Resilience-Focused Food Systems Transformation to Meet Sustainable Development Goals in Zimbabwe
This post is written by Joseph Tinarwo, Food and Nutrition Security Research Institute (FANSERI), Email: [email protected] and Suresh Babu, International Food Policy Research Institute, Washington, D.C.
According to the Food Security Information Network's recent Global Report on Food Crises (2021), Zimbabwe is on the list of the top six countries in the world experiencing a food crisis. The food crisis in Zimbabwe is compounded by external shocks such as the COVID-19 pandemic and economic and weather-related shocks, and it brings a sharper focus and a deeper scrutiny to the challenges of achieving the sustainable development goals (SDGs). Moving from crisis to a development pathway and achieving SDGs requires a food system transformation (FST) that recognizes resilience building as a key precondition. Yet very little attention is paid to developing and implementing resilience programming in a systematic way. Why and how can resilience programming be the focus of FST in Zimbabwe?
Zimbabwe’s food system is confronted by a multitude of challenges that are threatening the achievement of the SDGs. Natural resource use is no longer sustainable, with rapid erosion of biodiversity. Extreme weather events induced by climate change are increasing the vulnerabilities of the communities in Zimbabwe, while new diseases such as COVID-19 are worsening food insecurity, poverty, health and the economic environment. Combined, these external shocks greatly impact people’s livelihoods. With less than 10 years left to attain the SDGs, Zimbabwe needs modified strategies to achieve these global targets. Resilience building as a key strategy for FST seems to be an answer. In short, while FST in Zimbabwe is an imperative — mainly because of the multiplicity of challenges confronting our food systems in achieving equitable access to healthy, nutritious food for all — paying attention to environmental sustainability and resilience to shocks should be the starting point.
What is food systems transformation in the context of Zimbabwe?
Policymakers in Zimbabwe are embracing a food system approach that aims to achieve healthy, sustainable and equitable diets as well as meeting the SDGs. For FST to occur in Zimbabwe, it is vital that all Zimbabweans benefit from nutritious and healthy food, and that the food production system becomes sustainable, climate resilient and revitalizes rural areas.
The goals of FST are illustrated in figure 1, and the efforts of the different stakeholders should be directed to these objectives in order to achieve the SDGs. While these five elements are key for food systems transformation, each country will have to design their strategies towards achieving SDGs in line with their policies, institutional and technological contexts. Zimbabwe is no exception.
In June 2021, the United Nations will convene a Food Systems Summit (UNFSS) as part of the Decade to Action to achieve the SDGs by 2030. The summit is expected to launch bold new actions to deliver progress on the SDGs, and central to the agenda is building resilient, healthier, more sustainable and equitable food systems. In this context, Zimbabwe has an opportunity to design, implement and scale up strategies that are locally relevant leading to FST and achieving the SDGs.
FST has five key features that are essential in addressing the challenges facing both local and global food systems, as well as to achieving the SDGs:
1. In order to achieve the SDGs by 2030, food systems first need to be transformed so that they are efficient. This can be achieved, for example, by giving the private sector much-needed incentives and removing the barriers along food supply chains from production to transportation, food storage and, finally, food consumption. Opportunities exist in Zimbabwe to improve the efficiency of food markets and value chain operations.
2. Food systems need to produce healthy, nutritious, safe and affordable foods, which should be promoted to consumers. In Zimbabwe, issues related to quantity and quality of production are the basic first steps. Investment in market infrastructure, improving food safety regulations and the implementation of a quick entry point to increase access to healthy and nutritious food become vital. Nutrition education is another area with immediate benefits to the vulnerable and pregnant and lactating mothers and their children.
3. To achieve their full transformation, food systems must be inclusive of smallholder farmers as well as traditionally-excluded groups like women, youth and people with disabilities in decision-making, assisting them to form and strengthen their livelihood strategies. Building communities that are capable of identifying development needs and empowering women and youth are immediate strategies for Zimbabwe.
4. Efforts need to be put toward sustaining the environment by strengthening subnational governance strategies and using regulations, digital technologies and innovations to conserve and protect natural resources and biodiversity. Once again, in Zimbabwe, strengthening local capacities at the provincial levels and coordinating the efforts of multiple government ministries and departments, including agriculture, environment, forestry, irrigation (and within each of these departments, the vertical linkages between national and local programming) is essential to implement local and context-specific interventions leading to sustainable local food systems.
5. For food systems to achieve transformation, they must be resilient. This means that they must not only have the potential to bounce back swiftly from shocks, but also cushion deprived households from shocks by building their livelihood strategies. This is where Zimbabwe’s food system will initially focus, as much of the country continues to be affected by acute food insecurity resulting from frequent weather-related and external shocks. This is further elaborated below. While the UN's call for action is clear, and the national and regional dialogues continue to add up to the UNFSS, the action needed at the country level requires design and implementation of specific strategies that are context specific and locally relevant. In Zimbabwe, this requires first getting out of the food crisis through resilience-focused programming and then putting the national policy system on the resilience-building agenda.
Why should food systems transformation in Zimbabwe be resilience-focused?
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, Zimbabwe’s food system had been exposed to many vulnerabilities, mainly climatic and economic shocks, that left more than half of the country’s population (close to 7.7 million people) food insecure. The spread of COVID-19 to Zimbabwe in March 2020 caused serious disruptions to food supply chains and has worsened the food crisis throughout the country, disproportionately affecting deprived and marginalized populations. Measures implemented by the Zimbabwean government to curb the spread of COVID-19 reduced sources of income and livelihood opportunities and is having negative ramifications on the entire food system. Therefore, to realize the SDGs by 2030, as a first step, Zimbabwe needs to build the resilience of its food systems to bounce back after the COVID-19 pandemic and other shocks and stresses and will lead to access to healthy, sustainable, equitable and affordable nutritious food for affected communities.
What is the current resilience programming in Zimbabwe and what improvements can be made?
Over the years, Zimbabwe has been highly susceptible to environmental, climatic, political and economic shocks, with far-reaching impacts particularly on poor and marginalized populations. While poverty, hunger, malnutrition and environmental degradation are serious challenges confronting the food system in Zimbabwe, the COVID-19 pandemic further deteriorated an already dire situation, pushing the country to rank as among one of the most disaster-prone countries in the world. The Zimbabwean government prioritizes measures of building resilience through the National Development Strategy 1 (2021-2025), which has the primary objective of implementing strategies, programs and projects aimed at eradicating poverty and promoting sustainable livelihoods for the poor as well as vulnerable groups, including women, children and people living with disabilities.
The development partners are currently supporting resilience initiatives in Zimbabwe through the Zimbabwe Resilience Building Fund (ZRBF). Guided by the Zimbabwe Resilience Strategic Framework, ZRBF is a long-term development approach with the overall objective of contributing to increased capacity of communities to protect development gains in the face of recurrent shocks and stresses.
While there is a relatively coordinated approach by the development partners in their resilience-building efforts in Zimbabwe, resilience initiatives by the government ministries and departments remain fragmented and lack harmonization. In addition, due to lack of adequate budgetary support from the government, the financing of resilience programming is dominated by international development agencies. Although the resilience-building efforts by international development partners are commendable, their project-based approach to development assistance lacks sustainability. Additionally, resilience programming in Zimbabwe lacks effective integration of the nutritional goals, making it difficult to achieve healthy, sustainable, equitable and nutritious diets.
In order to improve resilience programming in Zimbabwe, it is important to ensure that the government leads the process, and this includes making sure that there is adequate budgetary support given to the institutions and actors working on the resilience-building agenda. Government-led resilience-building efforts usually do not come with conditions and are sustainable in the long-term. Also, since most government ministries and departments in Zimbabwe are spearheading their resilience initiatives in silos, a multistakeholder and multisectoral, coordinated approach to resilience building becomes imperative in helping communities survive through protracted shocks and stresses. Therefore, it is important to have a single government institution coordinating all the government and non-governmental stakeholders in the resilience-focused food system transformation.
A single government coordinating agency for resilience can also set the agenda, design programming, adapt interventions, coordinate implementation and monitor and learn through refinement processes. For example, mainstreaming nutrition in the resilience initiatives could enhance a multisectoral approach to healthy diets for all Zimbabweans. The involvement of the private sector in the resilience-building efforts is also important so as to complement the government and donor support and to improve funding flows.
How to make food systems transformation resilience-focused?
Making FST resilience-focused requires several proactive measures in Zimbabwe. Concerted efforts must be made by all the stakeholders in the food system space, including traditionally-excluded groups like smallholders and local ethnic groups. These multistakeholder partnerships must be supported by strong legal and vibrant institutional frameworks to help decision-makers develop resilience-focused policies and programs. In addition, building a reliable and sustainable food and nutrition security information system that is capable of helping stakeholders to analyze, monitor and provide access to data to anticipate, absorb and recover from the negative effects of shocks and stresses.
Resilience-focused FST must assist policy makers and other stakeholders to identify, design and implement prevention and mitigation measures to deal with the shocks and stresses. Strengthening capacity of government institutions and local communities by providing rapid and efficient response mechanisms to deal with threats and emergencies by saving lives and promoting recovery should be at the heart of resilience-focused FST. Finally, adequate budgetary support and the design and scaling-up of nutrition-sensitive social protection programs for the poor and marginalized is a critical pillar of the resilience-focused FST agenda.
Providing sustainable, equitable and nutritious diets to all people is a challenge for both policy makers and developmental practitioners in Zimbabwe and elsewhere around the world. The COVID-19 pandemic together with climatic and economic shocks are worsening this challenge and are putting the SDGs, especially SDG 2 — to end hunger and malnutrition — out of reach in Zimbabwe. Concerted efforts to ensure a resilience-focused FST from all stakeholders, including the government, private sector, researchers, development partners and local people, remains central for the overall achievement of healthy diets for all people in Zimbabwe.
Ensuring adequate budgetary support to all the institutions and actors along the food systems value chain, together with capacity-building efforts for local stakeholders, including traditionally-excluded groups like farmers and people in the community, is important in the resilience-focused FST agenda. It is crucial to ensure that the government formulates and mainstreams resilience in the existing policies and programs implemented by the government and its stakeholders. Establishing a single government-led coordinating agency for resilience could improve on the dialogue and coordination of the various actors and reduce duplication of efforts and conflicts in the FST process.