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Preliminary Observations Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Hilal Ever, on her mission to the Zambia 3-12 May 2017

End of Mission Statement

12 May 2017

Members of the press,
ladies and gentlemen,

I am addressing you today at the conclusion of my official visit to the Republic of Zambia, which I undertook at the invitation of the Government from 3 to 12 May 2017.

The objective of my mission was to evaluate the realisation of the right to food in the country. The following statement outlines my preliminary findings based on information gathered during my visit. My final report will be presented to the United Nations Human Rights Council in March 2018.

Firstly I would like to thank the Government of Zambia for the invitation to visit the country and for its cooperation during my visit. I appreciate the spirit of openness with which I was able to engage in dialogue with the authorities.

During my stay I met with Government representatives from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Agriculture, the Ministry of Fisheries and Livestock, the Ministry of Lands, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Gender and Child Development, the Ministry of National Planning, the Ministry of Commerce, Trade and Industry, the Ministry of Community Development and Social Services as well as and the Disaster Management and mitigation Unit of the Office of the Vice President. I also met with the Human Rights Commissioner, representatives of the traditional authorities of Zambia, representatives from international organizations and a range of civil society actors.

I am grateful to the United Nations Resident Coordinator and her staff for their support both in the preparation of and during the visit. Finally, I would like to express my sincere gratitude to everyone who took the time to meet with me, particularly those who shared their personal and at many times heart-breaking experiences.  These contributions have been vital to the success of my visit.

During my time in Zambia, I had the opportunity to undertake several field trips. In Mkushi, Central Province, I interviewed a community with no access to farm land. I visited the Kasisi Farm engaged in agro ecological farming in Lusaka Province. In Kaoma, Western Province, I met with children transitioning from work in tobacco farms to participating in formal education. I also had the opportunity to visit the Mayukwayukwa-refugee camp in the Western Province. Finally, I also met with adolescent mothers in a nutrition project, as well as female and male farmers involved in a conservation farming project in the Mumbwa district in Central Province.

General Overview:

Ladies and gentlemen,

According to the World Bank, since 2005 Zambia has experienced impressive economic growth at an average of around 6-7 % per year, although this has decreased to less than 3 percent in recent years.  This decline has been driven by drought and a fall in the price of copper, one of the country’s major export products, resulting in growth rates that are slightly lower than the average of neighbouring countries.

Yet over a decade of high economic growth has not translated into significant poverty reduction. Currently around 60 percent of the population lives below the poverty line and 42 percent are considered to live in situations of extreme poverty. Moreover, the absolute numbers of people living below the poverty line increased dramatically between 1991 and 2015 due to population growth from 6 million in 1991 to 8.4 million in 2015.

The Gini Coefficient, a measure of income inequality, has increased from 0.60 in 2006 to 0.69 in 2015. This more recent figure represents one of the 10 highest income inequalities in the world. The increase is attributed to the widening divide between urban and rural areas. In 2015, the rural headcount poverty rate was 76.6 per cent, more than triple the urban poverty rate of 23.4 per cent. Virtually no decrease in poverty rates was observed in rural areas between 2010 and 2015.

Accessing adequate and nutritious food continues to be a challenge across most of the country, with women and children in rural areas faring worst. According to the latest Demographic Health Survey conducted in 2013-2014, wasting was identified in approximately 6 per cent of children under five.

An alarming 40 percent of children under five were stunted. The absolute number of children who are stunted has increased between 1992 and 2013, from 685,000 children to 1.14 million children. This is of grave concern, since the effects of under-nutrition are irreversible. The lack of access to adequate and nutritious food has a detrimental effect on future generations and must be addressed as a matter of urgency.

According to the demographic health survey, pregnant women are also particularly vulnerable to malnutrition. Close to 10 % of women of reproductive age are underweight. Poor nutrition in mothers, both before and during pregnancy and while breastfeeding has a direct impact on child development. I  also witnessed high numbers of teenage pregnancies, which pose threats to both the health of these young girls and their babies.

With regard to small holder farmers, I observed that Zambia’s dual land tenure system lacks protections to secure their access to land and is leading to tensions. In this sense, the Government’s push to turn export-oriented commercial large-scale agricultural into a driving engine of the Zambian economy, in a situation where the protection of access to land is weak and large-scale land acquisition for commercial agriculture occur, can risk pushing peasants off their land and out of production with severe impacts on the people’s right to food.

