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Forthcoming Innovations for Nourishing Healthy Zambian African Livelihoods

Forging greater impact by supporting & accelerating social entrepreneur driven scalable innovative solutions in food systems & nutrition.

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Lead Applicant Organization Name

Ashoka Innovators for the Public

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Large NGO (over 50 employees)

Website of Legally Registered Entity

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • 10+ years

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?


Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?

South Africa

Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

Zambia located in Southern Africa, covers a total area of 752, 618km² where we have elected fellows deeply familiar with the place.

What country is your selected Place located in?


Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

Ashoka Southern Africa was launched in 1990 as the cornerstone and first ever office of Ashoka’s work in Africa in critical post-apartheid years. Our network to date includes over 148 systems-changing social entrepreneurs.  

Our goal is to stimulate and support the most innovative entrepreneurial solutions to the social and environmental challenges our region faces today and together with other key stakeholders across the corporate, investment, philanthropic, academic and public sectors, to foster “Everyone a Changemaker” societies.   

Ashoka Southern Africa has built a strong network of active fellows in Zambia working primarily in agriculture, food security and nutrition to tackle the high levels of poverty in rural Zambia.  These fellows have throughout the years, facilitated economic and social development in Zambia by empowering smallholder farmers by using innovative approaches to promote and draw attention to the nutritional value of Zambia’s local foods and produce.  

Furthermore, our fellows have used their support from Ashoka to find ways to curb food shortages in the country and promote ways for its people to be able to live off the land and be able to make an income for themselves.  

Zambia is very important to Ashoka as we have worked hard in the past to build a strong network of fellows to create a greater social impact within the work that we do in Southern Africa. Our Zambian fellows have continuously supported the work of Ashoka as we fostered collaborative projects that would result in 100s and 1000s of life being impacted.  

We are working to continue to support our fellows in Zambia so that we can be able to firstly, increase the number of social entrepreneurs that are trying to provide relief to the issues they face in the country and secondly, to continue to foster collaborative action and create win-win partnerships for stakeholders involved in trying to create a greater social impact.  

Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

Zambia is a landlocked country surrounded by seven countries (Angola, Botswana, DRC, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Mozambique and Tanzania). It boasts beautiful terrains filled with wildlife and safaris. Almost two-thirds of Zambia’s 14.5 million people reside in rural areas, where most are engaged in smallholder subsistence farming.  

With the formation of organizations like COMACO and Sylva Food Solutions, smallholder farmers have been able to economically and environmentally empower themselves and the wildlife that surround them. 

The most common foods that people eat in these areas and in the rest of Zambia include Nshima ( corn that is processed into a fine white powder called ‘mealie meal’), chibwabwa‘ (pumpkin leaves), Ifishashi [Pounded peanuts are mixed with vegetables such as rape (a type of kale) to make ifisashi] 

the climate is tropical or sub-tropical depending on altitude, with a hot, humid, and rainy season from mid-November to March and a dry season from April to mid-November. 

Although English is the official language of Zambia, more than 70 local languages and dialects are spoken throughout the country. The languages predominantly spoken are Nyanja, Tonga, Bemba, Luvale, Kaonde and Lozi. Bemba is the most widely spoken language in the capital city, Lusaka.  

There is an inherent negative perception of Zambia’s indigenous and local foods. There is very little appreciation of the local food in Zambia, most likely stemming from the widespread belief that foreign items are better than those locally produced. People are more inclined to consume imported food to the detriment of locally produced indigenous Zambian food. Unfortunately, preference is given to imported food, although its nutritional value cannot, in many ways, surpass that of local food. As a result, many individuals are malnourished and highly nutritious locally-produced food, which could help prevent malnutrition, is wasted.  

We are hoping that through the efforts of Sylvia and Dale, there will be more training of smallholder farmers in rural areas and they will be able to provide for themselves as well promote local foods being the staples in the rural areas of Zambia. 

