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Hello everyone. I would like to welcome you all to my blog. My name is Thelma Ilukena, an Agricultural Economist currently pursuing a Masters Degree in Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security at the National University of Ireland, Galway.

Join me on this journey as I work on my postgraduate research and share with you my experiences, and the causes that am so passionate about. These include agriculture, food security, natural resource management, climate change, environmental management, gender and other issues that affect our societies.

Feel free to share your thoughts and contribute to any topic in the comments section below.

The Covid-19 pandemic seems to have caught the world unaware and food systems have not been spared. To prepare for a similar possible crisis that might occur in the future, it is important that we build resilient food systems by developing strengths against shocks. This can be facilitated by identifying resilience attributes. One such attribute is the creation of relatively independent, self-reliant nodes such that failure of one node does not threaten the collapse of the entire food system. Food systems should also have the ability to induce widespread innovations within themselves to be considered resilient. Find out more about other important attributes of a resilient food system from the journal articles below.

It is without a doubt that there exists a gap between men and women in agriculture, starting from their access to productive resources such as land, time, access to credit and labour both at the household level and at the community level. The video below by the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) of the United Nations shows how best we can help to not only narrow the gap but also attempt to close it.

Video by the FAO on closing the gap between men and women in agriculture.

Women face various inequalities in terms of access to productive resources among other things and this makes them to be more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Find out more from this blog post by Zuali titled 'Why are we repeatedly saying that women are more vulnerable to climate change than men?'

My MSCCAFS journey at NUI Galway officially came to an end on the 28th of August, 2020 after submitting my thesis. Despite all the challenges posed by having to conduct a research remotely, it got done. All thanks to the support of the lecturers at the faculty, various stakeholders back home in Zambia, friends and family.

Being away from home in the midst of a pandemic coupled with uncertainties regarding the research was mentally draining and caused so much anxiety on my part. However, it gave me an opportunity to explore ways of managing anxiety. I started jogging to the beach every morning, this gave me a sense of achievement and helped me to feel positive about tasks that lay ahead of me for the day. The beautiful scenery and sea waves made me look forward to my next jogging session the next morning. Mother nature to the rescue. In addition, I spent every opportunity I got to watch Christmas movies (crazy right?). Anyway, who doesn't want to feel the Christmas spirit everyday especially during something as draining as a pandemic? This experience reminded me of the fact that there is always a way out of a situation, you can always find something to make you feel better.

My journey at NUI Galway has been a life changing experience. I have learnt much more than I had anticipated to have learnt, long life skills that I believe have enhanced my career prospective and lifetime friendships that I hold so dear to my heart. My group of friends/course mates formed a very important support system for me as I worked on my research during the pandemic and throughout my stay in Galway. I look forward to sharing the vast knowledge that I have acquired from NUIG with colleagues and the farmers I work with in Luanshya district as I report back for work.

Spending time with friends a day after submitting our theses

Well, it might be the end of my journey at NUI Galway but it is a beginning of a new phase of my life that I so much look forward to. I feel more confident to take up new challenges that are posed by new opportunities. My outlook on life has definitely changed and I feel so confident about what I have to offer the world. As I close the door to this phase of my life, I am very excited to open a new door to the next level of my life. The future is filled with so many uncertainties but I am so excited to face it!

Vulnerabilities of various groups in society might have changed in light of the Covid-19 pandemic. For instance, groups that might not be considered as vulnerable during other crisis or day to day challenges might be considered vulnerable to the Covid-19 crisis. Find out more from the article by The Lancet here

It is of no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic has changed a lot about the way we live and the way we perceive life. It has brought about a lot of changes even in the way our societies operate and some of these changes will be here long after the pandemic itself has ended.

It is said that 'crisis is the mother of innovation'-Unknown. In order to maintain stability despite the disruptions that a pandemic or any other shock might cause, it usually requires that people, societies and various systems readily adjust, adapt or transform their operations. For instance, if people in a given area start experiencing drought, they would have to start growing drought resistant crop varieties or start growing other types of crops which thrive with less water (something they never used to do before) if they are to not go hungry.