This is particularly worrying considering that small holder farmers account for almost 60 percent of the population and are dependent on land for their subsistence and livelihoods.  In a country like Zambia that highly values its peace and social cohesion, the impacts of increasing land tensions could have detrimental effects.

The Zambian Government has defined its development agenda through the National Long term Vision 2030, which aims to make Zambia a middle-income country by 2030. The Government is currently in the process of finalizing the 7th National Development Plan 2017-2021 with a focus of providing a resilient and diversified economy. Its pillars include important aspects on poverty reduction and the alignment of human development with the UN 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, particularly Goals number one and number two on ending poverty, hunger and malnutrition while promoting sustainable agriculture.

Legal Structure:

I wish to start with some observations on the national legislation pertaining to the right to food. As a State party to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Zambia has a duty to respect, protect and fulfil the right to food and has committed to undertake the appropriate steps, to the maximum of its available resources, to ensure the realisation of the right to an adequate standard of living, including adequate food, as articulated in Article 2/1 and Article 11 of the Covenant.

Zambia is also party to other core international human rights treaties, including the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, all of which contain provisions explicitly linked to the right to adequate food. Zambia has not ratified the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

Zambia has a dualist legal system in which statutory and customary laws apply, requiring international instruments to be translated into domestic law before they can be enforced before a national court of law.

I am concerned that the proposed revision of the Bill of Rights, which would have led to the inclusion of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in the Zambian Constitution was not accepted in referendum that took place last year.

The right to food (amongst other rights) is hence not properly enshrined in Zambia’s Constitution.  Without its explicit inclusion in the Constitution, the right to food cannot be adjudicated by the courts. In order to protect all human rights, including the right to food, judicial remedy is fundamental.

Agricultural Sector and policies

More than 60 percent of the Zambian population reside in rural areas, the majority of which are small–scale farmers. These small-scale farmers produce the food of around 85% of the population. Maize is the main staple crop as well as the principal cash crop.  Considering Zambia’s rich resource endowment in terms of land, water, climate and labour, it has important potential to expand its agricultural production.  

The Government is currently taking measures to transform its agriculture sector as a strategy for economic diversification with an aim to increase agricultural exports. In addition to mining, the agriculture sector has been identified as one of the key drivers of the economy and the Government has allocated 9,4% of the total national budget to the Ministry of Agriculture.

As part of its strategy, the Ministry of Agriculture is supporting the creation of farm blocks across all 10 provinces of the country, with the aim of increasing commercial farming while providing positive synergies for nearby smallholder farmers. While such farm blocks have the potential to increase public investment and create local job opportunities, as well as providing greater market access, I heard concerning reports of lack of participatory processes and of land disputes.

Farmers are defined within three major categories in Zambia, based on the area cultivated: small-scale farmers (1-5 hectares), medium-scale farmers (between 5 to 20 hectares) and large-scale commercial farmers (above 20 hectares). While large-scale farmers make up only 4% of farm households, they cultivate 22 per cent of all cropped land.

According to official information, growth in the agriculture sector has not been inclusive, impacting only large and medium scale farmers. Results of the annual Rural Agricultural Livelihood Surveys illustrate that the majority of small-scale farmers have stagnated at less than two hectares of cropped land and do not obtain gains from their production. Growth in the sector has also failed to impact poverty rates in the rural areas.

In this regard, I was encouraged to hear of the Government’s Farmer Input Support Programme (FISP), which receives over 52 per cent of the Ministry’s budget and provides assistance to at least 1,6 million smallholder farmers.  However this program is not well targeted and still overly focuses on maize production. If properly utilized, the program could provide real opportunity for the development of small holder farmers and overall reduction of rural poverty rates. 

Yet during my visit, I met with several small holder farmer communities who complained of a severe lack of Government support in relation to various issues, including high costs of inputs, access to water and irrigations systems, access to markets to commercialize their crops and much-needed capital and credit. According to the Ministry of Agriculture, only 15 percent of Zambian farmers have access to credit facilities. Interest rates on credits are remarkably high and as such impede the real access of small scale farmers.    

Those working in the agricultural sector as farmers or farm workers are particularly prone to hunger due to low rural incomes. Moreover, while the majority of land is still under the control of small-scale farmers and peasants within the traditional land system, long-term security is lacking due to pressures to convert such lands for the exploitation of large-scale agriculture.

