COVID-19 Pandemic Realities and Imaginaries

By Dora Nyirenda, Research Administrator, Malawi hub

Waking up in the morning with COVID-19 pandemic you are flooded with messages from various media that hits you in the face creating confusion. The Malawi Government through it’s official pages and legal radio and TV stations talk about scientifically proven ways in-line with World Health Organisation recognised management principles of the pandemic, for example, social distancing, washing of hands frequently, wearing of masks and coughing in the elbow or handkerchiefs and if a person has signs and symptoms of the corona virus infection or exposure, one does not go to the hospital or visit a physician but call a toll-free number so that a person is assisted from where they are. These are straight forward practices to manage the COVID-19 pandemic. These are practices at individual level, at country level, measures include closure of all schools, working from home for non-essential services, working in shifts and only those providing essential servicing report for duties on a regular basis while observing personal hygiene and social distancing.

However, the social media is awash with additional information that at best brings disarray to the normal procedures. Here we see the entrance of confusion, misinformation and muddying the clear waters of the pandemic if at all the pandemic is of clear water. Messages like taking hydroxychloroquine or aspirin as medicine, boiling garlic together with lemons and drinking the juice and boiling neem leaf together with pawpaw leaf, lime orange, garlic, ginger, guava, mango leaves and lemon grass, drinking the solution three times per day, are available in various media  spoiling the broth just like too many cooks do. For example, see one of the messages below;

One incident that caught my mind happened in a public minibus in which one passenger whispered boldly that ‘just sniffing raw onion you will be cured from corona virus,’ he said this whilst holding a raw onion in his hand. Are all these messages that have been roaming around really about managing and reducing the number of deaths or increased registered cases due to COVID-19 or an addition to the mess about the pandemic?

The Malawi Communications and Regulatory Authority through the Malawi Computer Emergency Response Team warned citizens against sharing fake news about corona virus on different social media platforms, that the public is, advised to refrain from committing these acts. But does it have the tooth and capacity to intervene? Because on the ground, the messages keep on coming.

All hope is not lost. Citizens are informed to use trusted sources like Government websites for up-to-date, fact-based information about COVID-19. Radio and TV stations in Malawi are broadcasting ways of preventing the spreading of corona virus. In addition, many artists and singers have performed songs educating citizens about the virus and one of our SFA partner Art and Global Health Centre Africa’s’ (ArtGlo) Make Art for Sustainable Action Youth Squad members developed a song, and video called TipeweCorona (prevent Corona), using artistic styles they believe will appeal to their peers to share information on COVID 19. Held a dance challenge on social media for youth to share dances to the song, giving a fun, creative way to engage. More info is at https://www.artgloafrica.org/our-stories


Think Piece - Building Resilience in Africa's Food Systems

By Professor Sola Ajayi, Nigeria Hub Director and Deputy Vice-Chancellor – First-Technical University, Ibadan

The responses of many African nations to curtail the spread of the ravaging COVID-19 pandemic were largely copied from Asian and European countries without much reflection on the contextual relevance of these responses to their socio-economic and cultural realities. In the face of the prevalent weak social support systems across Africa, the imposed lockdown of entire or part of the respective countries has turned out to be  a lockout from basic needs and  life-sustaining services, notably health and food, for a majority of the citizenry whose livelihoods depend exclusively on daily scavenging and hustling activities.

On the average, it is unlikely that any sector of African economies will be impacted like the agricultural sector. More people derive their livelihood from activities that are directly or indirectly linked to the sector. Every citizen is also directly impacted in the same proportion and direction by anything that impacts the sector not only through livelihood engagements but more importantly through affordability and access to food, a basic and irreplaceable necessity.

The following are some of the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the Nigerian agricultural sector with emphasis on agro- inputs:

