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The Impact of COVID-19 on Vegetable Supply and Consumption in Dar es Salaam and Morogoro

Updated: Nov 6, 2020


COVID-19 has an impact on all aspects of human life, including the economic, social as well as political dimensions. On the 16th of March 2020, Tanzania confirmed its first case of COVID-19, and as of the 8th of May, there were 509 confirmed cases and 21 deaths. The government has not introduced a lockdown, however, the country has put in place measures which are aimed at curbing the spread of the virus, these include: closing down schools and universities, suspending international flights, quarantining the infected, creating public awareness on the virus and self-precautions of the disease, etc. However, other economic activities like public offices, marketing, shopping, restaurants and public transport are still operating.


It has been argued that people with low immunity are most at risk from Coronavirus. Due to this, there is increasing public awareness concerning the importance of increasing our consumption of Vitamin C rich fresh vegetables, fruits and herbs, to help boost our body's immunity to COVID-19. The Citizen Magazine (5th May 2020) reported that The National Institute of Medical Research (NIMR) partner with the Ministry of Health and Social welfare is set to develop guidelines on how traditional medicines can be used for the treatment of the COVID-19. The Jamhuri - a weekly magazine (5-11th May 2020) also reported that NIMR developed a food supplement called NIMRCAF for the treatment of COVID-19. The ingredients of NIMRCAF contain red onion, ginger, hot pepper, garlic and lemon. These initiatives came after the public has increased the use of herbs such as lemongrass (Mchaichai), ginger, lemon leaves, guava leaves, and others for Sauna baths. Others are drinking ginger tea with lemon and consuming green vegetables to enhance their immunity in the fight against COVID-19.


In our research project titled 'Urban and Peri-urban Agriculture as Green Infrastructure: Implications on Well-being and Sustainability in the Global South' it is suggested that urban agriculture has been recognised for its positive contribution to the lives of the urban people. For example, for the supply of food and access to fresh horticultural crops such as green vegetables. Since the global outbreak of COVID-19, we are currently observing how urban agriculture is increasingly important for urbanities and their access to the local food supply, not to mention the immune-boosting properties of fresh produce, supporting urbanites' immunity against the virus. Due to the prevalence of urban agriculture and the abundance of fresh vegetables, urban farmers have a competitive advantage over rural farmers. This article highlights some of the challenges and implications of COVID-19 on urban agriculture - to understand this we conducted a rapid survey to investigate the status of the vegetable supply and consumption patterns in Dar es Salaam City and Morogoro Municipality. Two different markets in Dar es Salaam City and Morogoro Municipal were randomly selected in each region. Farmers, market vegetable sellers and vegetable suppliers were interviewed. The findings were as follows:


The decrease in vegetable supply to the market


There is a decrease in the vegetable supply due to: (1) reduced activities and the movement of people in Dar es Salaam city caused by the fear of contracting COVID-19, while (2) some people are socially distancing themselves as a precaution against contracting COVID-19. The reduction in the supply of vegetables has resulted in the limited movement of goods from production areas to the markets. As a result, vegetable prices have increased in various markets within the City. In a market in Dar es Salaam, a vegetable salesperson reported that the COVID-19 has affected their business in several ways. Firstly, the influx of people who come to the market to buy vegetables has decreased; secondly, the circulation of money has decreased because people are not sure as to when the pandemic will end, and thus, many families have reduced spending on various goods. In Morogoro Municipal a vegetable seller said: "Few customers are coming to the market because people are avoiding large gatherings due to the fear of contracting COVID-19. Some of the employers have reduced the numbers of their workers and as a result, some of the people have turned to vegetable selling because it requires small capital, this has increased the competition for selling vegetables". A farmer in Morogoro Municipal also said: " [The] Closing of schools and some of the hotels have significantly reduced the demand for vegetables. The trend of vegetable marketing is not the same as how it was before the outbreak of COVID-19. However, we are still sending vegetables to Dar es Salaam City through middlemen, although demand and supply are not the same as it was before the outbreak".


The above testimonies indicate a slight shift of people who lost their jobs into selling of vegetables. The price of vegetables is also increasing due to the impact of increasing rain on production.


