Monday, June 13, 2011

Guest Voices: Harvesting Momentum to Improve Nutrition in Zambia

Continuing with our series of guest posts from Concern Worldwide, is a profile of another farming program that Concern operates in Zambia. Country Director Rakesh Katal tells us about how the program protects crops from natural disasters such as flooding and drought.

Zambia’s economy continues to show encouraging growth, which now stands at seven percent. And in the past year, Zambia’s agricultural sector produced a record food surplus, with a grain harvest of 2.8 million tons that literally overwhelmed storage capacity. This surplus was underpinned by subsidies for small-scale farmers, generous minimum price guarantees offered by the Zambia’s Food Reserve Agency and good rainfall in previous years. Nonetheless, the very poorest and most vulnerable families are still struggling to survive.

The terrain in remote areas of Zambia is rough; to reach communities you must cross rivers, wetlands and vast swathes of sandy territory. Concern is the only development organization working in some of these remote areas, such as districts in the Western Province.

These districts are characterized by poor infrastructure, few or no services, and high dependency on natural resources for livelihoods. The soil and forests are under tremendous pressure from very heavy use, as well as from droughts and flooding.

Reaching marginalized groups and implementing programs at the required scale to alleviate poverty is a challenge: our human and financial resources are stretched to capacity. But we have evidence of what works—and we know that adequate investment in interventions in nutrition, livelihoods, and agriculture would significantly reduce poverty and hunger.

Concern is showing farmers how to restore the soil and at the same time diversify their crops to provide better nutrition for their families and produce a surplus that they can sell in the marketplace. We work with communities to set up natural resource committees and natural resource “user groups,” whose initiatives—in conjunction with efforts by local state officials—include canal clearing to prevent flooding. We have also prioritized establishing disaster management committees in communities to protect against future damage from droughts and floods.

We face significant obstacles, but I see signs of progress and momentum every time I visit a farming village. I know that what we’re doing works when a farmer shows me how his harvest and income have improved, and when a person living with HIV is no longer isolated because she has access to support groups and a source of income to live a healthy and productive life. I have seen communities minimize their vulnerability to disasters, and begin to view themselves as participants in development, rather than as passive recipients.

As I prepare to attend the upcoming “1,000 Days to Scale Up Nutrition for Mothers & Children: Building Political Commitment” meeting in Washington, D.C., I am excited to join civil society leaders and government officials to rally greater investment to save lives. I welcome this opportunity to share experiences and ideas for supporting the SUN Roadmap.

I hope to act as a voice for people like Wamunyima Iluya, an extremely poor farmer in rural Senanga District. He shared his story of change with me, saying, “Before, we were farming according to tradition, but we have learned ways to improve harvests and make farming a more profitable business.”

Beyond the June 13th meeting, my team and I will continue to work at national level in Zambia, collaborating with Government agencies such as the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives, the Ministry of Health, and the National Food and Nutrition Commission (NFNC). For instance, the NFNC is developing Zambia’s new Food and Nutrition Strategic Plan, a policy dialogue in which Concern actively participates.

These are exciting and encouraging times in Zambia in terms of nutrition. Under the Sixth National Development Plan, the Zambian Government aims to “improve the nutritional status of the Zambian population through the provision of quality nutrition services and increased availability, access and utilization of quality and safe foods.” Concern is committed to playing its part in making this aspiration become a reality.

In collaboration with local partners, the Government, and the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), Concern has launched the “Realigning Agriculture to Improve Nutrition (RAIN)” project, which targets women farmers and will help improve their nutritional status, as well as that of their families. The project is directly linked to the interventions outlined in the SUN Roadmap: working to prevent undernutrition and stunting by focusing on the critical 1,000 days from pregnancy to age two. We will share learning and evidence from this project on how best to link agriculture and nutrition with the international community.

My hope is that Concern’s programs contribute to efforts that make the growing international commitment to scale up nutrition a reality.

No comments: