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Addressing the risk on Food Security in Southern Africa during the COVID-19 Pandemic

During the lockdown period of the pandemic, many communities were placed at risk of greater exclusion as a result of the restrictions on movement and limited access to communications platforms due to data requirements and costs. Civil Society Organizations across the regions rose to the increased demand for their support in spite of their own experienced challenges. In a response to the urgent need to connect communities with an aim of informing, engaging, and sharing experiences with the broader society, the Southern Africa Trust launched a series of webinars titled Society Talks which has succeeded in bringing the plight of poor communities within the Southern Africa Development Communities (SADC) region during the pandemic, to light.

One pertinent area of discussion has been on food security and how the restrictions imposed due to the COVID-19 outbreak have negatively affected particularly women and youth engaged in agriculture and informal trade. While food security was a problem prior to the pandemic, the situation has thrown a spotlight on how the discourse around the sector has been managed by the various governments across Africa, underscoring a need for urgent improvement.

While smallholder farmers add significant value to food security, operating as informal traders at a micro-level means they are often excluded from the value chain. More emphasis needs to be placed around creating inclusive spaces within these value chains to acknowledge and encourage the smallholder farmer contributions, supporting local economies. Numerous participants agreed that Africa has the capacity to produce healthy food for its people, even in times of a pandemic or natural disaster. The need for food sovereignty is obvious, along with a focus on reducing imports like rice, oil, and wheat. To solve hunger problems, there needs to be a move away from global commodity chains and re-localize food systems.

The direct impact that the pandemic has had on informal traders, mostly women, has been dire. With no market access and no cross-border trade permitted, farmers were unable to sell their product, and traders unable to get food staples in exchange for fresh produce. The knock-on effect also is the possibility of wasted growing seasons due to the lack of access to seed.

A recurring theme in the webinars is the need for sharing of knowledge and collaboration on response strategies.  As a direct result of the Society Talks, 12organisations, initiated by the Southern Africa Trust, Graça Machel Trust, Mandela Institute for Development Studies (MINDS) and the Centre on African Philanthropy and Social Investment(CAPSI), have formed a call to action, directed to SADC Secretariat, that outlines the belief that regional intergovernmental coordination and democratized engagement with community and social actors in neglected sectors is a priority. By focusing on the goal of food security in the region, equality and human rights will be strengthened, while opportunities across the food chain for rural and urban youth will be created.

To respond to the immediate socio-economic hardships caused by the pandemic, as well as building a new foundation for a sustainable and resilient recovery, the document presented to SADC has the following policy recommendations (in summary):

Strengthen the ecosystem of support for smallholder, family, and subsistence farmers

To do this, agricultural policies must support the smallholder, family and subsistence farming sector, with particular emphasis on climate resilient agro-ecology methods, while strengthening indigenous farming knowledge; expand access to land and support land redistribution programmes; offer public financial support programmes; strengthen local value chains; promote and protect the rights of rural women food producers; and crack down on exploitative and anti-competitive business practices.

Invest in the role of women in food security

Women and children must be put in the center of recovery efforts in the agricultural sector, involving them in policy dialogue and decision-making; adopt a gender-based right to food and nutrition frameworks; involve rural women in the mitigation and adaptation development strategies in relation to climate change; eliminate gender, racial and ethnicity, and class discrimination in the allocation of agricultural resources; and eliminate the discrimination, violence and harassment of women cross-border informal traders.

Involve youth in agriculture

Establish support programmes for rural youth that provide access, such as land loans, quality seeds and technical support; expand free vocational training and education in agriculture, targeting the large proportion of unemployed young people; support the development of youth farming organizations and co-operations; expand and improve internet connectivity services to rural areas to enable access to information and markets; create job funds at national levels to encourage local businesses and farming enterprises to hire and upskill young people.

Rebuild sustainable indigenous food systems

Defend seed sovereignty and rebuild sustainable indigenous food systems that eliminate the waste of natural resources; priorities the use of agro-ecology approaches; value and expand on the indigenous knowledge systems, including the teaching of this at schools; and reallocate land to sustainable farming to transition out of intensive monocropping industrial agriculture, in favor of models that are climate resilient, support biodiversity, reduce scarce water consumption and priorities local food needs.