As I work on my thesis, looking at how COVID-19 is impacting the food system in Zambia, I have taken keen interest in how various people and entities are learning to live during this time and also what opportunities have possibly arisen from the COVID-19 crisis. One of the changes observed has been the development of delivery services especially for food and groceries which were almost none existent prior to the pandemic. The pandemic has seen one of the biggest chain stores in Zambia, Game stores begin to offer home delivery and pick up services for groceries. Customers can now place their orders by simply calling the store or sending a Whatsapp message, after which they can make the payment via EFT or mobile money.

There's also been an increase in small business enterprises that offer home delivery services for fruits and vegetables. The most notable ones being Just Fresh Farm Foods and Villi fresh. Just fresh farm foods prepares fruits and vegetable boxes and allows customers to order fresh fruits and vegetables from their website, on Facebook or by simply calling them. They also allow customers to customize their own fruit and vegetable boxes by selecting specific types from the varieties that they offer. The goods are then delivered at the door step of the customer at a fee. Villi Fresh was born during the COVID-19 pandemic and offers similar services as Just fresh farm foods.

Image courtesy of Just fresh farm foods Facebook page

The COVID-19 crisis has also given an opportunity for smallholder farmers to supply their produce to chain stores and supermarkets in Zambia that usually prefer to import certain fruits and vegetables from countries like South Africa. Lockdowns and other trade restrictions have helped to bring the realization that despite living in a world that is interconnected, it is very important for countries to develop a level of independence and self-reliance as this is a very important factor of resilience. If a country can rely on local production of certain crops to feed its people, it would be less susceptible to disruptions caused by shocks like the COVID-19.

An example of a vegetable box delivered by Just fresh farm foods. Image courtesy of Just fresh farm foods Facebook page

Developments like the aforementioned make it possible for people to continue to have access to food during the crisis, thereby ensuring food security. It is hoped that some of these innovations in Zambia will last even long after the pandemic has ended.

Waste disposal remains a very big problem in most developing countries in sub-Saharan Africa. Of major concern is the inappropriate disposal of plastic waste which will remain laying where it is disposed of for centuries to come. Plastic is not only a nuisance because it makes the environment look unpleasant to the sight but also because of the long term effects it has on the environment.

An illegal waste disposal site in Lusaka Zambia

Despite the municipal councils setting up designated places for waste disposal especially in public places like markets, there are always some individuals who will avoid disposing their waste at these designated places in order to avoid the small fee that the municipal council charges for waste handling.

A designated waste disposal site at a market in Lusaka Zambia

In most African Countries, including my home Country Zambia, sorting of waste at the household level is almost non-existent. Food waste, paper, plastic and other household waste are disposed of in the same bins. A typical household will usually have a pit dug mostly at the back of the house where all types of trash are thrown in and when it is full, the pit is covered with soil on top and a new one is dug at another position within the yard. Sometimes, when the pit is almost full, attempts can be made to burn the waste in an effort to reduce its volume in the pit. Other households after covering the pit with soil would plant some vegetables. The elite few in communities will typically pay for waste collection services where waste is picked up right from their door steps.

A backyard waste disposal pit in Lusaka Zambia

In the midst of all this waste disorder, a 67 year old woman of Kitwe (Copperbelt province of Zambia) has come up with a brilliant initiative of upscaling waste plastic bottles into bags. She collects waste plastic bottles of beverages and makes beautiful bags out of them. She is not only able to earn an income from this but is also playing a very important role in helping to save our environment. You can read more about Joyce on the following link

Joyce holding some bags and a type of waste plastic bottle that she uses to make bags (Picture courtesy of Radio Ichengelo)
Joyce out on the streets selling some of her bags (Image courtesy of Radio Ichengelo)

Although such initiatives might not receive the necessary financial support they deserve in order to make outscaling possible, they might present a turning point on how waste is handled.

Perhaps what can really be key is sensitizing people on the long term impacts of plastic on the environment. Furthermore, teaching communities on how they can convert biodegradable waste to compost or bio-gas can help them to start sorting and disposing of waste differently.

Find out more about how you can manage your waste and take part in recycling from the links below: