Policy Dialogue in Zambia Highlights Nutrition, Agriculture

In December 2015, representatives from the Zambian Ministries of Agriculture and Fisheries and Livestock, the EU, IFPRI, the Indaba Agricultural Policy Research Institute (IAPRI), Zambia’s CSO-SUN Alliance, and Zambia’s National Food and Nutrition Commission met at the “Enhancing the link between evidence and agriculture, food, and nutrition” policy dialogue. The event focused on painting a clearer picture of the global food and nutrition security environment and assessing Zambia’s risks and opportunities regarding its domestic food and nutrition security. The dialogue also featured the local launch of the 2015 Global Nutrition Report by the Zambian Vice President, Inonge Wina.

 According to the World Bank, Zambia still faces high levels of malnutrition; 45 percent of children under the age of five are stunted, 15 percent are underweight, and 5 percent suffer from wasting. During the dialogue’s opening presentation, Vice President Wina laid out several steps that the Zambian government has recently taken to improve nutritional status throughout the country. These include the establishment of a Cabinet steering committee on nutrition, which meets regularly to agree on nutrition service delivery channels and to track progress on national targets; the revision of the government’s National Food and Nutrition Commission Act; the plan to use community welfare centers as nutrition focal points for mothers and children to access social welfare and nutrition services; and the strengthening of accountability of the National Food and Nutrition Commission to better coordinate nutrition-related efforts across sectors.

The agricultural sector plays a key role in improving the country’s nutritional status, but as Drs. Maximo Torero and Teunis van Rheenen of IFPRI pointed out in their presentation, long-term trends indicate that Zambia has seen a serious decline in investment in agricultural research and development (R&D) between 1981 and 2008. In addition, Zambia suffers from low agricultural yields and highly variable spatial patterns in terms of both land and labor allocation. To respond to the challenges of a growing population and a changing climate, Drs. Torero and van Rheenen called for more investment in agriculture, with a particular emphasis on agricultural diversification away from Zambia’s traditional staple crops (maize and wheat) toward more indigenous, nutritious commodities.

Robinah Mulenga, Executive Director of the National Food and Nutrition Commission, highlighted the fact that Zambia’s malnutrition statistics have not changed much over the past 50 years. Attempts to address the problem have been plagued by fragmented efforts of various agencies and organizations, historically low government prioritization, and difficulty tracking nutrition investments to determine if they are reaching targeted populations and to hold the government accountable. Nutrition programs proven to be successful must be scaled up to cover the entire country; at the same time, efforts must be made to strengthen community engagement to ensure that improved nutrition strategies are actually adopted.

A presentation by Dr. Anthony Chapoto of IAPRI focused on how evidence-based policymaking can help Zambia tackle the problems of poverty and malnutrition. He highlighted that agricultural policymaking in Zambia has often not been evidence-based due to a lack of available and accessible information, a lack of transparency, limited coordination between policymakers and scientists, and rent-seeking behavior. This has led to ineffective, often costly programs. Increasing the use of robust scientific evidence in future agricultural policies will require increased coordination and communication efforts between the government and research institutions and emphasis on capacity strengthening and training for key policymakers.

According to Dr. Rhoda Mofya of IAPRI, 90 percent of the current agricultural interventions in Zambia are conducted by the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Fisheries and Livestock. These interventions focus on improving agricultural growth among small- and medium-scale farmers and on encouraging public-private partnerships. However, agricultural interventions in Zambia face a number of bottlenecks, including: unreliable or untimely release of funding; delays in implementation due to staffing problems and complex procedural requirements; poor project sustainability; conflicting goals across interventions and agencies; low adoption rates; and a lack of timely, reliable reporting from the field. To address these problems, Dr. Mofya recommended establishing legal units within major government ministries to help reduce red tape and speed up project implementation, increasing capacity training for lower level staff, improving project targeting and increasing transparency when selecting target beneficiaries, and building on evidence from past projects to implement best practices and avoid past failures.

A panel discussion wrapped up the major points that emerged from the dialogue. Participants emphasized the need for local solutions – as stated in the final report, “Zambia needs to start looking at Zambian answers.” Agricultural interventions need to look not just at food quantity but also at food quality in order to address the problem of malnutrition; at the same time, efforts must be stepped up to increase incomes for smallholder farmers so that more of the population is able to afford nutritious food. This could include providing additional incentives for smallholder farmers to invest in high-value crops. To accomplish Zambia’s national nutrition goals, it will be essential for policymakers and researchers to work more closely and transparently.

By: Sara Gustafson, IFPRI

Photo credit:Flickr: Surendran Rajaratnam/ World Fish