  1. The growth being witnessed by struggling and fragile agro-input (notably seed) businesses in West Africa has been threatened not only by the inability to move and sell existing seedstock, but also by their inability to establish seed fields in this season. This is because the businesses in turn suffer from access to Early-Generation Seeds (EGS) and from labour scarcity.
  2. The exception of farming-related personnel and goods from the general movement restrictions nonetheless,
    • Farmers’ access to high quality and yield-enhancing inputs such as seeds, fertilizers, herbicides, etc. have been limited. All actors in the value-chain; farmers, seedsmen, agro-dealers, seed production companies, have been affected by the lockdown and this has been exacerbated by the exploitative indiscretion of security personnel enforcing the orders.
    • Aggregators that serve as off takers and connect smallholder holder farmers to markets have been scared from freely moving thereby leading to massive loss of perishable produce, notably fruits and vegetables that are the primary sources of vitamins and minerals. This has led to a drastic shrinking of the meagre incomes’ farmers earn from their production activities.
    • Itinerant/seasonal migrant labourers who either farm large areas of leased lands through pooled efforts and/or who provide substantial labour services to other farmers have been locked down in their respective home states owing to the ban on inter-state travels and territorial protection by the lower arms of government.
  3. Food prices have soared as a result of shrinking supplies to markets on the one hand and illegal toll collections at the several security checkpoints set up to ensure compliance with the lockdown orders.

The stretch of the pandemic to this year’s planting season (May-June) and the lack of access to high quality seeds of improved and adapted varieties for crop establishment will lead to reduced harvest and limited agro-industrial raw materials at the end of the season, and invariably to food insecurity within national and regional boundaries.

Arising from the foregoing, the need to support smallholder farmers and agri-businesses, is imperative and compelling. The following are some policy options that may be directed towards mitigating the enumerated impacts:

  1. Just as it has been declared for the health sector and its workers, there should be a protectionist proclamation by which the agro-input sector and agrarian communities in particular will be granted a special exemption status for as long as the pandemic lasts.
  2. In view of the weight of the pandemic on governments, their agencies and available resources, interventions in the agricultural sector should be handled by an Emergency Action Committee comprising public and private sector members but largely driven by the private sector.
  3. Public and private organizations responsible for the production and distribution of EGS should be mobilized and well-resourced to guarantee adequate production. Notably, Universities with Faculties of Agriculture have unutilized capacities that could be harnessed.
  4. As part of emergency response to the pandemic and as palliative to resource-limited farmers, it is imperative for Governments to provide seed subsidy to farmers by buying off existing stocks of improved seeds from accredited and registered companies and distributing them directly to farmers for the current planting season. This should be for at least two years to allow seed businesses recover and stabilize. There are existing structures through which this could also be scaled up as a regional or continental intervention.
  5. Similarly, the distribution of other agro-inputs should be handled centrally in order to eliminate delays that will inevitably arise from logistic challenges that have been exacerbated by the pandemic and the accompanying restrictions on movements.
  6. Central collection or aggregation points for farm produce should be established very close to agrarian communities and, where possible, in-situ value-addition of perishable farm produce should be developed in partnership with private sector at such aggregation points.

** Think piece presented by Prof Ajayi during the e-Policy seminar on Building Resilience in Food Systems and Agriculture Value Chain: Agricultural Policy Responses to COVID-19 Pandemic in Africa held by the African Development Institute (ADI).


No one is safe until everyone is safe

By Dalton Otim, Research Administrator of the Ugandan hub

 

It’s approximate 5 months now, almost all the countries in the world have focused their attention on the fight against Covid-19 disease caused by Coronavirus. In Africa, particularly in Uganda, its now approximately 3 months since the socio political and economic situation started to be destabilized and affected due to a series of lockdown instituted in phases.

Immediately the first positive patient with Covid-19 was tested, the government swung into action by curtailing personal movements and social gatherings. This was supplemented by a nationwide curfew where people were ordered not to make any movement past 2:00 pm during the lockdown. It is this that made life hard for majority of Ugandans especially those that live in urban areas.

Economically, all businesses not dealing in food stuffs and medicines were ordered to close with immediate effect. All private vehicles were not allowed on the road save for those from institutions which had to be cleared by the minister of transport. It was only big trucks carrying goods from and too neighbouring countries of Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo that were allowed to move freely.  Actually, the truck drivers have turned out to be the big challenge that the country has come to struggle with as they are the ones that are testing positive in most testing centres.

Campaigns on encouraging citizens to keep social distance, thorough hand washing and use of face coverings were run everywhere on radios and televisions. The security forces were deployed everywhere to effect the lockdown and indeed many people who tried to do the contrary were beaten, arrested and jailed.

