Zambia: Covid-19 Threat to Agro Sector - a Tale of Subsistence Farmers

(File photo).

Anne Mutale-Katongo is one of the many rural peasant farmers whose life changed drastically when she was 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 in the Central part of Zambia is a subsistence farmer who grows a variety of organic products on two hectares of land.

Born in 1960, she explains her ordeal with COVID-19 and the challenges 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 says.

Ms Katongo further explains how hard it was for her to survive as people were afraid of buying the crops from her for fear of being infected.

She explains that as farmers, they assisted each other when it was time for harvesting but they could not 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 is only prudent to have some sort of sensitisation 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 adds.

However, Ms Katongo says the 2020/21 farming season started very well until the COVID-19 pandemic hit, farmers were unable to 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 the vaccination, Ms Katongo states that there is 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 further states

She appeals 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 materials on the pandemic.

Another woman, Judith Chifuwe, married with six children states that things on the ground are not as they appear, adding that a number of women contracted 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 says.

Furthermore, 51 year-old Ms Chifuwe says COVID-19 has 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 explains

Her story is no different from the other women in Shibuyunji district, Agnes Mwendo, born in 1973 who narrates how she made losses from the crops harvested due to lack of market.

"We could not 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 adds.

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

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