 1 in 2 adults by 2025.
Statistics on children’s nutrition are similar to the adult figures. The 2019 State of the Children’s Nutrition report, which was launched during the World Food Day commemorations, revealed that 1 in 3 children globally is either undernourished or obese – lacking the nutrition they need to grow well
“An unhealthy diet is the leading risk factor to death across the globe for non-communicable diseases…In a way our food systems currently work from agricultural production to processing and retailing – there is little space for fresh, locally produced food as staple crops like cereals take priority,” George Okech said.
Hence there is need for practical interventions that promote the development of food and farming systems that enable healthy eating choices and that are climate-resilient.
The Ministry of Agriculture undertakes a number of programmes to enhance behavioral change with regard to food consumption patterns among rural farming communities in order to improve nutrition.
Minister of Agriculture, Michael Katambo, said that through the National Agricultural Information Services (NAIS), the Ministry produces information in form of television documentaries and radio programs in various local languages, through which key nutrition messages are disseminated to farmers and the general public.
He added that one key intervention his Ministry has undertaken is the biofortification of seed. Seed is at the beginning of the agricultural value chain and biofortification involves breeding new nutrients directly into seed.
In a speech read on his behalf by the Director of Agriculture – Peter Lungu – the Minister disclosed that the Ministry through the Zambia Agricultural Research Institute (ZARI) and in collaboration with other stakeholders, was promoting the production and consumption of biofortifed foods to enhance access to nutritious foods by rural farming communities.
“Achieving zero hunger is not only about addressing hunger but also nourishing people while nurturing the planet… The Ministry has bred and promoted the production and consumption of fortified food crops such as orange maize, iron-rich beans locally called Mbereshi beans and orange-flesh sweet potatoes,” Mr. Lungu said.
Food fortification has been recognized as a cost-effective effort to making nutritious food affordable and accessible.
However, there is also need to establish local food systems that address the needs of small scale farmers. Currently, 75% of the world’s food comes from only 12 plants and 5 animal species – highlighting the need to transform farming and food systems into more diverse and sustainable systems.
Multiplying and protecting indigenous seed – some of which has been proven to be climate resilient and very nutritious– is also an effective intervention that address the needs of local farming communities.
Making Zero Hunger a reality requires not only improved nutrition and sustainable agricultural practices that enhance food security but also efforts to reduced poverty and hence empower rural communities with income to end hunger at household level.
By Natasha Mhango –NAIS