Increase in vegetable consumption


Despite the decrease in the vegetable supply to the market, on the other hand, the demand for vegetables has increased because they are believed to boost the body's immunity against COVID-19. The survey shows more than 60% of vegetables are consumed than before the emergence of COVID-19. For both regions, vegetables which are on high demand include amaranthus sp (Mchicha), sweet potato leaves (Matembele), lemon, orange, guava leaves, ginger, onions, garlic and lemongrass (Mchaichai). This increase in demand is partly due to the Government of Tanzania's campaign on using locally available therapies to help increase the body's immune defense against COVID-19. For example, many people have resorted to using locally made remedies by mixing vegetables and other plants to increase their medicinal properties. Vegetables and fruits used for making remedies include Amaranthus sp, sweet potatoes leaves, guava leaves, lemon, lemongrass which are produced within urban areas. Since some of the agricultural products that people use for their immune system are produced in urban areas, this has created a positive shift towards urban agriculture; implying that while some of the measures to contain COVID-19 have impacted urban agriculture, they have increased the demand for and consumption of fresh vegetables.


Highlights for the 'Urban and Peri-urban Agriculture Project in Dar es Salaam City and Morogoro Municipality.


Vegetable cultivation within an intra-urban context is one of the key areas of the research project. This involves vegetable cultivation in open spaces where more than 10 farmers cultivate in the same area and earn their livelihoods. Most of these open spaces have been cultivated for many years and different types of vegetables are cultivated, these include amaranthus sp, sweet potatoes leaves, Chinese cabbage, okra, pumpkin leaves, swiss Chard (figiri), solanum nigrum, to name but a few. However, farmers in the research sites are facing different challenges in their vegetable production, these include limited irrigation water during the dry season, insecure land tenure, limited support from extension officers and other Local Government Authorities. It is noted that insecure land tenure is a very big challenge among intra-urban farmers. A study conducted in Morogoro Municipality reported that the expansion of built-up areas within the Municipality implies a reduction in the available land area for cultivation within the Municipality.



[1] Source: Sumari et al, 2019


Policy recommendations on urban agriculture


Although policymakers view intra-urban vegetable cultivation as of less economic importance, farmers who practice it attach both economic and social values to it. This indicates that UA is a permanent activity rather than a transitory as viewed by policymakers. To make urban agriculture sustainable there is a need for new possibilities that allow for the political and institutional support for urban farmers through the allocation of land for cultivation, the promotion of sustainable crop intensification and diversification of vegetable cultivation, and the education of farmers on sustainable farming systems. Also, some of the immediate and long-term measures which could advance UA's sustainability could include enhancing access to credits, forming farmers' small cooperatives and supplying agricultural inputs and extension services. Additionally, taking into consideration informal means of access to resources for any support, while targeting UA will remain crucial. This is because any formalisation of resources without recognising informal means might distort the means of access available to the poorer farmers, hence creating inequality among farmers and particularly for women.


Conclusion and Implications


This study concludes that while the supply of vegetables to the market is declining due to the fear of contracting COVID-19 in large gatherings, such as the market place, the consumption of fresh vegetables is increasing. The impact of COVID-19 on urban agriculture is seen in two different ways. Firstly, the consumption of vegetables in urban areas is important for increasing immunity, this, in turn, increases the awareness of the importance of urban agriculture. Second, urban agriculture is still seen as an easy entry of people who lost their jobs. Lastly, increasing consumption of vegetables is probably an indication that the scale of production in urban agriculture will expand to accommodate the new demand for horticultural products. After all, people need vegetables to boost their immunity, fearing that low immunity will lead to contracting COVID-19.


About the Authors


Ombeni Swai (PhD) is a Senior Lecturer, Department of Interior Design and Landscape Architecture, Ardhi University, Tanzania. Betty Mntambo (PhD) is a lecturer, Department of Sociology and Social Work, Open University of Tanzania. The authors are research collaborators in a two year's project titled 'Urban and Peri-urban Agriculture as Green Infrastructure: Implications on Well-being and Sustainability in the Global South' funded by British Academy. The opinions and interpretation presented in this article are from the authors.


References


[1] Sumari, N.S., Xu,G., Ujoh, F., Korah, P.I., Ebohon, J. O & Lyimo, N. N. (2019). A geospatial approach to sustainable urban planning: Lessons for Morogoro Municipal Council, Tanzania. Sustainability. 11(22): 6508; doi:10.3390/su11226508.

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