Lessons learnt by the Ugandan hub members from the lockdown

  1. The government measures put in place to limit the spread of the virus have been largely effective as the country has got no any fatality as of 15th May 2020.
  2. Decentralization of policies can work if given support from the centre. In every district, a task force was created, facilitated and given full authority to make sure that all the new people that come in are tested. This has increased community vigilance. How we wish this is extended to other social challenges facing the communities and households.
  3. Many urban dwellers are not food secure not because there is no food supplies but due to lack of purchasing power to access the food. This is a big crisis that all concerned individuals need to interest themselves in. As someone said “No one is safe until everyone is safe”. So as researchers  and community practitioners we need to initiate and engage in projects that will improve people’s ability to withstand such calamities in the area of food security.
  4. Uganda having gone through previous epidemics such as Ebola and others, it prepared it to quickly respond to Covid-19 as well. Click here for details.

Dr Alex Okot, is in Lira during the lockdown and shares some issues this situation brought for the communities the hub works with in Alebtong district.


The Twin COVID-CLIMATE Crisis

By Deepa Pullanikkatil, SFA Co-Director and Chair of Tourism and Economic Recovery Team – Unlocking Climate Finance for COVID response (Eswatini)

Adversity is the mother of progress” Mahatma Gandhi

Our world is facing extreme adversity in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, with severe effects on economies and human wellbeing. Globally, Governments are busy setting up stimulus packages and recovery plans to get the economy back on a growth trajectory post COVID. COVID-19 and economic recovery dominates the global news today. But just a few months ago, the news reports were about Australia being on fire, near record melting of ice in the Arctic, millions of school children striking on the streets and about the extinction rebellion movement gaining momentum. The United Nations has declared that this is the decade of climate action to have a 50% chance to preventing catastrophic climate change by keeping emissions below 1.5degC below pre-industrial levels. Just a few months ago we realized that “our house is on fire”, and 28 countries declared a climate emergency. But today, amidst the attention given to the COVID emergency, the climate emergency seems to have faded away. Today, our priority is to save lives and bring the economy back to life. We will overcome the COVID-19 crisis eventually, but will we overcome the climate crisis?

The political moment is now, for taking the right actions for a green recovery path. COVID could be a catalyst for greening the world and thereby averting the climate crisis. Instead of unsustainable industrial expansion, we need to include into recovery plans, environment friendly growth, creation of green jobs and actions to take us on low emissions pathways. This could include greening of investments in critical public sector areas, expanding clean energy, moving away from fossil fuels and polluting practices, encouraging transportation that is less polluting and building sustainable infrastructure. Already some countries have started expanding infrastructure for cyclists, companies have announced more work-from-home options for workers and industries such as the Royal Dutch Shell said they would aim to reduce their emissions to net-zero by 2050.

During the lockdowns we have experienced what it would be like for the world when greenhouse gas emissions drop from reduced industrial activity and reduced traffic with humans under lockdown. Beautiful blue skies, clean air and thriving wildlife were some of the signs of a healing earth that we have seen during the lockdowns. There could be a double win coming out of this twin crisis. Governments can help their economies recover, at the same time help solve the climate crisis and achieve their climate commitments faster.

This is the time to transform our thinking.  This adversity can be turned into an opportunity.


Webinar- Ecosystem Based Disaster Risk Reduction

By Dora Nyirenda, Malawi Hub Research Administrator

The hub was privileged to engage in a Webinar led by Dr Deepa Pullanikkatil on Ecosystem-Based Disaster Risk Reduction at the end of April, 2020. The aim of the webinar was to educate and inform members about ecosystems and how protecting them have disaster risk reduction benefits.

Ecosystem services are nature benefits to human beings and they can be divided into in four categories: Provisioning (physical material products), Regulating (services provided by nature that regulate our environment), Cultural (non-material benefits people obtain from ecosystems) and Supporting (services that are necessary for the production of all other ecosystem services). She exposed how ecosystem services are threatened by disasters arising naturally or as a result of poor management of ecosystems. Dr Pullanikkatil explained how the terms associated with such issues, i.e. hazards, vulnerability, risk and resilience are interconnected. For instance to understand the risks associated with poor ecosystem management, we have to look at the exposure to hazards and the consequent vulnerability of ecosystems. Then to identify the recovery process when facing threats to ecosystem services, we relate to the resilience of the ecosystems.

Dr Pullanikkatil highlighted the importance of ecosystem management and risk reduction. The latter can, for instance, involve disaster preparedness which is when communities are warned before a disaster strikes and therefore can implement mitigation actions. This can be done through media and other modes of communication. When disasters strike, a country has to provide emergency relief and work towards post disaster recovery or reconstruction – which is called disaster management. This rebuilding requires much more resources than implementing risk reduction initiatives.

Sometimes local disasters can be prevented by taking care of our ecosystems as they provide disaster risk reduction services. For example wetlands, or trees and shrubs on a sloped ground, are acting as protective barriers against floods. Wetlands also act as a natural way of purifying waste water.

Dr Pullannikkatil gave some examples of ecosystem-based disaster risk reduction activities including but not limited to: 1) rehabilitating eroded areas through nature-based interventions (grazing land management and tree planting in gullies); 2) promoting ecosystem management practices like integrated water resource management for improving river stability, water provisioning and flood and drought risk reduction.

After the Webinar, the Malawi hub better understood the importance of preserving ecosystem services as they provide free services by protecting land, animals, communities and infrastructures from natural disasters.

Let’s all protect our river banks, wetlands and manage our forests as healthy ecosystems!

If you would like to engage in such a Webinar, please contact us!


Exhibition Video - Future Experiences

By Prof Nicol Keith, Institute of Cancer Sciences

The Future Experiences: Sustainable Development & The Global South project is a joint venture with the Innovation School at Glasgow School of Art (GSA) and the UofG Sustainable Futures in Africa (SFA) Network.

This has been led and coordinated by Mia Perry at UofG along with Kirsty Ross at GSA. It’s a final year honours project for the Design students at GSA.

This project asks the students to consider what happens in this global landscape ten years from now where Sustainable Development has evolved to the extent that new forms of work and communities of practice transform how people engage, learn and interact with each other, with stakeholders and with the global community around them.

Topics addressed are health, energy, mobility, economies, societal structures and the environment.

The project takes a human-centered approach, rather than simply a user-centered perspective, to exploring the topic in partnership between the GSA & SFA. This brief offers the opportunity to explore the underlying complexities regarding sustainable futures, the post-colonial dynamic between ‘norths’ and ‘souths’, post-capitalism and human agency, to envision a future world context, develop it as an experiential exhibit, and produce the designed products, services and experiences for the people who might live and work within it.

The project is collaborative in nature, requiring the students to work, learn and interact with experts from for academia, civic and government organisations and NGOs from across the SFA community.

This project is still ongoing but this short video captures the essence of the project and the work-in-progress exhibition.  The exhibition also features a second future-focused project from the final year Master of European Design (MEDes) students. The Collaborative Futures project partnered Glasgow School of Art with Glasgow City Council to explore how data could shape the experiences of Glasgow’s citizens in 2030 and envisage what a well governed city might look like moving forwards.

Together, the two projects span the local to the global; exploring themes ranging from sustainable citizenship, to community participation and the value of collaborative creativity in defining how people might live and work together in the near future.


Lockdown - week 8

By Dr Brian Barrett, Scottish Hub Director

We are in the thick of it now. With almost a third of the global population under some form of lockdown, our behaviours and lives have unexpectedly been forced to change. A return to the pre Covid-19 conditions, which many of us expected or possibly hoped for in the early stages of inconvenience, appears more fanciful by the day.

While the pandemic has brought about a heightened sense of unity and the reassurance that ‘we are all in this together’, this doesn’t represent the reality for everyone. Covid-19 does not discriminate based on class or nationality, but it does disproportionately affect older demographics and black and ethnic minority (BAME) groups. As the most developed and richest nations with the most sophisticated healthcare and welfare systems in the world are struggling to cope, how poorer nations will fare is almost unthinkable. It is those that are less well-off and the least developed nations that will likely suffer the most from the virus. The gendered impacts of virus interventions are demonstrating that they could actually be more harmful to women than the virus, with countries around the world reporting sharp increases in the number of women suffering from physical and mental abuse in the home by their aggressors.

All of us are anxious for the future, for the health of our loved ones, our environment, and our livelihoods. We are at a critical juncture, and with our collective expertise and experiences in the SFA Network, from local to regional, we are in a privileged position to lead and shape where we go from here. We have been afforded time to reflect and confront the inconvenient realities of our current pathways and indeed the behaviours that led us here. Our health is intimately linked to the health of our environment, our wildlife and our livestock. Collectively, we can push for a sustainable recovery where we treat one another and the planet in the way that we know we should, to secure a symbiotic socio-ecological functioning now and for the future. Encouragingly, the green shoots of an equitable and sustainable recovery are emerging across nations. Past behavioural norms are being disrupted and need to be made irreparable.


