By Nesia Mhaka
Covid-19 and the global lockdowns have posed serious threats to regional food security in Southern Africa – a region already reeling from the effects of drought and disaster shocks.
Several countries in Southern Africa rely heavily on imported food to meet their national demands and these nations are likely to face disproportionate risk from supply chain failures, especially, in the face of border closures due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
As the region entered 2020, the number of hungry and malnourished people was already on the rise due to acute climate change induced-drought and heat stress.
United Nations agencies such as the World Food Program (WFP) were already feeding millions of people in Southern Africa which are suffering from a myriad of disasters, including floods, drought, economic challenges, crop pests such as plagues of locusts and the armyworm.
The Covid-19 pandemic has added yet another layer of hardships across the region.
In some parts of Southern Africa, farmers are still recovering from the two devastating cyclones (Cyclone Idai and Cyclone Dineo), that battered Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi last year and left thousands of people homeless.
The flooding had a major impact on affected communities. Agricultural fields were flooded, crops and livestock were destroyed, and infrastructure, including homes, latrines, and roads were levelled. In Zimbabwe, for example, more than 7.7 million people rely on food aid and the number of people is expected to rise due to the 2019/2020 erratic rainfall, according to WFP.
In a statement, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations director of Emergency and Resilience Division, Dominique Burgeon, said Covid-19 is promising a looming food crisis unless measures are taken fast to protect the most vulnerable people.
“Even before Covid-19 hit, millions of people in the region were already struggling with severe acute food insecurity due to pre-existing shocks or crises. This means they were already on the extreme end of the hunger spectrum – weak and less well-equipped to fend off the virus.
“The vast majority live in rural areas and depend on agricultural production, seasonal jobs in agriculture, and fishing.
“If they become ill or constrained by restrictions on movement or activity, they will be prevented from working their land, caring for their animals, going fishing, or accessing markets to sell produce they are likely to face serious food insecurities,” he said.
Burgeon said the African continent will be the most affected continent in terms of food security due to COVID-19 pandemic.
“In Africa, we are also worried about the Sahel, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and South Sudan to name a few food crises. But no continent is immune.
Speaking at a workshop recently, International Food Policy Research Institute director, Johan Swinnen, said countries which relied heavily on imported food to meet demand – such as most in Africa, these are at risk from supply chain failures, especially in the face of border-crossing closures.
He said that due to global lockdowns, farmers are going to face challenges sell their produce. A comprehensive action plan is, therefore, needed to reduce the negative effects of COVID-19, to reduce short-term dependency on food aid and increase local adaptation capacities in the long-term.
“Vulnerable groups also include small-scale farmers, and fishers who might be hindered from working their land, caring for their livestock, or fishing. They will also face challenges accessing markets to sell their products or buy essential inputs, or struggle due to higher food prices and limited purchasing power.
“Informal labourers will be hard hit by job and income losses in harvesting and processing. Millions of children are already missing out on the school meals they have come to rely upon, many of them with no formal access to social protection, including health insurance,” he said.
He added “As of now, disruptions are minimal as food supply has been adequate and markets have been stable so far. However, we are already seeing challenges in terms of logistics bottlenecks not being able to move food from point A to point B, and likely, there is less food of high-value commodities, for example, fruits and vegetables being produced.”
Speaking to Greenenergyzim, Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers Union president, Shadreck Makombe, confirmed that Covid-19 outbreak will cause food insecurities in Zimbabwe and the whole of Southern Africa since the whole farming process has been disrupted.
“Covid-19 has caused devastating effects and untold suffering it just came from nowhere like a bolt from the blue and for obvious reasons no one was prepared for it. Food security becomes one of the causalities of this pandemic.
According to the Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee (ZimVAC)’s analysis of the 21-day Zimbabwe Covid-19 lockdown, urban people are likely to face food insecurities due to rapid price hikes of basic commodities.
The report said in urban areas the most important sources of income are formal salaries and wages which constitutes 38.23 percent of the total households.
“These households might not be nominally affected by the lockdown since the probability is high that they will still be paid their salaries during the lockdown, but, however, they are likely to be affected negatively by increased prices during the lockdown due to constrained supply conditions of most basic commodities. ‘’
“For example, within the first week of the lockdown, wholesale prices for some of the basic food items increased by a significant amount: average price of cooking oil was ZWL $100 per 2 litres and is now ZWL $130, Sugar was ZWL $66 per 2kgs and is now selling for ZWL $88 per 2 kgs, refined mealie meal (which is readily available) was selling for ZWL 167 per 10 kgs and is now ZWL $236,” reads part of the report.
Agriseeds sales and marketing director, Ivan Craig also pointed out that Covid-19 should not be underestimated as it provoked serious problems around the world, especially in the agricultural sector.
“It’s not in isolation that we are talking of Zimbabwe alone, this thing has affected the whole world meaning it needs people to go to the drawing board again, It’s no longer business as usual now.’’