The Nordic Africa Institute


Pandemic makes life hard for rural distributors

Three workers with face masks packing maize seed at Kamano Seed Company warehouse in Lusaka, Zambia.

Workers packing maize seed at Kamano Seed Company warehouse in Lusaka, Zambia. Photo: CIMMYT/Kipenz Films.

Date • 6 May 2021

The global Covid-19 pandemic is affecting farming and rural livelihoods in landlocked Zambia. Prices of essential agricultural inputs go up when imports are stuck at closed borders.

Portrait of Mercy Chisi.

Mercy Chisi.

Mercy Chisi runs an agriculture business in Muchinga province, in northeast Zambia, selling seeds, fertilisers and other inputs to farmers. Her suppliers in the city have drastically increased prices because of delayed imports across borders.

“Prices have doubled. Worse is that my suppliers no longer accept to sell on credit. This is a big problem because I usually pay them the following month with the profit l make from retailing”.

Bridget Bwalya Umar

Bridget Bwalya Umar.

According to NAI researcher Bridget Bwalya Umar, distributors like Mercy Chisi are a crucial link to rural people. Not every farmer can afford to travel to the city to buy seeds and fertilisers themselves, Bwalya Umar says. Moreover, companies mostly sell in bulk quantities that are too large for household farmers.

“The distributors keep the food production chain intact. Any disruption in the chain has consequences for people´s livelihoods and perhaps for food security, too”.

May, June and July are marketing months for agricultural products in Zambia. They are also the cold months. If a third wave of Covid-19 External link, opens in new window. comes with the cold, it may affect the possibilities for farmers to sell their produce.

“If restrictions such as closed markets and fewer transports are put in place their incomes will be affected. Then farmers won’t have money to buy seeds and fertilisers for the next season. That would be very problematic”, Bwalya Umar remarks.

Catherine Sakala.

Catherine Sakala.

Provincial Project Operations Officer Catherine Sakala works in an agricultural development project in the northern region of Zambia. Contact with farmers through sensitization meetings and community planning is an essential part of her work. Although social distancing clearly has health benefits, it may have negative effects on poverty reduction in rural Zambia, Sakala says.

“Because of the national Covid-19 guidelines our project implementation is not moving as quickly as we would like it to. We cannot meet as many farmers as we would wish and projects are having challenges due to delays of inputs and other components to support them”.

TEXT: Johan Sävström

As of 4 May there have been 91 722 cases of Covid-19 with 1 253 deaths. 32 034 vaccine doses have been administered, reported to the World Health Organisation External link, opens in new window..
According to the World Bank External link, opens in new window., the pandemic has pushed an already weak economy into Zambia´s first recession since 1998. Inflation remained in double digits throughout 2020 and reached a high of 22 percent in February 2021.