Cascading impact of Covid-19: Re-Shaping Staple Food Value Chains in Zimbabwe (COVID19-AFS)

Lead PI: Carolyn Mutter

Unit Affiliation: Center for Climate Systems Research (CCSR)

September 2020 - April 2021
Africa ; Zimbabwe
Project Type: Research

DESCRIPTION: Vulnerabilities in Zimbabwe’s food system are being exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic. As the pandemic intersects with existing economic instability, recurrent droughts, and plant diseases, the World Food Program (WFP) expects that half the Zimbabwean population is facing acute hunger – that is, more than 8 million people would need food aid by mid-2020, more than a third in urban areas (WFP, 2020). Cash-based transfers and food assistance programs are ever more urgent. While donor funding aims to ensure food security among the most-vulnerable populations, our idea aims to enable strengthening of the local food system to improve economic performance, sustainability, and resilience against future shocks.

The Agricultural Model Intercomparison and Improvement Project (AgMIP) at Columbia University seeks IDRC approval to advance a process for the supplemental award of about CAD $99,869 (US $73,433) for rapid data collection and analysis in several locations of Zimbabwe for two objectives: 1) To analyse the impact of Covid-19 and lockdown on food security and nutrition in urban and rural areas; and 2) To determine whether a shift towards more diversified and nutrition-dense staple food production and diets provides increased resilience to shocks going forward. The study is informed by emerging trends from the pandemic. The Covid-19 crisis is exacerbating the already-poor nutrition of many Zimbabweans relating to overreliance on maize (subsidies and food hand-outs), and limited availability and affordability of nutritious staple foods. In addition, Covid-19 responses have disrupted food value chains in the predominantly informal economy, leading to reductions in income of the most vulnerable groups. When coupled with declines in purchasing power from unemployment and inflation, the result is survival-driven behaviour – including consumption of reserves and poorer-quality food – and increased anxiety about stability.

To improve resilience and nutrition outcomes, alternative staples and food products are needed. In the semi-arid areas of Zimbabwe, small grains such as sorghum and millet have the potential to diversify and improve diets due to higher nutrition density, higher water stress tolerance, and less demanding plant nutritional requirements than maize. Small grains are indigenous to the region and were, in the past, widely consumed by Zimbabwe’s population. However, owing to disproportionate support of maize as a staple food (accompanied by shifts in consumer preferences) and an absence of local viable markets, processing facilities and food product development, the production of small grains has decreased since the 1990s. Government programs are now promoting small grains in response to repeated maize harvest failures. The area under small grains has doubled, and prices have improved relative to maize. Our idea includes identifying issues and opportunities along small grain value chains to strengthen their functioning and governance, and to achieve improved nutrition resilience.