Written by Webster Makombe
Whilst the trending phrases during the Covid-19 pandemic are “social distancing” and “self-isolation”, where I am from we are saying “kusiri kufa ndekupi”. A Shona call of desperation which translated into English means “caught in between a rock and a hard place”. The Covid-19 pandemic has shaken the world into a jilted social order: the “new normal” so they say. Ultimately, it’s coming down to food and nutrition. We all need to eat in order to survive and live to fight another day.
The Covid-19 pandemic is two-faced.
As I was reading the Global Nutrition Report 2020, I recognised the opening statement as being a reality in my country. It states, “The Covid-19 crisis has made it ever clear that inequality is a maker and marker of malnutrition”. Inequality means it will not be easy for everyone to efficiently social distance and continue to put food on the table. Families who live “hand to mouth” usually labour the whole day for an evening’s meal. They are now locked into their homes, silently praying for the early uplifting of the lockdown regulations. Things are not okay.
Food is the centre of how we spent our days during the lockdown period.
The lockdowns in our various countries has involuntarily caused us to lead a sedentary lifestyles. This has also made a huge impact on our patterns of food consumption. For countries with the double burden of malnutrition, like my country, Zimbabwe, the risk of overweight and obesity is high. This is worse now with less physical activity and with an increased rate of eating and snacking in our homes.
In Zimbabwe, however, the risk of undernutrition is even higher. Most of the food delivery systems have been affected. You might be thinking, ‘how is it affected if the shops are open?’ Well, that’s formal trade. Most people in low income countries like mine rely on the informal street food markets. In my case, these neighbourhood markets rely on the heart of farm produce, Musika. For a cup of rice, a handful of tomatoes and a loaf of bread and all the other necessities that sum up to make a family’s meal in these parts of the world.
Eating away Covid-19
Hippocrates rightly states, “your food is your medicine” and I believe that is important now. With no vaccine or cure yet found for Covid-19, everything is in the hands of our immune systems, and what better way to fight diseases than to have a sound immune system? And what other way to have the best immune system than to eat right?
For me, this provides a time to push for a change I have been trying to push for a long time. Indigenous food items. Most people in my community eat imported foods items, and, with globalisation taking its toll, some local and highly nutritious foods have been side-lined for appealing western dishes. But with the closure of a number of borders and trade routes, these food items seem to be in short supply. Hunger is looming. Harnessing the power of local food items will be the only way to go.
Don’t lock us out whilst in the lockdown
With the Nutrition for Growth Summit coming up in the near future, we must think about the place of nutrition in a post-Covid world. But action is also needed now. Governments need to commit more to the nutrition agenda and fight to end all forms of malnutrition. They must think about how children who solely relied on school feeding programs are coping now in their homes. Access to nutritious food must be prioritised. And so must access to essential nutrition and health services during this crisis.
And now we wait!
Now everyone in the world understands what it feels like fighting an invisible enemy. Malnutrition has been one for many decades now, for millions around the world. I hope you and me will look more into preventive ways to curb malnutrition rather than just trying to mitigate the effects of hunger.
As we wait for a vaccine and treatment for Covid-19 just remember the other crises which need attention. If we don’t take action now, the secondary impacts of Covid-19 could be terrible. But if countries prioritise and increase nutrition financing, we can help fight Covid-19 and lower malnutrition.
Tichakunda, siyaqoba, we shall conquer!