How is it possible that malnutrition rates in Zambia and Uganda are among the highest in the world? On the Global Hunger Index (GHI), Uganda’s hunger situation is considered “serious” while Zambia’s is “alarming”. In response to the problem, the two countries have set up national agricultural and food programmes. However, in Zambia, 45% of children below the age of five still suffer from malnutrition. In Uganda, the GHI puts this figure at 38%.
The Sustainable Nutrition for All (SN4A) programme is addressing the issue of malnutrition from the field to the plate. SN4A is a joint initiative by the international NGO SNV, the Dutch Royal Tropical Institute (KIT), the Centre of Development Innovation (CDI), Wageningen University in the Netherlands and the SDC. It promotes sustainable and varied agriculture and seeks to change families’ dietary habits. Under the programme, communities are empowered to make the changes needed to permanently improve their food situation. The SDC has committed CHF 3 million to the programme, which is helping 350,000 Zambians and Ugandans.
Growing the food everyone needs
The agricultural potential in Zambia and Uganda is enormous, yet largely untapped. Most of the population is rural and engages in relatively undiversified subsistence farming. The main crops are maize, plantains, cassava and sweet potatoes. Farmers have moved away from vegetables and fruits that are part of their heritage and were handed down from their forebears.
The SN4A programme seeks to help reintroduce these forgotten varieties. They may be more challenging to grow, but they meet the entire family's nutritional needs effectively. The farmers are given help in procuring the seeds, and they receive instruction in traditional farming techniques. In addition, information sessions are held in villages to emphasise the importance of sustainable and quality agriculture for the health of the entire community.
Encouraging people to eat well
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), malnutrition is caused by a lack of essential micronutrients such as iodine, iron, zinc and vitamin A. The diet in Zambia and Uganda consists mainly of grains and starchy foods that do not meet the people’s energy and nutritional needs.
As a result, malnutrition-related diseases are prevalent, and many children experience serious growth delays. The SN4A programme raises people’s awareness of their nutritional habits. Families are informed of the link between dietary deficiencies and delayed growth in children. With this knowledge, entire communities are encouraged to make lasting changes in what and how they eat.
Gender equality and good governance
The SN4A programme takes a global approach to the issue of malnutrition. In addition to addressing the agricultural and health dimensions of the issue, a major effort is made to include men, women and community leaders. In Zambian and Ugandan society, women and men have clearly defined roles. While women run the household and are in charge of cooking, men are the head of the family. Both need to play an equal role in dietary change for the programme to succeed. National and local officials have their part to play as well and are brought into the programme at the very outset. The aim is to ensure that nutrition-related concerns are properly taken into account in both countries’ food security policy at all levels (local, regional and national).