The global outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic forced many governments, including Zimbabwe to take strict measures in order to curb the spread of the virus. The Zimbabwean Government in collaboration with UN bodies/agencies, NGOs, private sector and other civil organisations are instituting measures to help tackle the pandemic and support the most vulnerable communities. TheGovernment of Zimbabwe (GoZ) gazzetted the first stage lockdown measures to combat the Covid-19 pandemic, banning all gatherings, non-essential travelling and business operations on 30 March 2020. In line with this directive, WHO guidelines and MoHCC directives, the FAO Zimbabwe country office developed and is currently implementing a Business Continuity Plan (BCP) that guides individual programmes and projects.
The Zimbabwe Livelihoods and Food Security Programme (LFSP) is a programme funded by DFID to the tune of £72.4m. FAO has been implementing the Agricultural Productivity and Nutrition (APN) component of the programme with a budget of £ 55.3m since 2014. Using the inbuilt mechanisms for programme adaptability LFSP immediately developed a COVID-19 Risk Mitigation and Response Plan to ensure continuity of field level engagement of beneficiaries and offering necessary support for adhering to testing, hygiene and social distancing requirements to programme staff, beneficiaries and partners. “The programme rolled out the Covid-19 response plan which enabled the implementing partners to repurpose up to USD 500,000 existing programme funds to respond to the pandemic and provide the essential services to the communities in the programme target districts” says Ali Said, Chief Technical Advisor in FAO.
Field level challenges were experienced by farmers relating to mobility and transport to access markets and cold chain facilities for perishables as farmers could not access mass markets. In addition farmers were constrained to conduct income generating activities for Internal Saving and Lending (ISAL) groups and farmer commodity associations.
Some ISAL groups significantly reduced their savings, however, some showed adaptive capacity by quickly seizing the business opportunities presented from the pandemic such as buying groceries for resell at a profit, baking bread for resale in their communities and others bought and shared groceries for household consumption. Travel restrictions also constrained engagement of beneficiaries with off takers, financial institutions and the programme extension staff. With suspension of travel and congregating, the most impacted were activities that required field presence and physical meetings such as training workshops, field days, exhibitions, learning events, seminars and field data collection and consultations. To mitigate these challenges and adapting to the easing of some restrictions nationally the programme has been adapting and managed to ensure programme continuity through, “Protecting the health and wellbeing of LFSP programme staff and beneficiaries,protecting development gains by adapting planned activities and initiating new activities to address secondary impacts of and start recovery from COVID-19, added Ali.
Enhanced use of Community Based Volunteers capacitated by programme for extension and messaging
Despite the travel restrictions, the LFSP partners still managed to reach out to more than 100,000 farmers in 12 Districts, across four provinces in Zimbabwe; through the use of programme capacitated community based volunteers; who include lead farmers, nutrition neighbor women and men, lead mothers, community based mobilizers, community animal health workers and public based extension agents in partnership with different government departments.
These capacitated farmer-led community-based infrastructure ensured engagement of farmer group enterprises, Commodity associations, ISAL groups, Nutrition Care Groups and Youth groups continued to receive the vital support they needed, even in some of the hardest to reach areas. The community based volunteers oversaw various activities, notably harvesting and post-harvest management technical advisory support to other farmers.
Post-harvest management prevented potential losses at the time of harvest and storage management practices. The community based extension workers gave guidance on the harvesting of farmer field school plots, demonstration plots and conservation agriculture plots ‘Pfumvudza plots’, which required harvesting and record taking of different treatments. According to Obert Maminimini‘, the Agricultural Extension Specialist with the LFSP programme, ‘The season’s work on Farmer Field Schools, demo and Pfumvudza plots would have all gone to waste if the community based extension workers had not stepped in to give technical guidance on the harvesting and data capturing of yields”.
