National Foods heeds First Lady’s health, nutrition call . . . starts milling traditional grains First Lady Dr Auxillia Mnangagwa shows National foods Chief Executive Officer Mr Michael Lashbrook how to thank the traditional way while Minister Sekai Nzenza, Chief Fortune Charumbira and his wife look on after the official launch of processed traditional grains in Harare.

Tendai Rupapa-Senior Reporter

The country’s largest food processor, National Foods Limited, has started milling of a wide range of traditional grains, a development that is expected to create jobs, boost business for local farmers and feed into the national health and nutrition goals espoused by First Lady Dr Auxillia Mnangagwa.

Among the new product lines being introduced to the market are finger millet meal, pearl-millet meal, sorghum meal, sorghum-maize meal and millet-maize meal.

The firm on Thursday launched its processed traditional grains at a colourful event in Harare where Dr Mnangagwa was the guest of honour.

Traditional grains are famed and highly recommended for their great nutritional value and medicinal properties.

The company donated tonnes of its processed traditional grains to the country’s 10 provincial hospitals.

The firm asked the First Lady who is the country’s health ambassador to do the distribution during her travels for her duties across the length and breadth of the country.

National Foods also donated the processed traditional grains to Angel of Hope Foundation which has a huge outreach countrywide.

Amai Mnangagwa has been instrumental in the production of traditional grains by handing out inputs to spouses of chiefs and headmen as well as ordinary citizens countrywide.

As Agric4She patron she has been distributing traditional grains to women farmers and has been running traditional meal cookout competitions for women country wide to share their knowledge in preparing traditional dishes that appeal to people of various age groups.

At present she is introducing the cookout competition in churches for the benefit of all citizens who were now largely consuming exotic dishes which exposed them to hypertension, diabetes and cardiovascular challenges.

At the firm, Amai Mnangagwa toured the National Food’s maize and traditional grains plant before preparing multigrain sorghum and maize-meal sadza served with soya mince.

In her remarks, Dr Mnangagwa expressed delight at the move by the firm to invest in the production and processing of traditional grains.

“I am very delighted that today we have traditional leaders, Ministry of Health and Child Care, Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water and Rural Development and the Ministry of Industry and Commerce here to witness a huge milestone in our food and nutrition journey. We gather here today to witness the launch of healthy and nutritious foods produced from our traditional grains that include sorghum (mapfunde, amabele), pearl millet (mhunga/Inyawuthi) and finger millet (zviyo/Uphoko). National foods spends millions of dollars researching and developing consumer products of great value and nutrition for the households of Zimbabwe. From my desk as First Lady and mother of the nation as well as he ambassador of healthy traditional foods, National Foods has made my task easy. Every household needs healthy foods and good health in order to be productive. It has been proven that healthy people are productive and are nation builders. National Foods has lightened this burden by ensuring Zimbabwe is well nourished and food secure. When I travel and traverse the length and breadth of our country Zimbabwe, I am burdened by how some households lack nutritious food. 

“Yes, they may have food but it might not be nutritious,” Dr Mnangagwa said. 

Part of the gathering that witnessed the official launch of processed traditional grains by First Lady Dr Auxillia Mnangagwa at National Foods in Harare on Thursday.

The First Lady said it was critical for all stakeholders to put their heads together to fight poverty and hunger which triggered a lot of social challenges like teen pregnancies and drug abuse.

She humbly requested for a national joint task force from relevant ministries which will continue to oversee the full implementation of traditional grains production and processing in the country.

“I am pained a lot when people do not have healthy food in their homes. I encourage the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education to take this food on board because of what I am seeing in children’s bags on their way to school. What is also luring our girls to have these challenges we have today of early marriages and teen pregnancies coming from married old men who lure them with snacks. If you open her bag, there will be sweets, biscuits and zapnacks. What about our traditional foods like mutakura and maheu. I urge the girl child to stop begging because how will you pay back for the benevolence? If I may ask you here, how to you think the child will pay back because she has no money? This will force the child to offer sexual intercourse. Moyo wangu unorwadza kana veruzhinji vasina chikafu chine utano asi tichikwanisa kuchirima munyika yedu. Today National Foods has relieved me. Thank you very much,” she said to applause.

Amai Mnangagwa encouraged traditional leaders to help mobilise and encourage people to adapt and migrate to traditional grains and traditional foods.

“This way, we are all healthy and we create a bigger market for our own farmers especially those who farm in areas not suitable for maize,” she said.

National Foods chief executive Mr Michael Lashbrook said the investment which started last year would be completed this year.

“We are at the critical phase of the company’s 103year history and we will be investing US$40million of new investments over the period 2022 to 2023 and those investments are coming from our confidence in the economy and with us looking forward to a bright future. And what you see is our sheer determination to go up the value chain tending to invest in products that have traditionally been imported and that will create a bigger market for our local farmers. We are looking forward to playing a cornerstone role in value addition in the agriculture sector.

“Today we are gathered to witness the National Foods traditional grains processed food launch. Traditional grains are healthy and nutritious and must now become part of our everyday meal. We are passionate contributors towards developing a healthy and prosperous Zimbabwe. We want to thank the First Lady for leading from the front in encouraging people to plant and consume traditional grains and traditional food as a whole,” he said. 

