Who will save nutritious food supply chains from Covid-19 effects?

By Elias HAKIZIMANA.

Activists have called for joint efforts to facilitate food supply chain amid the COVID-19 lockdown across the country so as to ensure nutritious food reach those in need.

The first half of 2020 has been difficult time for the entire world due to the pandemic of COVID-19.

As of 23 April 2020, 211 countries, areas or territories have been infected, with more than 150,000 deaths and 1.5 Coronavirus cases globally.

Rwanda, the first country that recorded COVID-19 in East Africa, has taken an unprecedented scale of measures to contain the spread of the virus including citywide lockdown; traffic control; and closed all gathering places, businesses, restaurants, hotels, cross border movements, air flights, etc.

Though the farming activities were allowed to continue, the impacts on local food systems are obvious and  two dimensions of the food supply chain that are greatly affected are production and distribution.

As a result of the lockdown measures and control on population mobility, transport of agricultural inputs didn’t run smoothly and this potentially could cause disruptions from the production side.

Almost every step of the distribution channels of agricultural products seems to be disrupted.

This is from farmers to wholesalers and from cross-region logistics to city consumption.

This may be accompanied by the reduced market demand of agricultural products due to the shutdown of restaurants, caterers and public canteens, which eventually resulted in large amounts of unsellable seasonal vegetables and fruits backlogged or even unpicked in farms.

If these issues remained unsolved, farmers would fail to make a profit from this harvest, which would in turn cause difficulty in investment for the following planting season and consequently reduce production of next season.

During a radio talk show on May 17, 202 on Isango Star TV and Radio, nutrition activists discussed about the issues and called for all concerned entities to move for quick actions.

VenusteMuhamyankaka, Scaling Up Nutrition Alliance-RWANDA Program Director said: “We are of course worried about food prices, especially for nutritious foods (bio-fortified foods, animal source foods, fruits and vegetables), which are already more expensive than staples and unaffordable for many people, especially low income earners.”

“More food staples will be consumed as a result of price hikes, but likely also more unhealthy highly processed foods which are cheaper, have longer shelf lives and may provide comfort in tough times. In addition, increased food price volatility (due in part to hoarding and cross border impediments) generates uncertainty and makes it more difficult for food system actors to take all manner of decisions.We are also deeply worried about negative income shocks on the most vulnerable, through loss of livelihoods as the demand for certain services collapses and certain production systems are disrupted due to affected workers.” He added.

Nutritious foods Vs COVID-19

Scientists and nutrition activists believe that nutritious foods build body’s immune systems but especially among vulnerable ages and the elderly.

There is a window of opportunity to make the case for safe nutritious food.

They say that Diabetes and other non-communicable diseases are risk factors for COVID-19 mortality and additional attention should be given to preventing the former because of the latter.

Dr Alexis Mucumbitsi, Head of Nutrition and WASH at National Early Childhood Development Programme (NECDP) said: “As we get nutritious food, our body regains energy to activate immune system. During COVID-19, the lockdown helped parents to cater for child nutrition and we supported some families who have children under-five year old by giving them eggs and nutritious flour for porridge.”

Muhamyankaka noted that social protection programmes should be more linked to promoting the consumption and production of nutritious food, not just preventing food insecurity.

“We expect the prevention of food loss, especially fresh food, during storage and transport to gain a greater profile. We expect to see food safety move strongly up the policy priority in terms of food handling, storage and distribution.” He said.

“If we forget the food system right now, the COVID-19 health crisis will unwittingly use the food system as a catapult to have an even bigger impact on the burden of disease. If we think and act to change the food system right now we can reposition it to be more effective at delivering affordable nutritious food during the crisis, and perhaps even after the crisis.” He added.

Interventions during the lockdown

Dr. BUCAGU Charles, Deputy Director General of Agriculture Research and Technology Transfer at Rwanda Agriculture Board(RAB) said they have been following the guidelines of the Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resources (MINAGRI) to facilitate the supply chain by linking farmers with buyers during the lockdown period.

However, this was not adequately done because many citizens could lack nutritious food on various markets.

“The lockdown caused a chock to food production; we have decided to put in more efforts during the Season-C especially in vegetable and sweet potato farming because when the hotels and restaurants re-open doors they will need enough produce. Covid-19 was a disaster but it became an opportunity to change how we do things. We thought of how to support farmers by giving them vegetable seeds and orange sweet potato vines,” Bucagu said.

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Elias Hakizimana

Elias Hakizimana, CEO&Founder of The Inspirer Ltd,(www.rwandainspirer.com) is a professional Rwandan Journalist with Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism and Communication, received from University of Rwanda’s College of Arts and Social Sciences (CASS) in 2014. He served various media houses in Rwanda including Rwanda Broadcasting Agency (RBA) in 2013 and became passionate with English Online and Print Media Publications where he exercised his talent as a Freelance News Reporter for The New Times, The Independent, The Rwanda Focus, Panorama and more before he became a Self-Entrepreneur as the CEO and Founder of The Inspirer Limited in early 2017.

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