LUSAKA, (The Southern African Times) – Although two-thirds of Zambia’s population live in rural areas and depend on agriculture as their mainstay, most of the foods produced go to waste. This is due to lack of markets as well as lack of knowledge on how to preserve the foods.
However, a local firm is determined to change the status quo. Apart from promoting the consumption of indigenous foods, the company is determined to promote the indigenous foods to the outside world, including China.
The firm believes that indigenous foods have not only high nutrient contents but medicinal values as well despite being frowned upon by people.
“Any country that has a very low opinion of local foods is a very poor country. God gave us the local foods because he knows the value they contain and it is therefore important that we start appreciating our indigenous foods,” said Sylvia Banda, Managing Director of Sylva Food Solutions, a subsidiary of Sylva Professional Catering, a restaurant that offers catering services.
She said the purpose of coming up with the company was due to a need in indigenous foods, especially during the dry season.
The company has been working with smallholder farmers who are being provided with techniques on how to grow various vegetables which it later buys from them.
The company has also been providing training to the smallholder farmers, with about 25,000 farmers so far trained not only in Zambia, but Mozambique and Tanzania as well.
The training includes methods of drying traditional vegetables hygienically, education on healthy foods and the high nutrition value of the indigenous food compared to the imported staples.
Among the indigenous vegetables targeted include pumpkin leaves, cowpea leaves, okra, bean leaves and sweet potatoes leaves, among others.
These are being processed and packaged and sold to supermarkets so that people can enjoy the traditional foods all year around instead of waiting for the rainy season.
The company has also started producing various products from Moringa, a tree that is rich in healing properties and can remove toxic substances from the body. Among the products being produced from the tree which grows naturally include tea bags, Moringa soup and cereals.
“The purpose of coming up with the company is that we saw a need in our country, especially where vegetables are concerned. In most parts of Zambia, we only depend on the rain-fed type of farming and when it is the dry season, you find that we have problems in continuing and this how we came with the drying of these vegetables,” she added.
She has also compiled a cookbook “Zambian Cookbook” that includes remedies and recipes using indigenous crops and plants.
To encourage mass production of indigenous foods, the company is involved in the processing of the foods and has also entered into contract agreements with smallholder farmers.
The indigenous vegetables are currently being processing at the company’s factory and because of the huge interest in the project, a larger factory is currently underway and is expected to be commissioned soon.
The factory is adding value to various indigenous foods through the production of various products which are being packaged and supplied to supermarkets in the country.
“Our plan is to be Zambia’s biggest promoter of indigenous foods and we are determined to ensure that we change the mindset of people to start appreciating local foods. These foods are very rich in nutrients and have medicinal values,” she said.
While the company has taken advantage of the free trade arrangement provided by the United States through its African Growth Opportunity Act (AGOA), she says the company is expanding its horizon and is keen to penetrate the Chinese market.
The company, she said, is targeting Africans in the diaspora as potential customers for its products outside the country as most African countries have similar indigenous foods.
She further said the company is positioning itself to take advantage of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCTA) by penetrating the African market.
She said the company is ready to take advantage of the free duty access provided by China to penetrate the Chinese market.
“All we need is for someone to link us to China so that we penetrate that market. With the current equipment that we have, we are able to supply the Chinese market,” she said.
Indeed, the need to appreciate local products cannot be over-emphasized because of the immense benefits that accrue not only in terms of economic development but poverty reduction as well.