Fighting poverty with healthy indigenous foods in Zambia

The 2011 ONE Africa Award finalists continue with the announcement of our third finalist, a model for social entrepreneurship in the agriculture sector. If you are already familiar with ONE’s recent activities then you will know that we recently launched our campaign to address the famine in the Horn of Africa. Hunger and malnutrition continue to be important issues on the continent and that’s why the work that our next finalist, Sylvia Food Solutions (SFS), is doing is so important.

Sylvia Banda, the founder of SFS, is a very well known personality in Zambia and speaks regularly on the most popular private radio station in the country, Radio Phoenix, about the importance of using local foods, nutrition, and maintaining a healthy life style. With 10 employees, Sylvia started SFS in 2005 building on her successful catering business that had been around for about 25 years.

Sylvia Banda and members of her team
Sylvia Banda and members of her team

The idea for SFS came to Sylvia after observing the deterioration in the quality of the kinds of food being eaten in Zambia. Much of the food lacked nutritional content and she quickly noticed the opportunity for promoting the use of vegetables in the Zambian diet. Sylvia embarked on an effort to work with farmers and train them to preserve vegetables hygienically with the guarantee that she would purchase them, thereby guaranteeing a market for these goods. These vegetables, the leaves from staple crops like pumpkins and sweet potatoes, were previously discarded by the farmers but are now a new potential source of income.

Sylvia Foods seeks to provide an efficient and viable avenue for rural smallholder farmers to market their indigenous farm produce to both local and export markets. The organization promotes improved quality of farm yields by training farmers to add value and focus on hygiene in the harvesting of their produce. In the last 6 years, Sylvia Foods has trained over 8,500 smallholder rural farmers in Zambia, which has enabled them to scale up their production capacity and engage directly with the markets. They have also engaged in marketing and lobbying efforts to promote the consumption of indigenous foods, including working with the Zambian First Lady to participate in a national television program promoting the consumption of indigenous food. SFS also organized “Cook of the Year” competitions and involved hotels, schools and the general public to spread the message about the nutritional value of traditional foods.

farmer
Sylvia Foods works with rural smallholder farmers

SFS has also impacted the consumer culture around Zambian vegetables and raised demand by advocating for a return to the traditional foods that Zambians used to eat before the global culture of fast food started impacting their diet. SFS invested profits from the catering business into the initial interventions including the cooking competitions. As they have built success, the government and donors have become involved and they have been able to access additional funding to scale up their work. The Zambian Development Agency has also featured SFS in many regional and international trade expositions leading to the development of agreements between SFS and other countries to supply their markets with indigenous Zambian food.

Sylvia Banda continues to develop her idea of transforming the agriculture sector to provide improved nutritional benefit and economic empowerment of Zambians. Her next endeavour is a catering college where she hopes that she will train the next generation of Zambian cooks who will be familiar with the nutritional value of local foods and able to respond to the increasing demand that she has helped to foster in her country.

Congratulations to Sylvia Food Solutions for all your hard work and for making it to the finals of the 2011 ONE Africa Award. We wish you the very best of luck.