What is the approximate size of your Place, in square kilometers? (New question, not required)


What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?


Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

According to the World Food Programme, Zambian has been facing numerous challenges including food insecurity, undernutrition and chronic poverty. 

These claims can be seen to be true as they speak to the problems that our fellows have identified and the solutions they are trying to provide respectively. 

The Problem according to Sylvia Banda 

80% of the rural population in Zambia is impoverished. As a result, most rural Zambians becoming smallholder farmers to produce food for their own consumption and to generate income. However, much of it goes to waste, & undermines their efforts to economically empower themselves through meaningful income-generation.  

The Zambian government recognizes farming as one of the effective instruments through which poor people in rural areas can secure financial independence and break the cycle of poverty. However, the low demand for Zambia’s locally produced food makes it difficult for farmers to secure markets for their produce, and as a result, much of their produce goes to waste. 

Another aspect of the problem pertains to the inherent negative perception of Zambia’s local foods. There is little appreciation of the local food in Zambia, stemming from the widespread belief that foreign items are better than those locally produced. As a result, many individuals are malnourished and highly nutritious locally-produced food, which could help prevent malnutrition, is wasted. The Zambian government has no strategic plan to use a traditional framework for assessing local food, and therefore is unable to plan effective actions to cope with events that provoke shortage of food. 


The problem according to Dale Lewis 

Historically, traditional conservation practices have advocated for a clear distinction between human and wildlife settlements. These practices are grounded in drawing artificial boundaries between animal and human populations and are animal rather than people-centered. Telling people not to poach did not address the root cause of their action – rural poverty. Instead of punishing people for poaching, which only exacerbated issues of hunger and impoverishment when a family member went to jail. 

Chronic poverty often forces farmers to choose growing cash crops at the expense of food crops. The result in the Luangwa Valley, like most farming areas in Zambia, has been acute food insecurity. In addition, farmers actually receive less than a fair price for their produce with the majority of the financial benefit taken by middlemen and dealers in the cities—deepening their poverty. Because traditional conservation programs neglect human populations in these ecologically sensitive areas, communities exploit the environment to make up for food shortages and to raise additional income to cover basic needs. They resort to poaching and logging rhinos (especially black rhinos) and elephants, over fishing.  

Faced with the extinction of the black rhino and the decimation of the elephant, the Zambian government initiated several wildlife conservation policies, including reduced human access to land in wildlife zones, aimed to reduce poaching. 

Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

To help address the critical issues related of poverty, food insecurity and nutrition, Ashoka – the worldwide leading network of social entrepreneurs – along with key partners, has been able to support over 140 social entrepreneurs in Southern Africa to develop innovative solutions. These Ashoka fellows – have developed new models that help communities, women and young rural entrepreneurs to address the economic, environmental and cultural challenges related to poverty, food insecurity and nutrition. 

The vision Ashoka has is to continue supporting and accelerating the work of our fellows. In Zambia, our fellows have continued to fight poverty, curb food insecurity and malnutrition in the rural areas of Zambia. To address these challenges, we propose a collaborative effort that will result in a win-win partnership for both fellows, Ashoka as well as for the Rockefeller Foundation’s work in food systems. 

Our vision is aimed at accelerating and supporting the consumption, production and trade of locally highly nutritious food products as well as empowering small-scale farmers in their bid to sustain their families and businesses. 

The approach is to rely on the businesses of the two social entrepreneurs working endlessly to reach rural populations within Zambia. Their collaborative effort will leverage on both their innovations and add value to existing products in order to achieve a larger collective economic and social impact on food security and nutrition in Zambia. 

The collaborative action envisaged is aimed at improving the consumption and value creation of highly nutritious food products – by increasing production capacity and access to markets for the two social entrepreneurs and their network of small-scale farmers and local producers– and provide nutritional education for local consumers. In addition to the above activities, they will be able to target rural youth and female farmers. 