Finally, despite intentions to diversify agricultural production, I observed that more than 60 percent of public expenditure in 2016 was channelled towards maize production and marketing for the sake of increased food security. Subsidies are also used to encourage the maize sector. Considering that diversification helps to build resilience, including to economic and climate-change related shocks, I support the Government in intensifying its efforts to diversify   production and promote other agricultural sectors within the country.

Insecurity of land tenure and the creation of a land policy

Public figures show that around 85 percent of land is currently under customary tenure, with the remainder constituting state land. According to the Lands Act, all land in Zambia is administered and controlled by the President for the direct or indirect use or common benefit of the people of Zambia.

There are a number of challenges and concerns related to land tenure. The dual land tenure system has resulted in a situation where some landholders on state land enjoy the full protection of their property rights, while those under customary tenure are essentially considered to be occupants or users, without enjoying protection of their property and land rights. Under customary tenure there also tends to be a lack of commonly agreed documentation to secure customary land at the family, village and chiefdom level.

Further challenges result from the highly bureaucratic nature of the land administration system, leading to prohibitively high costs for land registration and conversion of land from one system to another, and lending itself to corruption and bribery. In some areas, access to land is exclusive to those with the economic means to influence decision making.

I strongly encourage the Government to adopt a gender-sensitive, inclusive National Land Policy based on human rights principles. This shall ensure an effective land administration system and efficient enforcement of the existing laws and regulations concerning the allocation, sale, transfer and assignment of land. Customary land rights should be put at an equal standing with state land in order to protect the rights of those living on customary lands.

Nutrition and Children

Malnutrition is epidemic across most of Zambia. Many children, especially those in rural areas and poor urban quarters lack access to nutritious food on a daily basis. According to the Government’s Demographic and Health Surveys, wasting in children below the age of 5 actually increased from 5 per cent to 6 per cent between 2007 and 2013, whilst 15 percent remain underweight. During this period, Zambia was enjoying a high GDP rate growth.

I had the opportunity to speak to children in rural communities who described being limited to one meal a day and only having access to meat on extremely rare occasions.

While acute malnutrition rates may not seem particularly alarming, they in fact pose a far greater threat than they suggest.  It is universally recognised that acute malnutrition increases mortality. Recent research by Every Child Fed found that severe acute malnutrition in Zambia comes with a 40 % mortality rate due to  lack of proper treatment provisions for these cases. While breast feeding rates are high, acute and chronic malnutrition of women of reproductive age may be reducing the nutritional value of breastmilk.

Overweight is emerging as an issue in urban areas due to changing life styles, coupled with diets high in fortified sugar and maize, placing this segment of the population at risk of a variety of obesity-related diseases. According to the 2013 Demographic and Health Study, 23 percent of women of reproductive age were overweight nationally, and 35 percent of women in urban areas. Six percent of children at the national level were overweight. I was encouraged to learn that the Ministry of Health has already observed this tendency and aims to take preventive measures.

It is crucial that nutrition policies are comprehensive; targeting all forms of malnutrition, including micronutrient deficiency and obesity, and are adequately supported financially. Their impact should be assessed regularly based on relevant human rights indicators.  

I learned that the Government recently initiated a home grown school feeding programme, which is currently limited to a number of districts and schools in rural areas. I recommend that this programme be extended to cover the full school population, including remote areas and refugee settlements. Such a nation-wide initiative would not only increase school attendance and support local smallholder farmers, but also very importantly protect children during the lean months of November and December, when food stocks at family level tend to become  exhausted and new crops have only just been planted. In the Kaoma district, Western Province I witnessed that the school feedings were key to children’s daily food intake.

Social Protection and vulnerable groups

Social Protection received around 4.2 per cent of the national budget in 2017, a relatively low figure considering the levels of poverty and marginalization in Zambia, yet an important duplication from last year’s budget.

In March 2016, the Government initiated a public consultation on a Social protection bill. To this day, the bill has not been presented and social protection is operated through the Zambia Social Protection Programme Expansion. The Zambia National Social Protection Policy, which was approved by the Government at the end of 2014, provides the policy and strategic framework for a comprehensive and coordinated social protection programme.

The Social Cash Transfer Programme saw an 83% increase in its Governmental Budget and aims to reach national coverage this year. The program seems to have an important impact according to evaluations on households’ food security, increasing the number of meals that families can eat per day. Continued detailed and regular monitoring and evaluation of the National Social Protection Policy and its Social Cash Transfer Programme is imperative to determine their impact on nutrition.

