Food, livelihood security during Covid-19



While the science of the Covid-19 pandemic continues to evolve, every Zimbabwean, sadly, cannot and must not afford to wait for the State to augment his or her ability to resist infection and prevent transmission.

The facts are there for all to see. It would appear that the State is not prepared to assist those who are vulnerable and are of poor nutritional status.

Nutritional status and immune status go hand in hand. No matter how many drugs you pump into a person, if they are not eating well, it is like washing your hands in clean water and drying them with a dirty towel!!

It is therefore important that the general public understand what is meant by immunity and in particular, herd immunity. Immunity, when we talk about infection means, in simple terms, the body’s ability to fight an infection.

When most of a population is immune to an infectious disease, this provides indirect protection — or herd immunity (also called herd protection) — to those who are not immune to the disease.

For example, if 80 percent of a population is immune to a virus, four out of every five people who encounter someone with the disease won’t get sick (and won’t spread the disease any further).

In this way, the spread of infectious diseases is kept under control. Depending on how contagious an infection is, usually 70 percent to 90 percent of a population needs immunity to achieve herd immunity.

The question that everyone is asking is, ‘What is the herd immunity for Covid-19’? The latest information says it is about 43 percent from 60 percent.

As stated above this is all meaningless in a situation where there is soaring hunger, record unemployment and an economy that has completely tanked.

In the absence of proven technological medical tools which should be easily accessible, against the virus, the body’s innate immunity in the face of hunger is like a promise written in the sand of Kariba Dam shores!

To stave off large-scale Covid-19 related deaths in the community depends on how effective the state delivers food to the hungry and how the hungry can also do something for themselves.

The first and foremost important thing to be appreciated is that we can no longer separate food and nutrition security any more.

Food security is about the quantity available and accessible and nutrition is concerned about the quality of the food. Nutrition quality can be improved by locally available and seasonal wild fruits that Zimbabweans who seem to be transition nutrition seem to ignore. The seasonal wild fruits include:

Baobab fruit, Adansoniadigitata, muuyu

Health benefits:
Rich in many important vitamins and minerals;
May aid weight loss by promoting feelings of fullness;
May help balance blood sugar levels;
Antioxidant and polyphenol content may reduce inflammation;
High fibre content may promote digestive health.

Cactus, opuntia, prickly pear, madhorofiya; zvinanazi

Prickly pear cactus — or also known as nopal, opuntia and other names — is promoted for treating diabetes, high cholesterol, obesity and hangovers. It’s also touted for its antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties.
Some preliminary evidence shows that prickly pear cactus can decrease blood sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes. Some research also suggests that prickly pear cactus extract may lessen the unpleasant effects of a hangover, possibly due to its anti-inflammatory effects.

Flacourtia indica, Governor’s plum, nhunguru

Health benefits:
Plums and prunes are impressively high in nutrients;
Prunes and prune juice may relieve constipation;
Plums and prunes are rich in antioxidants;
They may help lower blood sugar;
Prunes may promote bone health;
Plums and prunes may benefit heart health;
Easy to add to your diet.

Hubva/tsubvu, vitexmombassae, semlly-berry
Vitexpayos, known as mutsubvu or hubvu is a wild fruit from Zimbabwe. Tsubvu is found on a shrub or small tree. Bark is distinctive, grey-brown and deeply fissured. The leaves are densely covered with hairs and are bright green. The fruit is a shiny black, ovoid to subspherical with a pulpy black flesh which is sweet and a hard large seed.

Health benefits:

Tsubvu is rich in vitamin B and it helps in adding bone marrow in one’s body. It has high levels of phytonutrients that add as protection against sun damage to the skin.

Mapfura, scherocaryabirrea, morula
High in vitamin C — and thus offering protection against scurvy — as well as potassium, calcium and magnesium, marula fruits are savoured by humans as well as by elephants, giraffe, kudu and warthogs. Virgin marula oil extracted from the kernels is rich in antioxidants and oleic acid.

Masekesa, piliostigma thonningii, monkey-bread
Seeds of P. thonningii have been found to be rich in crude protein, carbohydrate and mineral elements. The seed is also a good source of antioxidant micronutrients such as iron, calcium, selenium, zinc and manganese.

Nyii, berchemia discolour, bird plum
The fruit contains vitamin A and C, carbohydrate, some protein and lipids.

The purpose of this article is not to recount what has gone wrong, but to figure out together as Zimbabweans what needs to be done.

These seasonal fruits can be eaten as supplements or food on their own during famine.
While you enjoy the indigenous fruits during this Covid- 19 period you need to remember to propagate the trees with the ultimate goal of ensuring that your great great-grandchildren can have the very same experience you’re having right now.

Indigenous fruits can be propagated easily at household levels using the following steps. Seeds can be collected soon after eating the fruits, or from parent trees. Soon after collection — clean the seeds and allow them to dry in a single layer out of direct sunlight.

Seeds can be propagated immediately, if not, store them in containers with air tight lids and put them in cool dry places. This will ensure no moisture gets into the containers and cause them to rot.
Seed quantity, as well as quality is important that’s why there are guidelines to be followed when collecting seeds for reforestation or planting especially if you are collecting seeds from parent trees.
Seed collection guidelines:

Seed collection sites should be matched with out-planting areas as trees generally grow best when planted on sites that are similar to the sites where their parent trees were growing. This is because the trees are accustomed or adapted to those site characteristics. The site characteristics include altitude, rainfall and soil.

