THE Civil Society Scaling Up Nutrition Alliance (CSO-SUN) has warned of increased food insecurity in the country if care is not taken on how the 2020/2021 farming season is handled given the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the economy.

And the Disaster Management and Mitigation Unit (DMMU) says it is currently carrying out a COVID-19 impact assessment on households to determine the utmost effect of the pandemic on the citizenry.

There has been growing concern on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on access to sustainable diets for many Zambians, with the rising cost of living leading many to mono diets that were maize based.

In an interview, CSO-SUN country coordinator Mathews Mhuru expressed concern over the continued distribution of maize seed even in drought prone areas which could be used to grow other diverse types of food.

“So this is a period, especially with COVID-19 affecting us, which we expect Zambia to seriously consider producing a lot of foods which are diverse, foods that would reduce the pressure of just the food importation itself that we have been heavily dependent on but that is not coming through. So we really need to do better because COVID-19 will really leave a lot of Zambians in a food insecure situation,” Mhuru said.

“So among the things that we would like to see, we have seen that the government is preparing for food production, the rainy season is about to just come through but again, we are becoming disappointed to see that the Minister of Agriculture would go to different parts of the country, taking maize seed and fertilisers, forgetting that in the 2018/2019 farming season, this was the major danger that put other regions like the southern half of the country which did not receive good rain in very difficult conditions, so without really understanding how the rainfall pattern will be, you are seeing the Minister of Agriculture already preparing and taking maize seed and fertilizers to all corners of the country.”

He added that the high cost of food has also had an impact on food diversity due to the effect the pandemic on peoples incomes.

“So you know COVID-19 is affecting a lot of households in a very difficult way. We have had reports already, even before COVID-19 was impacting the sub-Saharan region negatively, that indicated that the food security is going to be a very big issue and you know the same reports that the food and agriculture organisation had warned that about over 10 million people would be affected in sub-Saharan Africa with serious hunger situations and food insecurity situations. So for Zambia, some of the things that we have started seeing as the Civil Society Scaling Up Nutrition (CSO-SUN) Alliance is the fact that food prices are going up. If you went to Shoprite today, you would realise that certain fruits like grapes which would fetch like K40 two weeks ago are now fetching K84 to K94 this particular week,” Mhuru added.

“So just the fact that we have to import most of the foods, especially the fruits, is adding a lot of stress and it means that a lot of households, especially the low income households, will not have access to some of the fruits and some of the vegetables that we expect them to consume. So COVID-19 is really affecting food consumption when it comes to food diversity because food prices have gone up and pushing people to consume mono-diets and these will be maize based diets mostly.”

He further wondered why relief support had been withdrawn in many areas despite the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on the population.

“And also, we have noticed that just the government focus, especially in areas that were negatively affected that needed support, that kind of support has been withdrawn or put on hold. We have seen cases where places which were affected by floods that were supposed to be receiving relief food, that food is not going there not until the President probably gives instructions to the DMMU, that’s the only time that you would see them respond and take relief food to those areas. So a number of areas have been affected and COVID-19 is not really helping the situation. So for a country that is coming from a very food insecure season where food production was bad, this is a very difficult situation,” said Mhuru.

But DMMU communications officer Racheal Chama saidt the role of DMMU was to support and not take away the coping capacity of households, saying it was impossible for government to completely take care of everyone.

“What DMMU does is humanitarian work, humanitarian support. The way humanitarian support is done is not to completely take care of those people. We have identified vulnerables so what we do is just to supplement what they already should have as households, we are not supposed to take care of them completely, it’s not possible,” said Chama.”The little effort that they make, then we top up. I am sure you have noticed that in some areas, we give cooking oil, we give beans, we give kapenta; others, we just give mealie meal, it’s the levels of vulnerability. Where we see a greater need, we go a step further and procure more but that’s not supposed to be the case, it’s not supposed to be for everyone. I mean it’s not general that we are supposed to give kapenta, beans and all. We supplement according to the need. So humanitarian support is not supposed to take away the coping capacity of the households, we just supplement what they already should have.”