  • Child Labour

During my visit to a corporate social responsibility programme organized by the ILO, ARISE in the Mankuye community, Kaoma, Western Province, I was very disturbed to learn of the widespread practice of child labour within agriculture. The small-scale project has succeeded in reaching a limited number of children, allowing them to return to school. However, it appears that it is a widespread phenomenon across the agricultural sector. I was told that children as young as 7 years are often left to work in difficult and unmonitored conditions, sometimes sleeping unattended overnight in fields and exposing them to gender based or other  forms of violence. I was also alarmed to learn that children are required to apply pesticides to crops, exposing them to very serious health risks.

Nation-wide institutional measures must be taken to address these issues. The root causes of child labour, which are embedded in the contract farming system, must be tackled and labour intensive agricultural practices must be carefully monitored.

  • Refugees

According to UNHCR 2017 statistics, there are over 57 000 refugees and others of concern in Zambia. Over 23, 000 are from the Democratic Republic of Congo, around 19, 000 from Angola, while some 13,000 come from Rwanda, Burundi and Somalia. Despite its own high levels of poverty, Zambia’s hospitality in hosting these refugees is commendable.

The majority of refugees reside in the settlements of Meheba in the North- Western Province and Mayukwayukwa in the Western Province. The remainder are scattered across the country. The Zambian Cabinet has approved the introduction of a Bill in Parliament to Repeal and Replace the Refugees Act of 1970, providing for the effective administration and management of refugees. The Bill also seeks to facilitate the domestication of international and regional conventions on refugees to which Zambia is a signatory.

Following the 2013 phase out of WFP food assistance, UNHCR replaced the monthly food distribution provided to vulnerable refugees and new arrivals with cash assistance in an effort to increase their purchasing potential. The core purpose of the cash assistance was to enable these individuals to meet their minimum needs and in the process accord them dignity and freedom of choice. However, it seems the amount provided – which is in line with the Government Social Cash Transfer program - is insufficient to secure a minimum standard of living.  

During my visit to the Mayukwayukwa refugee camp I spoke with women, young men and children. Many described facing desperate situations in which they lacked opportunity to cultivate land or gain other livelihoods to improve their conditions. Refugees and migrants are faced with restrictions on their freedom of movement and are not automatically provided with the right to work. Often forced into the informal economy when escaping the refugee settlements, they face risks of exploitation, abuse, arrest and prolonged detention.

In accordance with its obligations under international human rights law, the Government of Zambia must guarantee refugees (and asylum seekers) the rights to seek work, access health care and education and enjoy freedom of movement.

Environmental Protection and Sustainability

In the context of large-scale industrial agriculture, it is vital that development plans and policies take into account the true cost of export oriented farming methods on human health, soil and water resources, as well as the impact of environmental degradation on future generations, rather than focusing only on short term profitability and economic growth.

  • Uncontrolled use of pesticides

In this regard it is important to highlight the dangers of pesticide exposure on human health, in particular children and pregnant women, as well on the environment.

I was disturbed to learn that farmers continue to use glyphosate, a highly toxic pesticide which has been banned in many developed countries due to its harmful effects on human health.I urge the Government of Zambia to follow suit.

I am furthermore concerned that Zambia lacks effective monitoring systems to regulate the pesticide industry and control pesticide use by the agribusiness, which can lead to human rights violations.  

During my mission I had the opportunity to visit the agro-ecology farm of Kasisi in the Lusaka province.  Agro-ecological practices have shown to be successful in many parts of the world, not only producing impressive yields but also promoting environmentally friendly practices as well as the sovereignty of peasants.  Agroecology as such represents an important alternative to industrial, monoculture agriculture which should be seriously considered by the Government in order to achieve diversification, sustainability, protection of natural resources, management of climate change and protection of small scale farmers. In this context I refer to the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, to which the Government has committed, in particular Goal Number 2, namely to “End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture”.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I had the opportunity to the meet the Commissioner for Human Rights and other members of the Human Rights commission. The Human Rights Commission is mandated by the Zambian Constitution to ensure that the Bill of Rights is upheld and protected. I encourage the Government to increase the budget allocated to this Commission to enable it to conduct its work in line with the Paris Principles.

While much more could be said on a range of issues, including commending the Government for its good policies and programmes, I will finish here with these preliminary remarks and recommendations, which will be addressed in more detail in the final report presented to the Human Rights Council in March 2018.

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