BY CATHERINE MUCHIRI
AN international agricultural research institute has said COVID-19 exposed the government’s poor preparedness to deal with pandemics and natural disasters after citizens were left facing hunger during the lockdown period.
In a research paper titled: Impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on livelihoods in southern Zimbabwe, the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Topics (ICRISAT) said COVID exposed the need to develop adaptive policy frameworks that respond to natural disasters.
In the report released on December 22, ICRISAT said COVID negatively impacted the livelihoods of the majority of Zimbabweans.
“As Zimbabwe scrambled to contain COVID-19, its citizens always having borne the brunt of economic instability and the accompanying political disruption, watched as the unemployment rate spiralled out of control, with limited public investments hitting record low after the national lockdown took effect,” the report read.
“Informal sector activities which are lifelines of cities and contributors of about 76% to the national GDP, came to a standstill making the urban dweller vulnerable to declining health, food and income security. An estimated 40% of the Zimbabwean population was deemed poor at the onset of the pandemic.”
ICRISAT said it randomly interviewed 600 households in urban and rural sites in Bulawayo and Bulilima, Chiredzi and Nkayi districts during the study.
The study analysed changes in food security and livelihoods that occurred during the 2020 lockdown period and other associated containment measures in urban and rural areas that followed.
“About 90% of the sampled households reported consuming less food. The proportion of households that reduced the number and size of meals as a coping strategy increased by 30 percentage points. There is a similar increase in the proportion of households that switched to less preferred and less diverse, less nutritious diets,” the report added.
“A relatively small percentage of households increased their reliance on strategies to cope with declining incomes and food supplies. However, many of these strategies may have long-term consequences for livelihoods. Selling assets, depleting savings, and increasing debt pose a potentially long-term threat to livelihoods.”
In its recommendations, the ICRISAT said: “The report recommends “Government, development and aid organizations need to work on well-coordinated actions to transform agriculture and food systems in Zimbabwe.
“Zimbabwe should develop an adaptive policy framework in responding to different types of crises that impact food and nutritional security to enable a quick recovery. Flexible and adaptive policies and administration can be achieved in different ways.”
Government banned informal trading during the initial phase of the lockdown in 2020 and destroyed vending stalls in most urban areas purportedly to discourage traders from operating.
This was despite the fact that the harsh economic climate has forced many into informal trading.
ICRISAT said: “A more nuanced approach that maintained precautions, for example by moving markets outdoors and maintaining distance between stalls, especially in areas that are most reliant on the informal economy, may have contained the pandemic without some of the adverse effects, including effects on health through lack of food, nutrition, and access to health care.”