Never mix seeds: Seed collected from different species must always be kept separate. Only mix seeds of the same species to form one seed lot if the site characteristics are similar. If some sources are very different, keep them as a separate seed lot. Never mix seed lots from different years’ collections.

Label your seeds: label seeds to maintain information on seed sources identity. Labels can include species name, sources, date and collector and should be placed inside a container. A copy of the label should be put inside all containers, in case the outer one is lost.

Collect from good seed trees: Seedlings generally grow to be like their parent trees. The quality of a plantation will only be as good as the quality of the parent seed trees. Therefore, seed should only be collected from trees that you would like to see in your plantations or farm.

Do not collect seed from trees that look suppressed, diseased or generally unhealthy as the seedlings produced from such seed will very likely be susceptible to disease.

Collect seeds of the same species from several parents: A seed lot is generally best if it is made up of seed from several seed trees as there will be more variety in the seedlings, and they will have a better chance of forming a healthy orchard. Collect mature seed: when collecting seeds, it is very important to collect fruits only when the seeds are properly developed and mature.

Mature seeds have the best chance of storing well and producing the highest number of healthy, vigorous seedlings in the nursery. Make sure that the seeds picked are from properly ripened, and neither too young nor too old and overripe fruits.

Never collect unhealthy fruits. Avoid collecting seeds from fruits with a lot of insect attack or are mouldy. Be very careful about collecting fruits that have already fallen from the tree. They may be old and the seeds within may have lost viability.

Keep seeds dry and cool. The seeds may have to be transported long distances and stored for some time before planting. It is important to keep the seeds dry and cool during transport and storage, so as to keep them healthy.
Raising fruit tree seedlings

Different seeds might go under different treatment before planting, but soil preparation for nursery beds or trays is the same unless stated.

Prepare seedling beds or trays using a mixture of river sand and compost (3:1). Sow seeds and cover the seeds with a thin layer of sand and keep moist.

Observe when germination starts. When seedlings reach the two-leaf stage or 40mm height, transplant them into nursery bags or containers filled with a mixture of 20 percent soil and 80 percent compost. Keep moist.
Depending on out-planting characteristics such as availability of water, tree protection, termites, trees can be planted after they reach pencil thickness and height.

Propagation of different fruit trees
Baobab — Crush the hard woody shell of the fruit, the seeds can be extracted from the dry acidic pulp. Soak in hot water overnight. Alternatively, scarify the seeds or nip with a nail cutter to expose the nut inside and soak in cold water overnight. The seeds should have increased in size the next day, plant. Seed sown during the summer months is likely to germinate within two weeks.

Musekesa — Soak seeds in water for 24 hours and plant the next day. Germination may take up to one week.
Nyii — Put seeds into nursery beds and keep moist. In summer germination might take up to two weeks.

Cactus — They are best propagated using cuttings/pups. Cut off pups (shoots) from the parent tree at the nodes where they join. Leave the pups in a cool dry place for three days to drain excessive moisture. Plant the pups in nursery bed with river sand till they develop roots. Then move them into a pocket with a mixture of 80 percent compost and 20 percent soil. Keep most, but don’t over water as they are succulents.
Nhunguru — Scarify the seeds or nip with a nail cutter to expose the inside of the seed and soak in cold water overnight, plant in nursery trays the next day.

Tsubvu — Propagation of tsvubvu using seeds has proved to be not very successful. The tree is best propagated using the air-layering method.
Mapfura — Put seeds into nursery beds and keep moist. In summer germination might take up to four weeks.

Once your trees have reached the desired height and diameter, they will be ready to be planted at their out-planting area.

Before out-planting, you need to harden them. This is a process of reducing irrigation frequency to ensure plants adapt easily to their new out-planting area.

Note: Hardening doesn’t mean reducing the amount of water for each irrigation cycle; rather it’s to reduce the frequency. Suppose you were watering your tree nurseries four times a week, when hardening, water them twice a week, with the same amount of water.

Preparing your planting hole
Planting holes vary in size depending on available tools to dig, soil depth and availability of manure and compost. An out-planting hole can either be 30cm*30cm*30cm deep, 45cm*45cm*45cm deep, 60cm*60cm*60cm deep or 1m*1m*1m deep. It is advisable to have a big hole as it allows roots free room to grow.

Use a mixture of 80 percent manure/compost and 20 percent soil to backfill your hole. If you are using fresh animal manure, prepare the holes four weeks before planting the trees so that the manure has time to rest and release heat that might burn the roots.

Fill the hole with the compost and soil mixture, leaving a 5cm gap on top to allow for irrigation bowel. Flood the hole with water so that the mixture can settle downwards. If the compost mixture sinks, fill the hole again with more and water again. The hole is now ready for planting. The hole should be well watered a day before tree planting.

Planting the tree
Water the trees in the containers/pocket thoroughly 15 minutes before planting. Also water the planting hole.
In the middle of the hole dig a small hole deep enough as the tree was growing in its container.

Remove the tree from the pocket without disturbing the soil and the roots.
Place tree in the hole and cover with soil. Ensure you only cover the tree up to the level where soil was covering while tree was still in the pocket or container. If you cover the truck/ tree part which was outside the soil while tree was still in the pocket, the trunk may rot.

Using either your hands or feet, press the soil mixture around the container/pocket mixture.
Water at least once weekly with a minimum of five litres of water

Put a mulch of dry grass or leaves in the basin. The mulch will keep the soil wet and stop weeds from growing. Don’t let the mulch touch the trunk of the tree as it may cause the trunk to rot.


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