The two fellows identified in Zambia, have already found new ways to combat chronic poverty and food insecurity. Below are the brief explanations of how they are working to fight the challenges identified: 

1.     Sylvia Banda- Sylvia is working to combat the low demand for locally produced, traditional food in Zambia by creating entrepreneurial hubs that guarantee markets for these goods and by fostering an appreciation for local food. In this way, Sylvia is tackling the high levels of poverty in rural Zambia and facilitating the economic and social development of smallholder farmers by encouraging a shift from subsistence farming to commercial farming of local food. 

2.     Dale Lewis- Dale Lewis has introduced market-based conservation that recognizes the interconnectedness between a broad range of wildlife species and livelihoods, with humans playing a central role as protectors of the ecological system. Their method of conservation farming preserves soils and improves crop yields, allowing farmers to rely on their fields year after year. 

High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.

COMACO has been able to impact 80 community-run cooperatives across Zambia’s Eastern Province, which provide vital farmer support services to thousands of members. In addition, they have established 38 Community Conservation Areas that cover over 1 million hectares of land. They also work with 28 additional chiefdoms to expand the carbon offset scheme where communities are paid for their conservation efforts. In the first monitoring period, 228,000 tons of CO2 emission reductions were recorded, which paid out $490,000 to the participating chiefdoms.  

They have formed a dedicated gender program running 182 village savings and loans groups for women across our operational area, teaching small-business skills and supporting women in their entrepreneurial ventures. COMACO has reached 53,000 farming families representing over 1 million people in the Luangwa Valley. 

On the other hand, Sylva Food Solutions has provided training to over 25 000 women in food preservation methods in three countries in Southern Africa (Zambia Mozambique and Zimbabwe). They have also provided post-harvest training in food processing to more than 12 000 rural farmers in Zambia and 10 districts in Eastern Mozambique. They have also provided over 2, 000 Sylvia dryers in farmer groups around Zambia. 

Through the interventions provided by David and Sylvia to fight food insecurity and nutrition, more communities in other provinces within Zambia and in other Southern Africa countries may be empowered.  Furthermore, women and young people can continue to be the focus of their efforts as they have recognized that they are the most affected and vulnerable groups within these rural communities. 

Through our vision, we see a collaboration and collective brand of local nutritious food products will helping both Sylvia and David better position themselves in the market and giving consumers and distributors better access to locally produced nutritious products. 

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

Our social entrepreneurs, Sylvia and Dale, have noted the importance of collaborative action in addressing the food system challenge in Zambia. Their work aims to create awareness about the interconnectedness of the environment, diet and economics.   

The food system in Zambia is impacted by environmental degradation and natural resource exploitation. Dale is promoting sustainable farming practices for farmers because of the state of the environment. Through practicing sustainable farming, the environment is protected as a result can produce healthy food. One of the key challenges raised by Sylvia is that, food that is produced locally is often wasted as a result practicing sustainable farming yields goods results for both farmers and consumers.  

In rural Zambia, community members have a village savings and loans group which is an effective economic development model. The village savings and loans group funds are used for emergencies and insurance. In addition to these groups, Sylva Food Solutions created an entrepreneurial hub which serves as a marketplace for small scale farmers. This channel helps the farmer connect with businesses that need produce as a result there has been a demand for the products. 

Our approach for nourishing food for the future is community rooted. Community engagements allows room for accountability, consumer understanding and community ownership. Communities can restore the environment leading to a transformative society where small-scale farmers and subsistence farmers are able to integrate into the market to sell their produce.  

 Our fellows have made headway in their innovation to combat poverty with the support of Ashoka and other key stakeholders. In the face of having to scale into all provinces within Zambia and reach the rural areas within Zambia, we need more collaborative action and partners who would play a role in reaching out to the rural communities that we wish to serve in Zambia. They show a deep level of understanding of both the Place (natural characteristics) and its People (the communities within the place). To be community-informed means to demonstrate knowledge of the challenges that face an area and its diverse food system participants (stakeholders) and to propose a hopeful future that addresses these challenges. 