Embracing the new normal

By Professor Oitshepile MmaB Modise, Director of the SFA Botswana Hub

Covid-19’s greatest lesson is that it has taught us that we are all one, humanity interdependent by all means practical. We are more aware of common things that bind us together irrespective of our nationalities. We feel for each other, care for each other and wish all good life. This togetherness can be likened though at a macro level to SFA family, an international network of researchers, practitioners and communities of practice which has brought together people from different educational and geographic regions. Though to a greater extent virtual, Covid-19 has propelled the need to think together, think of each other and has driven concerted international commitment to seek solutions to combat the disease. Countries of the world have realised more than ever before that they need each other to win the war against this disease.

The network did not suffer adverse effects because sooner than later, members came to the party and acclimatised to the new normal in an encouraging manner. SFA Botswana Hub has been equally affected by corona and its offshoots like lockdown. However, with members’ determination to keep together, we quickly established a WhatsApp group for ease of communication in addition to our usual e-mail. By the first week of lockdown, it was apparent that there was fear, uncertainty and a feeling of loneliness and sharing our experiences eased these emotions. All could not help but feel the pressure of Covid-19, we talked about it, shared our fears and supported each other. We sooner realised that work has to continue under our new normal. The team continued the normal business such as looking for grant applications and other opportunities for growth coming along with this pandemic. Creating time for work at home with family members around became a source of support and where necessary flexibility was exercised on work-hours based on home circumstances.

Our ‘new normal’, (referring to emerging and new ways of adapting to life forced on us by the Corona Virus) is working away from official premises using internet, for example, communicating to each other online and through phone calls. Practical steps to create a new normal such as ensuring internet connectivity and securing devices that will facilitate our work were taken. This proved to work for the Hub as we continued to share information and communicate with our administrator and the larger network. The current circumstances also enabled us to think outside the box. We became aware of the fact that some areas of Botswana are not benefiting from the government information dissemination channels like television, newspaper and some cannot even afford to buy a radio. These people get very little or no reliable information about Covid-19. The Hub then thought it would be prudent to initiate the process of securing support for community lifelong learning radios as crisis tools for disseminating and providing education during a time of crisis as well instil lifelong learning principles especially on issues that affect communities. We were able to successfully create a new relationships with colleagues in the Health Sciences and Engineering departments of the University of Botswana. This was meant to facilitate successful implementation of the Rapid Response to Covid 19 project recently submitted to the SFC-GCRF internal scheme at the University of Glasgow. Unfortunately, this application was not successful. Nevertheless, these new connections for the Hub was a great step because the two departments have expressed interest in working with us in the future. We also saw our team members exercise their creative capacity in sharing the Covid-19 message with the Network through art. Finally, while home online connectivity can be a challenge, access has made coping better. We experienced a model of coordinating activities that ensured resilience in the Network.


A drive to remember: ECOaction at work in the Covid-19 lockdown

By Reagan Kandole, Mia Perry, Vanessa Duclos, Raihana Ferdous and Deepa Pullanikkatil

The Covid 19 pandemic continues to expose the most vulnerable people in Uganda’s communities. As the country transitioned towards a total lockdown, banning public transport, strict regulations on the labor force and only essential services — monitored by the health and security sector — the progress and gains made by community initiatives like ECOaction have been threatened. ECOaction is a non profit organisation that creates income and livelihood opportunities for the most marginalised urban youth and women through innovations in waste management. ECOaction is located in Banda, an unplanned settlement of Kampala City, Uganda. The organisation works with the most vulnerable groups of plastic collectors, mainly elderly women and young adults, and provides them with alternative markets for recycled products. ECOaction also builds the capacity of its beneficiaries around waste management and environmental conservation. One of the main challenges in our community right now is that they are not able to sell any of the plastics they collect to the recycling companies during the lockdown, which means they have no money to pay for food to feed their families.

For most of the women we support, the main source of income is collecting plastics and if they cannot move around to collect and sell these bottles, then they are not able to feed their families. Even with the government’s attempts to distribute food to the most vulnerable, not everyone will be able to access that support and there is an urgent need for more basic supplies to be distributed. Otherwise, there is a risk that many people will die of starvation, malaria, stress and many other diseases”. Reagan Kandole, Executive Director of ECOaction.

The photo story below depicts the journey that ECOaction’s team took, despite public transport bans and distancing policies, to reach out to this community