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Zimbabwe's Food Insecurity Escalates During COVID-19 Lockdowns

52-year-old Aleck Mugopa says, July 30, 2020, since the beginning of the lockdown, there are times when the family has gone without a decent meal. (Columbus Mavhunga/VOA)

A new report from Zimbabwe’s government says hunger and food insecurity have increased during the coronavirus pandemic. The World Food Program says the problem is especially acute for unemployed residents of the cities.

The government report, called the Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment, says about 2.4 million people in the country’s urban areas are struggling to meet their basic food needs because of lockdowns to contain the spread of COVID-19.

Murambiwa Simon Mushongorokwa, 61, used to get casual jobs in the factories before the lockdowns began.

“I used to get about $30 a week," he said. "It was not enough for my needs. But when the lockdown came, it got worse, until I started growing mushrooms. It’s slowly improving my life, if the market prices improve, we will survive.”

He uses forage from his backyard corn and sorghum field to grow the mushrooms. He says he now gets about $5 a week from selling them and uses some for consumption with his wife and five dependents.

Simon Julius Kufakwevanhu, an official from a local NGO, has been teaching people in a poor suburb to grow mushrooms.

“Before the introduction of mushroom farming in this place, it was very tough for people in this community to survive because of the lockdowns and so forth. But when The Future of Hope [a nonprofit committed to skills empowerment] brought in mushroom growing, it’s changing because you can now buy something, able to go to shops and buy mielie meal [coarse flour], sugar and so forth. Even if I fall sick I can go to the hospital after selling mushrooms,” he said.

The World Food Program says it is looking for more ideas and resources to help 550,000 people like Mushongorokwa in urban areas get basic food for survival.

Tomson Phiri, head of communications at the World Food Program, speaking from his base Geneva, said, “COVID-19 has not only wiped out lives, it has wiped out livelihoods as well. The number of people who are unable to put food on their table in Zimbabwe’s urban areas has increased from 30 percent during the same period in 2019 to 42 percent right now.”

Zimbabwe's government says it is giving about $12 a month to families affected by lockdowns. That’s nowhere near the $500 an average family of five to seven people needs to survive each month.

People like Mushongorokwa hope that with the lockdowns recently eased, jobs and livelihoods will come back.

In the meantime, the WFP is seeking $32 million to feed food-insecure urbanites.