Currently, both social entrepreneurs do not have enough capacity to be able to scale into all the rural areas within Zambia. With the help of other key players, we may be able to address this issue such that the fellows are able to scale their work nationally into the Zambian rural areas.  

Through our vision we would like to build entrepreneurship capacity, create new markets and market linkages, and promote locally produced nutritious foods. These efforts would made possible through collaborative efforts of COMACO, Sylva Food Solutions, CTA, Ashoka and Rockerfeller Foundation as key stakeholders,  partnering for the first 2 years of this project (2020-201 in rural areas within Zambia where the fellows are expected to expand, with a focus on three key components:  

  1. design and launch a sub-regional online marketplace; 

  1. develop a collective brand for all cooperative products, and; 

  1. design and disseminate a kit for the nutritional education of children in Zambia and eventually in other Southern African countries. 

Sustainability is an integral part of transformation for food systems. COMACO and Sylva Food Solutions aim to change the standards of local farming by developing ways to promote sustainable farming. Sylva Food Solutions develops ways to promote effective food preservation which challenges locals to consume local products.  

Other components in the Forthcoming Innovations for Nourishing Healthy Zambian African Livelihoods roadmap will be implemented with the support of other partners.  

At Ashoka we believe in the power of Co-Creation. Ashoka in Sub-Saharan Africa as well as in other parts of the world has implored co-creation communities and promoted their idea of business, social entrepreneurs and government working together to foster a greater social impact. At Ashoka we believe in the power of Co-Creation.  We define Social and Business Co-Creation as a collaborative relationship between companies and social entrepreneurs, one to one or many to many, leading the charge to solve complex social and environmental problems. Businesses contribute relevant resources and expertise that help social entrepreneurs achieve impact at proportions not previously possible. This collaborative framework also helps shift corporate culture, leadership and priorities to recognize the inherent economic value in maintaining a double bottom line of both profit and people.  

 COMACO and Sylva Food Solutions empower community members more particularly small scale farmers. The organisations connect to Zambia and the people in the sense that they provide services and education according to the needs of the community. They provide a way for farmers to integrate into the market by building relationships with businesses and organisations. 

We are hoping that through the social entrepreneurs' collaborative action, we can begin to approach more stakeholders to cocreate and take charge and scale the fellows food systems solution further into Zambia and perhaps into other parts of the Southern African region.  

COMACO and Sylva Food Solutions are ambassadors for social change as they provide concrete solutions and a credible pathway to food systems. They train individuals (farmers) to part-take in the local economy to be able to provide and sustain themselves. Furthermore, through their initiatives they have improved food security among small scale farmers and are branching their efforts nationally. The models for these organisations present economic empowerment and development for farmers.  

We are confident that through our vision, our fellows and moreover Ashoka through the assistance and guidance of the Rockefeller Foundation can reach 100s and 1000s of rural communities. Our focus for this project is to empower the most vulnerable groups of these communities which are women and young people. Efforts have been made by our fellows to drive chapters in their organizations primarily focused on these vulnerable groups. Our mandate would be scale in a timeous manner how they empower these communities. 

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

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Attachments (2)

Social and Business Co-Creation in Africa Report 2019.pdf

This report’s case studies demonstrate how social entrepreneurs and big business can work together through mutually beneficial Social and Business Co-Creation partnerships to achieve lasting change.

Africa Climate Resilience Deal Book.pdf

shoka and iPropeller, with the support of the Flemish Department of Foreign Affairs, are harnessing social entrepreneurs’ innovative spirits together with initiatives and resources from the private sector to help scale proven solutions. In January 2019, we launched a 2-year program aiming at, on one hand, providing social entrepreneurs - some of Africa’s brightest climate change fighters - with skills, resources and partnerships to put their big ideas into practice on an even bigger scale


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