Who would have thought cooking could be so tasty — oh, and nutritious too?
As we sat in the shade of a tree outside the Tiyanjane Co-op Society Ltd., members of the cooking subgroup explained through an interpreter how they once looked upon soybeans as a cash crop, not something they could eat.
Now they are frying them, making cakes, porridge for breakfast and even turning them into milk. Cowpeas were something to be boiled and salted. Now they have learned how to make them into sausage.
“We didn’t know how to prepare chicken with peanut butter,” said one woman. “A lot of people in the district know us now because of what we prepare.”
Project officers with a Reformed Church of Zambia project supported by the Canadian Foodgrains Bank and World Renew over the past several years have taken a two-pronged approach promoting conservation farming methods and better nutrition to about 2,100 area families.
By improving these farming families’ use of soil and water resources, it was hoped they could increase productivity and crop diversification. The second aim was to help families use that diversification to improve food security, nutrition and income.
“We teach them how to prepare different types of food using our local foods here in Zambia,” said Betty Tembo, project officer for the RCZ project. “These people have foods but actually don’t know how to prepare them; they don’t know how many times to feed their children.”
Tembo works to train volunteers, who in turn work with families in their local community. In addition to the cooking demonstrations, children were regularly weighed, and the families provided with health education.
In the third year of the project, the percentage of households eating three meals a day had increased to 25.6 per cent from 14.6 per cent, according to an evaluation completed in 2014.
As well, two-thirds of the households surveyed were providing children under five in their care with three meals a day with the other third were providing three meals a day on average three times a week.
Ruairidh Waddell, program consultant for Zambia with World Renew, said their evaluation showed the investment in agricultural development is having a spinoff effect in both food security and nutrition.
“One of the things we did as part of our evaluation is go talk to the health personnel from the government that are working in these areas with the community clinics, and they were very adamant that they’d seen a big change in the health of children, especially in our household areas within the program we work in,” Waddell said.
Young children were “graduating” from the undernourished category. Of the children that were being tracked, “none of them have regressed into that category, even with the hunger months, so there’s definitely light at the end of the tunnel.”
The RCZ project officers worked with individual families to expand the crops they grow that could contribute to a healthy diet.
For example, the Chinyama family is now growing sunflowers, which are processed locally into cooking oil, cowpeas and pumpkins, the leaves of which can be cooked like spinach during the lean months.
“They have been growing all the components that you need for proper diet,” Waddell said. “They have protein from cowpeas, oils and fats from the groundnuts and sunflower, they have the staple with maize, they have greenery from the pumpkins, the pumpkin leaves, and then of course they have an extra carb from the sweet potato too.
“What we are trying to champion is looking at individual households and how they can improve their diet with what they have readily available,” he said.