By Alois Vinga
A STUDY by Livelihoods and Food Security Programme Zimbabwe (LSFP) has noted that Zimbabweans are moving away from a predominantly maize-based diet into smaller grains such as wheat and rice.
Wheat consumption has steadily risen over the years, pushing the import bill for the small grain, also used for confectionaries, from US$100 million in 2013 to US$300 million in last year.
The country imported wheat valued at to US$190 million in 2015.
Grain Millers Association of Zimbabwe chairperson, Tafadzwa Musarara told Parliamentarians in February that demand for rice increased by 300 percent from 50 000 tonnes per year in 2007 to 200 000 tonnes per year in 2016.
Pasta imports increased from 3 tonnes in 2009 to 25 tonnes in 2016, the study found.
The study, titled Food Expenditure and Consumption Patterns, made a case for increased governmental support for the growing of small grains. It also revealed that starchy staples constituted about 35 percent of household’s food expenditure nationally.
“The general trend with the starchy staples is pointing to a decline in the consumption of maize products towards wheat products,” said the report.
It noted that the wealthier people spent a higher percentage of their income on meat, milk, fish, eggs and dairy products while urban households spent a higher proportion of their incomes on processed foods compared to rural households.
Both rural and urban households experienced a significant decline in the share of expenditures spent on processed foods between 1996 and 2011, with a shift towards unprocessed food and non-market sourced foods.
For the rural households, the expenditure on starchy foods increases during the rainy season.
The research showed that changes in consumption habits were prompted by knowledge, market access and availability.
The research observed that some unhealthy dietary eating habits were emerging, resulting in an increase on the country’s disease burden from diet-related chronic diseases such as diabetes and hypertension, as well as nutritional problems such as obesity, stunting and micronutrient deficiencies.
It noted that a higher percentage of urban dwellers consumed processed foods compared to their rural counterparts.
LSFP research director, Antony Chapoto, said: “It is high time government desists from making farming policies that are based on conventional wisdom and factor in the underappreciated facts in order to develop strategies that boost agricultural production. The best way to craft relevant policies is to follow the consumption patterns,” he said.
Chapoto said there was need for government to fund the production of small grains through subsidies similar to those rolled out under the Command Agriculture programme that resulted in increased maize production this year.
Tonderayi Matsungo, a University of Zimbabwe lecturer who assisted in the research, said government should invest in crops that are on demand.
“In particular, policies that incentivise and enhance local production capacity of non-maize foods such as wheat, rice, fruits and vegetables, and livestock of both small and large animals should be crafted urgently,” he said.