COVID-19 has brought about unexpected positive outcomes despite having affected many lives across the world negatively, says HIVOS Regional Advocacy Manager for sustainable food in Southern Africa William Chilufya.

Analysing Zambia’s food and nutrition security situation amid COVID-19 and the extent to which the pandemic had affected people’s lives in the country, Chilufya said the outbreak had taught citizens how to rely on themselves.

Chilufya said disruptions to global foods systems brought about by lockdowns and closures of international borders had also provided an opportunity for farmers to supply locally produced goods on a larger scale.

“For me I think there is a silver lining to this whole situation; what COVID-19 has done is it has created an opportunity for us to begin realizing the value of our local food, why? Because the influx of food from out of the country has now reduced because of restrictions regarding exports and imports. So this has created an opportunity for us to benefit from what we have in our country. Therefore, for farmers, it might be an advantage in the sense that there will be available market ready for them. But then this can only happen when farmers decide to work together in form of cooperatives. But what we see here as HIVOS is an opportunity for our local farmers to supply locally produced goods at a larger scale,” Chilufya said.

“COVID-19 has actually taught us to say, you and I [this reporter] should begin having a small garden at our house where we can get our vegetables from. Producing our own food is really important in the sense that these foods that you find everywhere, you don’t know what chemicals they have. So it’s important that we begin growing our food even if it’s in a small backyard. If it’s in a sack, grow something in a sack at home.”

Chilufya said promoting the consumption of locally produced goods would contribute to people’s easier access to healthy and sustainable diets.

“At household level, the issue has been about dietary diversification. The Ministry of Health has been talking about eating diversified foods at household level so that we can build resilience towards this coronavirus. If you have noticed, most of the people that are dying due to coronavirus these days also have something to do with nutrition and the type of food they eat. So what the government needs to do is to ensure that farmers and the consumers are actually involved and continue getting involved and they continue producing these local foods,” Chilufya said.

Meanwhile, Chilufya insisted that it would be better to focus on the opportunities that had been created by COVID-19 as he assessed the extent to which the pandemic had negatively affected lives.

“It’s really difficult to tell if food is in short supply because of COVID-19 or not. It’s just the issue of movement, but Zambia hasn’t had a closed market. We haven’t had a lockdown, so food has been circulating in a normal way. But what we see is just an advantage that has been brought about because farmers now have an opportunity to supply. We are not competing so much now. Have you seen how local products like lemons and oranges have gotten expensive? It’s because they are not coming in the country from outside. So if you are a farmer in Chipangali (district of Eastern Province) and you are growing lemons, you have this opportunity. So for me I think we should look at this [COVID-19] in terms of what opportunities are coming up for Zambian farmers in terms and not focus on the negative side of things,” said Chilufya.

And United Party for National Development (UPND) member of parliament in the Gwembe valley of Southern Province Attractor Chisangano suggested that government needed to consider introducing a mixture of food for distribution as relief to households that were struggling due to the effects of COVID-19.

“Food security has really been very poor, starting from last year till now. And now with the outbreak of coronavirus, some of the people who are into trading where they go and sale merchandise in town so that they can be able to buy food, it is becoming a problem. The restriction on movement of animals especially from Gwembe has also worsened the issue of food security in the area. Then the drought which we experienced last year, where most of the farmers and households had to selloff their animals so that they could be able to buy a bag of mealie meal has made things very difficult for many households. Now this time they are struggling whether to spend their money on food or save it to pay for school fees for their children. So it’s like a mountain of problems affecting food security in the area,” said Chisangano.

“So due to all these problems that people are currently facing, access to sustainable diets has also affected because there isn’t enough locally available food. So families are unable to utilize the food that is locally available. And for us in a place like Gwembe where people didn’t do much farming due to the drought experienced last year, there isn’t adequate food and therefore, people are not able to have diets which are sustainable, they are just eating what comes along. So really, when you are talking about sustainable diets in an area like Gwembe, it’s very difficult. Then also when government is giving relief food, when you look at the quality of relief food, it’s just mealie meal or maize. But we forget the other part, how do they eat the mealie meal or the Nsima? So if there was also a consideration from DMMU, they should to start giving a mixture of food as relief food; for example they would give mealie meal, beans, groundnuts…just a mixture of food so that people can have healthy diets, not the way it is now where relief food is just mealie meal or maize.”

Meanwhile, Agriculture Minister Micheal Katambo insisted that Zambia was still food secure despite the effects of COVID-19 and that there was variety of food for people to choose from in order to stay healthy.

“Have you heard anything like Zambia is asking for food supplies from other countries? No! We are secure, the country is food secure and even where there are emergencies or calamities, the Vice-President is taking care of that. We have a variety of food that people can choose from to remain healthy. The only other thing I must emphasise is the fact that it’s very important that farmers begin to plan against eventualities because we don’t know what tomorrow brings. Who knew that we would ever be hit by the coronavirus? Who knew that farmers would find it a problem to sell their produce due to restrictions on movement? So farmers need to be planning against such eventualities in the coming years,” said Katambo in an interview.