A Take on Malnutrition: in Zimbabwe with Mercy Chatyoka

Feeding Fair is right around the corner, and after hours of extensive data collection, research, and exploration in EXPO, we are thrilled to announce we have come up with eight crucial challenges that our hackers will be addressing in light of malnutrition. We were fortunate enough to spend some time talking to WikiExpo’s Mercy Chatyoka at the Zimbabwe Pavilion in Milan EXPO. A food technologist and candidate for FFI’s Master in Food Innovation, Mercy passionately shared some of the struggles her country is facing in terms of food access, resources and climate change.

According to the World Food Programme, 72 percent of the population lives below the national poverty line (less than US$ 1.25 per day) and 30 percent of the rural poor are considered to be ‘food poor’ or ‘extremely poor.’ While percentages of the food insecure in Zimbabwe seem to be decreasing statistically, the country is still vulnerable to natural and economic shocks. Rural poverty, on the other hand, is increasing, and a vast number of small scale farmers are unable to produce enough food to feed themselves and their families throughout the year.

So why is Zimbabwe, a country that used to be the breadbasket of Africa, suffering so much in the agricultural sector? Mercy describes how 60% of the country’s food production is thanks to small scale farmers. Despite making up the core of the food producing contingent in Zimbabwe, many small-scale producers lack funds, resources and land rights to effectively cultivate their land.

Empowering small-scale farmers and making sure they have the collateral and technology to effectively produce food is an important step in eradicating Zimbabwe’s malnutrition. The government is working hard to support its population, but outside financial resources are crucial to getting Zimbabwe’s farmers back on their feet. Mercy explains alternative sources of collateral can help give small-scale farmers access to better financing and resources, thus pulling them out from under the grips of poverty.

And while new technology is constantly being developed to address pressing climate concerns, the information often remains inaccessible to small scale farmers. Mercy talks about how changing weather patterns (a rise in drought conditions and lack of consistent rain patterns) paired with defunct technology (faulty irrigation and broken down pumps and pipes) make consistent crop production difficult. Zimbabwe’s researchers and Universities are collaborating to create crops that can handle the changing climate, but dispersion of this information is crucial to its effectiveness.  Mercy sees education, especially at the university level, as essential in integrating new methods of farming for the people of Zimbabwe.

It is not just farming innovation that can help address malnutrition in Zimbabwe. Mercy speaks to us about  the Cold Storage Commission that was once a leader in cattle and other livestock processing. Now, functional factories are closed and abandoned, and Zimbabwe imports the majority of its meat and other basic food products for consumption. Mercy sees getting funding for these projects as a way to eradicate unemployment, grow Zimbabwe’s economy, and get food directly into the homes of her country’s citizens.

Moving forward, Mercy looks not only to outside investors, but also the next generation of Zimbabwe’s citizens to help make the changes her country needs to improve their well-being and food security. She has faith that the young people of her country can work towards developing projects to make an effective difference in her country. As an active member of the Zimbabwe Youth for Development Agenda, a coalition of youth think tanks from various backgrounds who want to come together to make change in Zimbabwe, Mercy knows that there is room for change and growth in her country. “It’s a lot,” she says, “not that we can not deal with, but it needs a bit of serious investment.”

Thank you Mercy for your thoughtful words on Zimbabwe, and the attention you have given to malnutrition issues worldwide. We look forward to having you at Feeding Fair, and collaborating for the future of Zimbabwe and the rest of the world.

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