Industry and Commerce Minister Sekai Nzenza thanked National Foods for contributing to the Second Republic’s call for industrial and commercial growth.

“The diversification of products which we are witnessing today is in line with His Excellency, the President’s strategy to move the economy up the value chain,” she said.

She applauded Natioal Foods for heeding the call to undertake agro-processing of traditional and small grains which lead to the development of a sustainable food value chain.

“This also has a direct impact on our consumers, especially the livelihoods of the vulnerable with the option of high value nutrition foods. I also want to thank National Foods for heeding the call from the President for import substitution,” she said.

“What we are witnessing today is in alignment with where the Government is going. One of the challenges in the villages is to do with access to the seed to grow traditional foods. I admire the First Lady. She has been very much at the forefront. She is everywhere throughout the country. She will be with the women who are the cooks giving them seed. She will be educating the children and also educating the parents. She has opened our eyes to the value, not just of food, but the value of who we are as a people. She has also restored the dignity of traditional food,” the minister said.

The Minister said the Government was fully behind National Foods’ initiatives in sustainable foods in the value chains. 

Speaking at the same occasion, Chiefs Council President Chief Fortune Charumbira praised the First Lady for her innovation and endless creativity.

“It appears your range of activities continues to expand, you have no limit and you are very creative. It is rare for chiefs to be invited to an industrial area like this and be part of a function of this nature. In most cases chiefs are left alone in the rural areas but today we are here. I wish all people in industry recognize that there is no economy, no development without a culture of a particular country. All the countries that have thrived that we call developed countries have unique characteristic. They value their own values and culture. And industry cannot thrive without its own Zimbabwean culture, so it is very significant that we are here. The benefits of traditional grains have been mentioned at various forums,” he said.

Chief Charumbira said people left healthy traditional food in favour of exotic dishes thinking this was being modern. 

“Cases of inferiority complex is bad. If you come to my house and find us eating sorghum and millet, you immediately say you are full up because you want something more modern, sadly that has destroyed us. Even when one says traditional leader, one thinks its useless because of the word traditional. So you think once you remove the word traditional, everything goes very well. I think this is a topic we want to debate more often than not,” he said. 

First Lady Dr Auxillia Mnangagwa cuts the ribbon to officially launch processed traditional grains at National Foods on Thursday. Looking on is the company’s chief executive, Mr Michael Lashbrook, and Chief Fortune Charumbira.

Chief Charumbira thanked the firm for investing in the processing of traditional grains.

In a speech read on his behalf by Mr Gibson Chijarira, Secretary for Lands, Agriculure, Water, Fisheries and Rural Development Dr John Bhasera said he was impressed by the size and magnitude of National Foods’ operations.

“I applaud Mr Lashbrook and his team for being so ingenious in coming up with and innovating around these traditional and small grains processed foods. This is a timeous intervention Mr Lasbrook. The issue of global climatic changes require all of us to be quick and agile in our strategies. Traditional grains are adaptable to these new climate challenges. This therefore means we can grow them and have National Foods process them and then every Zimbabwean is assured of a healthy meal. So well done and congratulations,” he said.

A representative of the Ministry of Health and Child Care Handrea Njovo, the deputy director of Nutrition Services, said the grains would go a long way in expanding the country’s dietary base to curb malnutrition.

“As a country, malnutrition remains one of our major public health burdens where we have about 62 percent of women being iron deficient and I am sure from the benefits we know that small grains are rich in iron. 

“Also we have stunting rates for our children who are 6 to 59 months at 24 percent and also the dietary diversity of our population is quite low. The coming in of these range of products really help us in terms of improving the dietary diversity of our population. The coming in of this product resonates well with the drive that we have this year to try and promote the production and consumption of traditional grains. As a Ministry of Health, our role is to continuously promote, support and always ensure that the population has been consuming healthy meals as well as managing those that have not been consuming these grains. We are here for you in terms of treatment as well as management of NCDs, he said. 

Earlier, Harare Metropolitan Province Permanent Secretary Mr Tafadzwa Muguti stressed the importance of traditional foods.

“Ladies and gentlemen, Harare metropolitan province continues to be the front runner in attaining the national vision of a prosperous and empowered upper middle income society by 2030. The main driver being its population. The province has a dedicated business community and National Foods I would like to give them a round of applause for the cooperation they have been doing with the Government of Zimbabwe in being able to build this economy. Amai whilst the province is not an agricultural province, it remains the hub of agroprocessing within the country. The agricultural produce from various provinces around the country is being transferred to this very province for processing packaging, wholesaling, retailing and of course the export market. In this regard, the traditional grains and small grains Amai that you are launching today such as sorghum and millet are key raw materials in the milling industries. Your excellency, ladies and gentlemen, has been at the forefront promoting traditional grains and foods to help combat chronic diseases and unhealthy lifestyles. This investment which was made by national foods is a remarkable complement to your clarion call for the whole nation to eat healthy and to lead healthy lives. This investment is commited to boost the supply of traditional grains to our farmers,” he said.

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