Sylvia Banda

Ashoka Fellow
Fellow Since 2012
Sylva Food Solutions


This profile was prepared when Sylvia Banda was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2012.
The New Idea
Almost two-thirds of Zambia’s 14.5 million people reside in rural areas, where most are engaged in smallholder subsistence farming. Unfortunately, however, much of the food that they produce is wasted due to a lack of markets for their produce, and inadequate knowledge of effective food preservation techniques. The low demand for local farm produce is also affected by negative perceptions of locally-grown food. Sylvia created rural, entrepreneurial hubs with the objective of improving local farmer’s incomes from produce. These hubs serve as a marketplace for farmers’ produce, where her organization, Sylva Food Solutions (SFS), provides a ready market for smallholder farmers by connecting them with businesses that need their produce. These businesses include restaurants, catering services, hotels, food packagers and processors. She has also boosted demand for these products through the mass promotion of local, healthy indigenous food. Sylvia realizes that the negative perception of locally-produced, traditional food in Zambia significantly contributes to the low levels of demand for local farmer’s produce, especially in the urban areas. Therefore, she has also developed ways to promote indigenous food, which is far more nutritious than the imported food currently preferred by many Zambians.

Sylvia trains farmers on effective, hygienic and affordable food preservation methods that preserve the nutritional value of their produce. She organizes farmers into schemes through which the trading of farm produce between SFS and farmers is orchestrated. Through this arrangement, the farmers are guaranteed to sell most of their produce, thereby increasing income and reducing waste. Together, the farmers form peer-monitoring groups to ensure that they comply with production standards. Sylvia provides information on food preservation and preparation techniques to the farmers in order for them to preserve their nutrients and ensure longer shelf lives. For example, she introduced a new solar drying technique for fruits and vegetables that speeds up the process and retains more of their nutritional value. She also conducts regular post-harvest workshops to train the farmers on hygiene, as well as cooking workshops with rural women where they are taught to use local ingredients in traditional Zambian recipes.

Lastly, Sylvia is addressing the negative perception that most Zambians have toward indigenous Zambian food by promoting it both locally and internationally. She is using the local media to draw attention to the nutritional value and diversity of Zambia’s local food by hosting shows on the local TV and radio stations and writing a column for local newspapers. Sylvia is also working on value-added processes that would make indigenous produce more attractive to high-income and foreign markets, which may not be attracted to the local food in its raw form. The underlying goal in promoting local foodstuffs is to ensure that Zambians are proud of their culture and appreciate local food. In this manner, Sylvia is increasing demand for local foods, the benefits of which will pass to farmers and help them improve and sustain their livelihoods. So far, almost 10,000 farmers in all ten Zambian provinces have been trained and benefitted from this initiative. Her target is to reach 90 percent of the farmers in the country.

Sylvia has started running post-harvest courses for the first 200 farmers in Mozambique to join this program, and is planning university-level training programs for smallholders throughout Africa.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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