The following statement has been issued by the UPND:
The United Nations 2013 Hunger Report released last week by three of the United Nations’ agencies, the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the World Food Programme (WFP) indicates that undernourishment prevalence in Zambia is second only to Haiti in the world and first in Africa. This is an embarrassing and humiliating report for a peaceful country that has enjoyed a steady economic growth of over 6% per annum in the last few years. The report uses data obtained from the 2007 Demographic and Health Survey and some have been dismissive of the findings, however, subsequent surveys by the National Food and Nutrition Commission of Zambia (NFNC) and a recent UNICEF Report are consistent with the 2013 Hunger Report.
There has been no official response by the Zambian government to the UN Report. The most likely explanation for the silence from the PF government is that they do not understand the implications of this Report and therefore have no solutions to the problem of undernourishment. It also demonstrates further the far reaching negative implications of the removal of subsidies on maize and fuel and their effect on the quality of life of our people. A consequence we warned of but which PF in their usual arrogance consistently ignored.
Stunting, a major consequence of undernourishment, its effects typically become permanent. Stunted children may never regain the height lost as a result of stunting, and most children will never gain the corresponding body weight. Brain development can be an issue in stunted children because there are specific micronutrients that the brain needs in order to grow optimally. Stunting also leads to premature death later in life because vital organs never fully develop during childhood. Close to 50% of children under five years of age, that is about one million children are stunted in Zambia, this is the catastrophe we are facing.
The UPND believes in “more food on the table” as the solution to undernourishment; not only more food but the right food as well. These are the interventions we propose that Government can take to mitigate undernourishment and stunting. First let the Government re-introduce food subsidies for the more that 60% Zambians that are poor yet these same people are requested to spend 70% of their meagre income on food, that is not even adequate to meet their dietary requirements. This means that a food subsidy will be particularly helpful to poor families as they will almost certainly afford to buy more food. The removal of subsidies on the staple food by the PF government was not only highly irresponsible but negligent of poor peoples’ needs. PF removed subsidies and then chooses to introduce a social cash transfer system that is badly targeted and cannot sustain any human being. In addition to subsidies, subsidies must actually be preceded or accompanied by educational and promotional efforts, reducing the size of cabinet and cutting down on government bureaucracy could fund feeding programs for thousands of children and pregnant mothers. A lot of people especially in rural areas of Zambia are engaged in subsistence farming. In the long term, implementing sound agriculture policy will inevitably increase household income and food security.
UPND will prioritize improving and diversifying agriculture in Zambia to increase the quality and quantity of food available at household level. Several interventions such as mechanization, extension services, timely distribution of subsidized inputs such as seed and fertilizer, adequate storage and orderly crop marketing strategy. Training nutritionists to be deployed in all districts is also a long term objective. The NFNC must also be empowered to engage in research that encourages local fortification using what people produce in those areas. For example, if cassava is known to contain a certain set of vitamins, encourage the people to mix it with normal mealie meal. This is what UPND aims at doing, to encourage home grown solutions and dietary diversity using the NFNC.
The findings and recommendation of the 2013 UN Hunger Report will be discussed by governments, civil society and private sector representatives at the 7-11 October meeting of the Committee on Food Security on World Food Security, at FAO headquarters in Rome. The UPND would like to implore the government to engage our local experts and adequately prepare for this discussion. Zambian people deserve better. It is our sincere hope that the PF government’s reaction to our humble request of reducing undernourishment in Zambia will receive the urgency it deserves and not with the usual childish diatribes.
Dr Canisius Banda
Vice President – Politics