Zambia: Finishing Phase 1

(By Kim Hedge)

Back home now and reflecting on the past three weeks I must say, our time in Zambia was incredibly productive.  We arrived in Lusaka with only three meetings scheduled, but a long list of targets. Through an untold number of phone calls and emails, one door opened the next and the next… leading to more than 40 meetings in our three weeks on the ground.  We gathered extensive information and discussed potential synergies and partnerships with key players working on child malnutrition, such as UNICEF, USAID, The Clinton Foundation, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Community Development, Mother and Child Health, and many others.

Beyond confirming the staggering statistic of over 100,000 severely malnourished children in Zambia, we dug deeper into the specific challenges in addressing the need, and what the government and its NGO partners are planning.  The government’s First 1,000 Most Critical Days Program is a comprehensive program to address child health in Zambia, set to be rolled out at the beginning of next year.  A major component of this program is addressing Severe Acute Malnutrition, with an expressed goal of moving to local production of RUTF.  In our meetings, we repeatedly heard, “The timing is right for your project”.

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We received an overwhelmingly positive response to our proposed project and we quickly integrated into the child nutrition circle, being invited to several high-level meetings. One such meeting was hosted by the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Health for coordinating partners to discuss challenges around the logistics of storage and distribution of imported RUTF.  Being around that conference table, hearing the various perspectives on how to address the issues and create a strategy to move things forward, gave us great insight as to where ECF could potentially provide solutions or support.

At times our meeting schedules were so tight that we had to split up.  While Rachael met with the Registrar of Societies and the UN World Food Program, I attended a conference on setting the national research priorities for nutrition hosted by CARE and the National Food and Nutrition Commission.  Again, it was as if we were already established and part of the community of organizations working to solve child malnutrition in Zambia.  In addition to being a great source of information on research in the field, it was fun to recognize many faces from our previous meetings. During the mid-morning tea break several new people came up to me to inquire more about what we are doing.  There is a keen interest in ECF setting up a factory to produce RUTF locally.

From high-level meetings to hospital and clinic visits (check out our next blog for more on the community clinic), we saw all sides of the reality for severely malnourished children in Zambia.  We gathered information on agriculture, the farmers union, small-scale peanut farmers – 90% of which are women – and some of the innovative techniques being used to grow the high quality peanuts we need for RUTF.  (This will be key in meeting UNICEF standards of RUTF production and ensure sustainability of the project.)  We visited the Zambian Development Agency to understand the cost of doing business in Zambia and the process to set up operations. We also visited the industrial side of town to gather data from oil, sugar and peanut butter producers among others.  With information on all the various inputs, we can determine the cost of producing RUTF locally and plan the way forward.

Overall, we have accomplished an enormous amount and it was an incredibly successful trip.  Everyone we met with was amazingly helpful and we received important offers of support and partnership.  I am overwhelmed with gratitude for all of the kindness that was extended to us, and for the way each step has unfolded before us.

For updates on next steps…

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