• Sunday, July 21, 2024
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COVID-19’s threat to agriculture: A touching story of rural peasant farmers

COVID-19’s threat to agriculture: A touching story of rural peasant farmers

In Zambia, peasant farmers grow and sell local seeds, producing the vegetables, herbs, groundnuts, beans, and grains that nurture the growth and health of their families and communities.

However, like any other business, agriculture hasn’t been spared from the negative impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, threatening not only the income of these farmers but also the availability of nutritious food for their families and local communities.

Anne Mutale-Katongo is one of the many rural peasant farmers whose lives changed drastically when she got diagnosed with COVID-19, and spent several days in quarantine.

During the quarantine period, Ms Katongo could not carry out her chores, which included harvesting and sending her crops to the market.

Ms Katongo of Chilonga village in Shibuyunji district of Central Province of Zambia is a peasant farmer who grows a variety of organic products on two hectares of land. Born in 1960, she explained her ordeal with COVID-19 and the challenges she faced as a farmer whose livelihood depends on farming.

On family land, Ms Katongo grows both organic and hybrid crops such as groundnuts, beans, maize, sunflower, soybeans and sweet potatoes. However, when she got COVID-19, Ms Katongo could not oversee the sale of her commodities, as she was confined to her hut.

“I suffered from COVID-19 … I know how it knocks you down and how deadly it is. I was in quarantine from June 10 to July 10, 2021. During that period, I was in bed recovering. I could not perform any duties and consequently had no income,” she said.

Ms Katongo explained how hard it was for her to survive as people were afraid of buying crops from her, as they feared they would also get infected.

She explained that as farmers; they assisted each other when it was time for harvesting, but they couldn’t do so, as her colleagues kept their distance. As a result of that, there was too much work in the field because of stigmatisation, which came with COVID-19.

Coming from a village setup where there is a lot of misconception on the disease, it was only prudent to have some sort of sensitization programme on COVID-19.

“As farmers, we denied that COVID-19 exists. We thought it was a total lie, and it’s fake. Look at me in the village. I got the virus,” she said.

However, Ms Katongo said the 2020/21 farming season started very well until the COVID-19 pandemic hit, farmers could not send their crops to Lusaka for sale, which was their primary market.

“When it came to selling the commodities, my friends were not allowing us to sell the crops to them or reach their homes saying that they will get infected, but now where will I sell my commodities…?” she asked.

On vaccination, Ms Katongo stated that there was a lot of misconception surrounding the COVID-19 vaccine.

“Here in the village, people are refusing to get vaccinated,” which she said was a drawback to the growth of the agriculture sector and food security.
“Now elderly women like me who are 60 years old and above are at risk … I urge my fellow farmers to consider getting vaccinated. We should not fear vaccines, it is safe …it is there to protect us,” Ms Katongo stated.

She appealed to the Government and the Rural Women Assembly Zambia to jointly conduct sensitisation training on COVID-19 and its impact on the agriculture sector, as well as assist them with the necessary relief materials for the pandemic.

Another woman, Judith Chifuwe, married with six children, stated that things on the ground were not as they appeared, adding that a number of women got COVID-19 and needed help with food and water.

“It’s difficult to remain in isolation, when you know that your children have no food and you share a hut with other family members…it’s so devastating,” she said.

Read also: COVID-19: Don’t underestimate Omicron – WHO

51-year-old Ms Chifuwe said COVID-19 had devastating effects not only on profits but household income for many families in the village.

“We all had the same challenge of market access and where to sell our crops. People were afraid of touching our produce because of fear of getting COVID-19,” she said.

Her story does not differ from the other women in Shibuyunji district. Agnes Mwendo, born in 1973, narrated how she made losses from the crops harvested due to lack of market.

“We couldn’t travel to Lusaka to sell our produce because we were told not to move and kept our crops at home, meaning we did not have money to buy household supplies …money was difficult to come by and children even stopped going to school because of COVID-19 because we were not selling anything,” Ms Mwendo said.

Clearly, from the stories of the peasant farmers in Shibuyunji district districts, COVID-19 had a toll on many household incomes and food security.

The African Women’s Collaborative for Healthy Food Systems calls on government authorities and stakeholders to come to the aid of these peasant and indigenous women by providing relief materials like food and water to ease the impact of the pandemic on rural families.

There is also an urgent need for the establishment of markets within the local communities to aid the sale of their farm produce. Online marketing strategies where people can make orders online and delivery is done within specified time range will equally be beneficial.

Sensitization programmes to educate peasant farmers about the COVID-19 pandemic and the need for vaccination are also crucial.

The benefits of these intervention strategies will be the mitigation of the impact of COVID-19 on food supply chain and food security. Hence, the maintenance of healthy food systems during the COVID-19 crisis.