Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?
Zambia is one of the least developed nations in the world and many Zambians live below the poverty line in rural areas. About 78% of the rural population is impoverished compared to the 53% of people in urban areas that live in poverty. Almost 80% of the total population lives below the national poverty line, and high levels of unemployment result in most rural Zambians becoming smallholder farmers to produce food for their own consumption and to generate a small income. Statistics indicate that more than 80% of Zambia’s population is engaged in subsistence farming. Even those farmers with excess produce find it difficult to secure markets for their produce. Consequently, much of it goes to waste, and undermines their efforts to economically empower themselves through meaningful income generation.
The Zambian government recognizes farming as one of the effective instruments through which poor people in rural areas can secure financial independence and break the vicious cycle of poverty. The government introduced farm inputs subsidy programs to boost local farmers’ production and ensure that there is enough produce to sell and still feed the farmers’ families . CSOs have joined the government in introducing various interventions, which are meant to increase rural farmers’ produce. These interventions have worked so well that the production of local food has significantly increased over the past ten years. However, the low demand for Zambia’s locally produced food makes it difficult for farmers to secure markets for their produce. As a result, much of the farmers’ produce goes to waste.
Small farmers strongly rely on subsistence farming but they rarely diversify their crops to obtain food with high nutritional value for their families. Many have started to grow foreign crops due to the influence of urban habits and food preferences. Furthermore, local farmers lack the knowledge and exposure to better food preservation processes to lengthen shelf life without compromising on the nutritional value of the food. Traditionally, local farmers have used direct sun to dry the fruits and vegetables in order to preserve them. This destroys the nutrient content of the food, leaving it less desirable as a food supplement for healthy living. In addition, the food is ultimately exposed to the sun on bare benches, which reduces hygienic standards and may pose a health risk. The farmers are also unable to preserve large quantities of food as the process is cumbersome and time-consuming. Although the government has worked towards increasing the levels of production for local farmers, it has failed to provide solutions to handling surplus produce in the case of inadequate markets. It is widespread knowledge that most small farmers would increase their harvested areas if they had the knowledge and support to do so. If they could do so with diverse and nutritious traditional crops, they could increase their markets while also providing the urban poor with more nutritious food. This would have great impact, since malnutrition in urban areas is also a growing problem across Zambia.
Another aspect of the problem pertains to the inherent negative perception of Zambia’s indigenous and local food, mostly in urban societies. There is very little appreciation of the local food in Zambia, most likely stemming from the widespread belief that foreign items as better than those that locally produced. People are more inclined to consume imported food to the detriment of locally produced indigenous Zambian food. There is an overall lack of enthusiasm and pride in local food from Zambia by the Zambians themselves. Unfortunately, preference is given to imported food although its nutritional value cannot, in many ways, surpass that of local food. As a result, many individuals are malnourished and highly nutritious locally-produced food, which could help prevent malnutrition, is being wasted.
Furthermore, eating “traditionally” can increase the intake of vitamins, minerals and macronutrients that are fundamental for healthy living because traditional foods are predominantly based on whole, non-chemical and free-range produce that preserve the original properties of food contents. This nutrition so consistently lacks in many Zambian, and African diets. However, the Zambian government has no strategic plan to use a traditional framework for assessing local food production in different provinces, and therefore is unable to plan effective actions to cope with events that provoke shortage of food, such as floods and droughts which are a constant in Sub-Saharan Africa, without having to depend on expensive imports or humanitarian donation of food.
Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!
Almost two-thirds of Zambia’s 14.5 people reside in rural areas, where most are engaged in smallholder subsistence farming. Unfortunately, however, much of the food that they produce is wasted due to a lack of markets for their produce, and inadequate knowledge of effective food preservation techniques. The low demand for local farm produce is also affected by negative perceptions of locally-grown food. Sylvia created rural, entrepreneurial hubs with the objective of improving local farmers’ incomes from produce. These hubs serve as a marketplace for farmers’ produce, where her organization (Sylva Food Solutions, SFS) provides a ready market for smallholder farmers by connecting them with businesses that need their produce. These businesses include restaurants, catering services, hotels, and food packagers and processors. She has also boosted demand for these products through the mass promotion of local, healthy indigenous food. . Sylvia realizes that the negative perception of locally-produced, traditional food in Zambia significantly contributes to the low levels of demand for local farmers’ produce, especially in the urban areas. Therefore, she has also developed ways to promote indigenous food, which is far more nutritious than the imported food currently preferred by many Zambians.
Sylvia trains farmers on effective, hygienic and affordable food preservation methods that preserve the nutritional value of their produce. She organizes farmers into schemes through which the trading of farm produce between SFS and farmers is orchestrated. Through this arrangement, the farmers are guaranteed to sell most of their produce, thereby increasing income and reducing waste. Together, the farmers form peer-monitoring groups to ensure that they comply with production standards.. Sylvia provides information on food preservation and preparation techniques to the farmers in order for them to preserve their nutrients and ensure longer shelf lives. For example, she introduced a new solar drying technique for fruits and vegetables that speeds up the process and retains more of their nutritional value. She also conducts regular post-harvest workshops to train the farmers on hygiene, as well as cooking workshops with rural women where they are taught to use local ingredients in traditional Zambian recipes.
Lastly, Sylvia is addressing the negative perception that most Zambians have towards indigenous Zambian food by promoting it both locally and internationally. She is using the local media to draw attention to the nutritional value and diversity of Zambia’s local food by hosting shows on the local TV and radio stations and writing a column for local newspapers. Sylvia is also working on value-added processes that would make indigenous produce more attractive to high-income and foreign markets, which may not be attracted to the local food in its raw form. The underlying goal in promoting local foodstuffs is to ensure that Zambians are proud of their culture and appreciate local food. In this manner, Sylvia is increasing demand for local foods, the benefits of which will pass to farmers and help them improve and sustain their livelihoods. So far, almost 10,000 farmers in all 10 Zambian provinces have been trained and benefitted from this initiative. Her target is to reach 90% of the farmers in the country.
Sylvia has started running post-harvest courses for the first 200 farmers in Mozambique to join this program; and is planning university-level training programs for smallholders throughout Africa.