Zambia needs to say goodbye to maize mono diet

Maize Field Chongwe - Photo by Andrew Chifire
Maize Field Chongwe - Photo by Andrew Chifire

Maize Field Chongwe - Photo by Andrew Chifire
Maize Field Chongwe – Photo by Andrew Chifire

By: William Chilufya

Zambia is a potentially rich country, with a predominantly young population, abundant land, water and minerals. However, malnutrition has actually been a nagging challenge for the people of Zambia for quite a long time now, without much improvement.

About fifteen percent of children under five are underweight, six percent are severely malnourished -a strong predictor of mortality among under-five children – and forty percent are stunted, indicating chronic malnutrition. On the other hand, twenty-three percent of women in Zambia are considered as overweight or obese, a situation which makes nutrition management highly complex.

According to the National Food and Nutrition Commission (NFNC), one of the major causes of malnutrition is the mono diet practice. The Zambian diet relies heavily on nshima, a hard porridge made of maize powder. This mono diet is born from the food production, which is heavily slanted towards maize. As a result, the country’s food security faces a grave challenge.

The strong focus in Zambia on growing a single crop, a practice called mono-cropping, is worrying. For it is eroding ecosystems, crop diversity and regrettably reducing the diversity of foods on our plates.

It is beyond doubt that Zambia needs to shift attention away from maize to other crops. This would not only improve our diets but also ensure sustainable food production and consumption for the people, most of whom are in the agricultural sector and in rural areas.

What’s more, Zambians will be offered a great opportunity to eradicate hunger, malnutrition and even poverty when the country moves its focus to diverse food production, including high-protein beans and ground nuts.

Another risk of the current excessive focus on maize in Zambia is that any occurrence of a large-scale drought would see countless Zambians go hungry, and those of them whose only business is maize production, lose revenue. In that case, there would be a huge drain on maize reserves, destabilizing further the country’s food security.

Entering the path of diversification would shield Zambia from the above scenario, because people would still have food from crops such as sorghum and millet that are less vulnerable to the negative effects of climate change, such as poor of erratic rainfall and longer periods of drought.

To this end, Hivos International a development Organisation in collaboration with the International Institute of Environment and Development (IIED), has been conducting ‘food change labs’ in Chongwe to support local people in their needs facing food security and food diversity. The food lab approach brings together many voices involved in influencing food policies and re-shaping the food system.

During the 2015 food lab in Zambia in Chongwe District, the local people discovered a number of indigenous and non-wood forest foods in the area, such as tubers, bulbs, wild fruits, indigenous vegetables growing on cultivated lands, and others in the forest, like mushrooms.

Though nutritious, these are not consumed by the majority of the population as they are considered inferior and unappealing, especially among the younger population. Hivos and IIED are collecting information on these indigenous and non-wood forest foods in the district for a book highlighting their nutritional values and benefits.

The bottom line is that Zambia must invest substantially in diversifying her food production and consumption patterns to overcome development challenges such as climate change, hunger, malnutrition and to ensure good health for all her citizens.


  1. “Zambia is rich with a predominantly young population, abundant land, water and minerals”
    You should also know deep down your heart that most of these riches do not belong to Zambians anymore. Land – chinese have bought at record numbers. Mwenyes too have a big share of our national resources. Land – I do not know if you’ve been to Mkushi or Chisamba find out who owns those big pieces of land. Yes predominantly young population is what Zambia has remained with. but 80% these young people are cadres beating and stealing with impunity. Minerals are all in the hands of foreigners e.g KCM, kansashi etc. Thank you.

    • You forgot to mention Lebanese and Egyptians. I was present when one Mr Zulu from the Ministry of Lands was illegally selling land to an Egyptian man with rotten teeth . The Egyptian brought rucksacks full of money to Makeni and Mr Zulu did the paper work without the Ministry~authorization. Mr Zulu got his cut and the rest was history.

    • Mr Chilufya, would you agree then that Zambians are malnourished and hungry? This supports the ranking of Zambia as third hungriest in the world. As for nshima, why don’t the township dwellers eat cake with Lungu instead? Us bakachema will feed our maize to our cattle as stockfeed.

  2. This is the one commodity that instantly removes the docility from Zambians and drives them crazy and smash things if the govt doesn’t provide it.

  3. I cant eat Cassava for Lunch but akabwali bakalamba ni zee.Even when iam Europe I buy meal meal I cook a kabwali its our heritage,just like rice and the Chinese. Who the hell are you stopping as from eating our maize.

  4. Support this writer. We need more encouraging voices rising up across the land. People must start changing perceptions and stop falsely clinging to traditions that ‘do not define us.’ We don’t need to centre our diet on the humble Maize ONLY. I mean look at Mexican cultural foods (where Maize originates….apparently), the food sources of that culture is variable, and it is as rich as it is wide. When I was a kid, my sis and I refused Nshima as often as we could as a rebellion…..! There was Pasta, Spagetti, Cassava, Kandolo(sweet Pots)etc. then other African foods too, Injera from Ethiopia made from wheats we can also grow. I think it’s the ease of just being dependant on one thing. Cheap skate too, a man just buys one large bag of Maize Meal, takes it home to his wife and…

  5. Cheap skate too, a man just buys one large bag of Maize Meal, takes it home to his wife and says, ” make sure that lasts a month!” Cheapo! Let’s also diversify our diet!


  7. Promote the grown in: Sweet potatoes, irish potatoes grow well in Zambia… grow other products like palm trees for palm oil and grow all other variaties of nuts – cusew nuts, almonds, legumes – peas, lentils etc next to beans and soya


  8. Well I am Zambian and would like to help out my country in as far as producing food, how can I get free land like the foreigners do? mxxxxxxxxxxxxxm useless politicians.

  9. Correction, maize is only traditional in eastern and southern provinces. Copperbelt and Central provinces which included Kabwe and Lusaka were supplied by these two provinces. Other provinces depended on cassava, millet and sorghum until 1970 when KK made a policy to increase maize production by imposing it on all parts of Zambia. My province was badly affected as people opted to buy mealie meal instead of cultivating its source.

  10. The author is dull & uninformed. Countries with less rain, like semi-desert South Africa, long developed maize seed that grows on minimum rain. The crop carries 2 o 3 cobs & grow max to chest height. Chapwa! So, foget about discarded crops like millet (Bembas will tell u about toilet problems after eating). There is nothing wrong with maize. Poor pipo find maize a short cut crop since it grows with minimum fertilers. So the point u shld emphasise is the keeping of livestock. Southerners & easterners balance maize & livestock, traditionally. So this is what shld b encouraged.

  11. Today’s maize has poor nutrients so its advisable to diversify the staple to include sweet potato beans and sorghum

  12. Mu Zambian pa nsima, kaya? Liking nsima is not a tradition its an addiction. Lets not hide in tradition when we can’t follow many African traditions that are meant to preserve our dignity as Africans. Zambians find it easy to depart from respecting our elders as a tradition, women dressing appropriately as our tradition demands but have stuck to nsima like a tick and it is the only thing that wakes them from slumber. Buying a bag of meali meal has even become the measure of manhood. If you can’t buy a bag of meali meal you are not a man. The author says “DIVERSIFY”. Please like others have said we can’t eat heavily every day. When will we think. Some days lets have light meals.

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