Enhanced use of programme supported ICT platforms with extension, nutrition and health messaging
The LFSP has developed and is using different ICT platforms including but not limited to Bulk SMS, INFOBIP, BlueDOT, Kurima Mari application, Agrishare, WhatsApp and podcasting to deliver targeted messages to beneficiaries. These ICT platforms proved to be effective media for conveying knowledge, instructions and information on nutrition and bio-fortification, gender and gender based violence, rural finance, harvesting and post-harvest management, livestock breeding, disease and feed management. The programme supported the community based extension volunteers with mobile phones data to effectively intermediate between the beneficiaries and programme staff. In addition to technical advisory information, the same platforms were used to deploy COVID-19 specific messages focusing on handwashing and infant and young child feeding practices for suspected or confirmed cases, reinforcing behaviours that the programme has been promoting under the Nutrition Behaviour Change Communication. The support included hygiene messages, provision of PPEs, social distancing guidelines and GBV related materials. According to Delilah Takawira, the FAO Nutrition and Food Safety Officer ‘The lockdown period has reported increases in uptake in the use of tippy taps and appropriate health and hygiene practices during harvesting, care group meetings and ISAL meetings and also seen a step up in the establishment of home based nutrition gardens with community based extension facilitators having been instrumental in demonstrating the establishment of nutrition gardens leading to smallholder farmers stepping into the food supply gap,”
A focus on gendered impacts of COVID-19 on women and young people
Our responses to the COVID-19 pandemic have been sensitive to the fact that women and girls will most likely carry a disproportionately higher burden of unpaid care work than men through increased demand for water to meet the wash requirements of COVID-19 and potentially taking care of the sick due to limited health facilities. For example, women and girls risked contracting COVID-19 at communal water points. The lockdown and closure of schools also meant increased household care work for women and girls. Emphasis was therefore on COVID-19 prevention and care information to reach all members of the household. The programme developed a series of gender messages in English and Shona, disseminated through various ICT platforms giving practical strategies for sharing, reducing and redistributing the burden of household care work among household members. To mitigate against the anticipated increase in gender based violence, LFSP developed guidelines on the gendered impact of COVID-19 and a series of short videos with empowerment tools to help households dialogue, negotiate and resolve conflict. “Currently underway is an assessment of the gendered impact of COVID-19. For example, the loss of livelihood options, pose a serious threat to women and girls who may be exposed to increased risk of sexual exploitation.’ Says Maggie Makanza, Gender and Social Protection Specialist. The findings from the assessment will feed into the planned online refresher training on emerging vulnerabilities and safeguarding issues targeting frontline staff members in implementing partner organisations, key stakeholders and community based facilitators.
Strengthening collaboration with Government
Under the policy technical assistance to the Ministry of Lands, Agriculture Water and Rural Resettlement (MLAWRR), the programme facilitated virtual meetings for the 9 NAPF Pillar Thematic Working Groups (TWGs). These successfully conducted quarterly virtual meetings discussing emerging policy issues as a result of Covid-19 pandemic at the same time finalizing action plans. In the same collaboration the Ministry local level extension workers and government supervisors, undertook a paper-less electronic Annual Crop and Livestock Survey in a manner that met all the COVID-19 safety standards. All the data capturers were provided with basic personal protective equipment (PPE) for use during the survey.
The Zimbabwe Livelihoods and Food Security Programme (LFSP), Agriculture Productivity and Nutrition Component (APN) is a DFID funded programme, being managed by FAO, with the aim of contribute to poverty reduction through increased incomes for a target 250,000 smallholder farming households. The programme is being implemented in four provinces covering 12 districts as follows: Mutasa, Mutare, and Makoni in Manicaland; Guruve, Bindura, Mazowe and Mt Darwin in Mashonaland Central; Kwekwe, Gokwe North, Gokwe South and Shurugwi in Midlands and Zvimba in Mashonaland West provinces. FAO is in partnership with three NGO consortia led by Practical Action, Welthungerhilfe and World Vision International, two Strategic Technical partners i.e. IAPRI for policy influence, HarvestPlus for biofortification, three Commercial Banks, 1 Wholesale Facility – the Zimbabwe Microfinance Fund (ZMF), 5 Microfinance Institutions (MFIs) and the USAID managed DCA Facility.