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Experts in the agriculture and food value chains say more support is needed for local food markets during the pandemic period to ensure food security.

This comes amid the crucial role they play as centres of knowledge integration between farmers, traders and the general consumers.

Policy support has generally been skewed towards processing companies and big retailers. In their weekly review, Knowledge Transfer Africa (eMkambo) notes with concern this anomaly despite the sector’s critical role in ensuring food security.

“Since March 2020 when Covid-19 first showed up in Africa, mass food markets have continued to play their critical functions although policy support has continued to be directed to processing companies and supermarkets. In 2021, Covid-19 did not just confirm the importance of a strong immune system but has revealed the strengths of local food markets. Local food markets have continued to be centres of knowledge integration between farmers, traders and the majority of consumers,” reads part of the report.

Since March last year, Zimbabwe has implemented various levels of lockdowns. The agriculture value chain has been identified as one of the essential services provider and therefore allowed to operate during lockdown period. However, there have been challenges in the movement of produce especially by small holder producers and other players across the value chain.

“In most African countries food has been considered one of the essential services during the Covid-19 era. However, there has not been clarity on who should provide exemption letters for actors in the mass food markets,” said KTA adding that failure to pay sufficient attention to the roles and functions of mass food markets, the Government measures like lockdowns and other restrictions have constrained people’s access to nutrition.

Said KTA: “If measures can be put in place to move medications and other necessities, there must be innovative ways of moving food from farming areas to cities and dry regions where food is badly needed?

“Failure to put in place strong supply chains is a disservice to both producers and consumers.”

While the regulations are clear that agriculture and its value chains are essential service providers, there still remains confusion on the issuance of exemption letters.

A latest memo by police shows line while companies may issue letters exemption letters to employees, law enforcement officers have the final say in the movement of people.

“Law enforcement officers manning roadblocks and checkpoints should thus recognise letters issued by the respective Line Ministries provided the entities they work for are exempted by law from lockdown.

“NB, If a company or service for which an exemption letter has been issued is not exempted by law, the bearer should not be allowed to pass or operated, irrespective of who has issued that letter,” says the police.