Chongwe Food Change Lab: disruptive thinking to innovate the food system in Zambia

August 26, 2015

“I have learned new things that will change my life even at this old age of 70, I will do things differently from now on,” said Joel Mweeba, village elder, farmer and former educator. Mr Mweeba is one of the 23 Food Change Lab participants who took part in the kick-off workshop in Chongwe, Zambia last week.

The Food Change Lab is an initiative of Hivos and the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED)’s strategic partnership to provide insight, evidence and guidance for improving sustainable food systems and access to energy in developing countries. Two ‘Change Labs’, one each in the food and energy domains, combine both organisation’s expertise and partner networks to contribute to transformation and change in these areas.

Mr Mweeba was joined by other farmers, civil servants from the Departments of Agriculture and Health, a village chief, community builders, researchers and environmentalists, invited by Wesley Wakun’uma, Green Society Project Manager of Hivos in Zambia, to explore issues around food in the region. For example, the Zambian diet lacks variety, resulting in elevated levels of malnutrition, because of the over-production and consumption of maize. The Food Change Lab is designed to create space for disruptive thinking that will tackle complex ideas and help prototype innovative interventions in the food system to alleviate this and other problems.

The aim of the workshop in Chongwe was to scope topics for further research, find out what really matters to the inhabitants and get a group of participants geared up for doing research and small scale interventions.

During the workshop, the participants shared their own experiences as food consumers, producers and professionals working on food. They defined the challenges they deal with in their professional and personal lives, such as: ‘How can I get access to a balanced diet?’, ‘How can I find the time to cook healthy food?’, ‘How can I reduce energy costs?’, and ‘How can I get more resources to produce more food?’. Together they formulated a common challenge: “How can we influence access to and availability of diverse food to achieve a healthy and balanced diet?” This question will be central to the action research they will carry out in the next months.

The workshop also acquainted participants with brainstorming and prototyping methods they can use in their own communities. Many ideas for small-scale interventions came up, from which five prototypes were produced ranging from farming ‘forgotten vegetables’ with high nutritional value to creating educational materials on nutrition and spreading this knowledge. A core team of six will help the others to implement their ideas and gather more evidence as they move forward on their own.

Find out more about the Hivos-IIED Food and Energy Change Labs.