Public financing for food security

SADC should halt the net capital outflows of gains from natural resources and urgently operationalize the Agricultural Development Fund; this fund should support smallholder, family and subsistence farmers, by establishing a dedicated food sovereignty and nutrition fund that supports the sustainable production of diverse foods; the fund should be open and accessible, with transparent monitoring and reporting frameworks; increase the overall national budget allocations to meet existing Malabo Declaration commitments.

Institutional frameworks and regional cooperation

The right to food, food security and nutrition should be recognized by SADC Member States in all national legislative frameworks, strengthening the emergency and long-term policy and programme co-ordination; a centralized multi-stakeholder food security and nutrition information system should be established; fast track the implementation of the SADC-wide universal protection floor, that guarantees access to essential healthcare and basic income security.

The time is ripe for change – a new regional strategic development plan by SADC could be the instrument to transform food systems towards models of food security that end hunger and secure citizen’s rights to development and self-determination.

“We always knew there were very vulnerable families and communities in our nations, but only with lockdowns we woke up to the need to provide for them, including distributing food, for them to survive. Without lockdowns, I don’t know whether we would have had the movement, which governments have taken to organize themselves, to dig deep and find their sources to provide for those vulnerable families, the unemployed and people living with disabilities.”

Mrs. Graça Machel – Society Talks airing 13


SADC Regional CSO Consultation on the COVID-19 Crisis


On the 2nd of April 2020, the Southern Africa Trust, together with the SADC Council of NGOs (SADC CNGO), convened a regional dialogue with civil society organisations to discuss and establish a common call for action amongst civil society actors in the SADC region in response to the COVID-19 global crisis. The dialogue provided a platform to share information, track the impact of COVID-19 on civil society institutions in the SADC region and draft common action points and commitment to effectively respond to COVID-19. About 20 regional organisations were in attendance, representing national associations of civil society, social movements, public health organisations, youth, refugees and migrants, ex-miners, small-holder farmers, rural women, women’s organisations, informal cross border traders, faith-based organisations and the private sector, among others.

List of Participating Organisations

  • ACT Alliance (Ubambano)
  • East and Southern Africa Farmers’ Federation (ESAFF)
  • Economic Justice Network (FOCISSA)
  • EQUINET – The Network on Equity in Health in Southern Africa
  • Gender Links
  • International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent (Southern Africa)
  • Rural Women’s Assembly
  • SADC Council of NGOs
  • Sonke Gender Justice
  • Southern Africa Cross Border Traders’ Association (SACBTA)
  • Southern Africa Miners’ Association (SAMA)
  • Southern Africa Peoples’ Solidarity Network (SAPSN)
  • Southern Africa Trust
  • Southern Africa Youth Forum (SAYoF)

Click here to access the call to action.


Southern Africa Trust Statement of Action

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought with it unprecedented circumstances globally that have necessitated action-based interventions and reflections on present policy stances across industries. The gradual easing of lockdown regulations within the Southern Africa region to ensure paced economic rejuvenation amidst the crisis, has created a conundrum of development. Governments have to balance the livelihood of citizens and economic functionality, a win for the private sector at the cost of the public.

The lockdown regulations implemented were not inclusive to communities of poor socioeconomic backgrounds nor to those who form part of the informal sector, migrants or small-scale farmers.

Since the start of the pandemic our primary concern has been towards women, informal and cross-border traders, small scale farmers, migrant workers and refugees, domestic workers, small businesses, and ex-mineworkers in the region. These are individuals who are typically primary economic providers for their families but are vulnerable to exposure to the virus and the economic shocks therewith. It has therefore been a critical task and goal for civil society organisations that work with these groups of individuals and entities to find amicable solutions to provide relief and financial assistance.

With the number of COVID-19 infections, deaths and lockdown measures implemented in the region, we recognise the need for consistent civil society interventions. Interventions that will be targeted at vulnerable and disenfranchised populations of our region. We stood in solidarity and made a call for action at the start of the pandemic, but we could not have anticipated the effects since then. However, many heeded the call and through engagements, bringing about many lessons about development, resulted in a point of reflection:  

  • We commend the continued resilience and adaptability of civil society organisations, communities and the SADC region thus far in their ability to grapple with theCOVID-19 reality and their attempts to adjust accordingly.
  • In times of crisis we realise that young people hold the key towards our collective ability to build a cohesive future and that future investment needs to be targeted at youth initiatives. The vibrancy of the youth civil society population has played a major role in the adaptability to the virtual reality and in finding ways to continue being efficient and influential.
  • COVID-19 amplified challenges to accessing funding for most civil organisations therefore limiting their functionality. It is therefore pivotal for organisations to shift from developing funding proposals to finding ways to generate own resources through social enterprise and to be sustainable.
  • Cross-border traders, women in particular, have not been able to access inputs in other parts of the region due to the lockdown and this has impacted their ability to provide and sustain themselves and their families. To address this, a back-up social protection system in the SADC region will need to be put in place. A social insurance system that can provide basic income for all citizens should such a crisis occur again.
  • As a result of  the pandemic, the world has moved into a technological and virtual era. However, the Southern Africa region and its civil organisations continue to experience gaps in these advancements. These gaps have been in the form of technological astuteness, load shedding, access to fibre, or simple access to the necessary gadgets for the beneficiaries.
  •  Due to all the deterrences caused by the pandemic, there has been a policy lag.  Governments have been using the crisis as an excuse to defer from implementing pending policies. The duty of the civil society is to find a balance between ensuring advocacy whilst holding governments accountable in times of crisis.

‍Our statement does not end here and the lessons learnt thus far will be translated to innovative interventions. We will remain engaged with civil society organisations and grassroots communities through our targeted initiatives, as we ensure the voices of the marginalised are included at the tables of policy decision making which affect their quality of life.

We firmly believe that in the same way the region has overcome past pandemics and injustices, we will overcome Coronavirus. The future of the region is in our hands.

From the Board and Executive Management of Southern Africa Trust


Preparing for Disasters and ensuring real recovery in SADC region

The state of disaster preparedness and climate resilience in the southern Africa region has come under the spotlight as the world commemorates the first anniversary of the Cyclones Idai and Kenneth. Exactly 1 year ago, these two natural disasters left immeasurable damage in 7 of the SADC countries, with over 2000 lives lost, hundreds of citizens left in disarray and millions of dollars’ worth of damage to homes and infrastructure.

While the aftermath of these massive cyclones resulted in an unprecedented humanitarian disaster in the region, the stark reality of the state of unpreparedness for disasters was exposed. This summoned the need for a collective and proactive approach to disaster preparation by government, rescue organisations and civil society.

In response to this, the Southern Africa Trust alongside six other organisations facilitated a dialogue which gathered citizens of affected communities in Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi, civil society representatives and local government to reflect and contribute to a solution. The fellow organisations are the Centre of African Philanthropy and Social Investment (CAPSI), Amnesty International, National Association of Non-Governmental Organisations (NANGO), Action Aid Mozambique, Southern Africa Youth Forum (SAYOF), and SADC Council of Non-Governmental Organisations (SADC-NGO).

Taking place from 2 to 4 March 2020 in Mutare, Zimbabwe, this gathering highlighted how citizens and participants have experienced existing regional Disaster Recovery Models. The report and recommendations from this dialogue will be submitted to the SADC Disaster Preparedness Technical Working Group via organisational co-members for the purposes of contributing to upcoming Disaster Preparedness Framework policy discussions within the region.


Making Cross Border Trade work for Women in Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe

Trade and agriculture are important priorities for reducing poverty and facilitating regional integration. Although solutions to address the problems of women cross border traders and farmers in the SADC region have been articulated in national and regional policies, they are not yet having significant impact. A substantial number of women play key roles in trade and agriculture in the region yet remain the most disadvantaged participants within these sectors. In an article published by The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), it was estimated that the value of trade conducted by women in the region amounts to approximately $20 billion USD annually. The SADC Food and Nutrition Security Strategy estimated that women contribute to at least 60% of total food production and provide the largest labor force within the agricultural sector. Economic policies remain gender blind, due to the lack of meaningful participation of women in policy making.   Women traders face key challenges: they are subject to gender-based discrimination, as societies remain patriarchal, with men dominating indecision-making on behalf of their families. Another issue is the distinct lack of land ownership – the land reform programme in Malawi, by example, continues to exclude women, with only 10% of land acquired through the programme allocated to women. Women rarely identify and comprehend the very policies set to govern their fields of expertise, as a result of lateral dissemination of communication that is very often not culturally contextualized. There is also a lack of initiative and political will by government and non-state actors to develop policies and create open dialogue. Limited access to finance poses further challenges Financial institutions are focused on commercial lending and low-risk entities. Women often lack surety and maintain fluctuating incomes, making loans from institutions that require regular payment difficult to obtain. The Zimbabwe Cross Border Traders Association, COMESA and SADC Secretariat provide that at least 70-80% of cross border traders are women, making a living through buying goods from neighboring countries and trading them in their region. However, high tax rates at borders – at least 90% of women cross border traders’ revenue is a contribution to government taxes – continue to reduce the potential of women operating profitable businesses. Other challenges faced by women cross border traders include corruption, sexual harassment and abuse from customs officials and inconsistent and lengthy border procedures. A study into trade at a Harare flea market showed that it is more expensive to be a female trader: toilet facilities are charged for (therefore not used by men); storage fees are high (men opt to take their goods home); and market fees, while the same for men and women, trading represents a large portion of women’s income, as they earn less than men. How the Southern Africa Trust is addressing these challenges The Trust has partnered with cross border traders’ associations and facilitated dialogue between women traders and relevant policy institutions. They have also produced culturally contextual and translated information booklets on Simplified Trade Regime and the non-tariff barrier scheme. The Trust has and will continue to organize awareness campaigns, with the participation of customs authorities, immigration, police and ministries of trade. They also plan to:
  • Provide access to capital and funding by sourcing alternative lending streams
  • Expand the customer base for women traders, offering a wider market – with an ultimate goal of supplying larger retail stores
  • Improve supportive public services, including border/custom controls, healthcare, home affairs and policing
  • Assist with general trade issues, like the current COVID-19 restrictions, which affect the livelihood of traders

Southern Africa Trust CEO announced as Aspen New Voices Fellow for 2020

The Southern Africa Trust is excited to have Chief Executive Officer Masego Madzwamuse accepted as a fellow on the ground-breaking Aspen Institute New Voices Fellowship for 2020. This is a select gathering of experts from across the landscape of developing countries who are seeking to fulfill a role as advocates and policy makers in the context of global development.

This fellowship is a one year non-resident programme which will see Masego form part of a diverse cohort of 25 development experts from 16 African, Asian and Latin American countries.  The Aspen New Voices Fellowship is supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Open Societies Foundations and was established to bring the essential perspectives of development experts from the developed world into the global development conversation. The Aspen Institute is a nonpartisan forum for values-based leadership and the exchange of ideas.

“I’m very much looking forward to the journey that lies ahead as I begin this once in a lifetime fellowship with the Aspen Institute. Having worked heavily on intersection of poverty and inequality with climate change, I am ready to strengthen my capability and capacity in advocating for social and economic justice across Southern Africa.That said, I am most excited that this supports the mandate of the Southern Africa Trust which is to represent and empower the agency of the poor in regional policy processes.”says Masego Madzwamuse.

Masego seeks to engage diverse audiences across Africa on discussions about the world’s impending environmental crisis and climate emergencies and wants to amplify the voices of those who are most affected. She is available to engage on panels, requests for comment and dialogues focused on this burning topic.

For more information on the New Voices Fellowship, please visit


Unprecedented Times: SADC Regional Integration Agenda responding to COVID-19

Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) will be adopting new measures and taking steps that will help the region to contain the spread of COVID-19 as well as pursue its regional integration agenda. The COVID-19 crisis has called for a joint response and call to action among key stakeholders including policymakers, civil society and private sector groups. This coordination will support the efforts to contain the spread of the virus, while still achieving regional aspirations in key priority areas for the region, including trade, agriculture and industrialisation.  

The Southern Africa Trust has produced the SADC Regional Integration Toolkit to provide information and knowledge that will contribute towards increasing citizens’ participation and involvement in the implementation of the region’s integration agenda. The role of civil society is both important and critical in policy processes because of its interface and proximity with citizens and communities affected by poverty and inequality.

Click here to access the Toolkit.


Official Statement on COVID19 (Coronavirus)

The rapid spread of COVID19 is an enormous cause for concern, particularly for the well-being of people who have limited access to key public services (health facilities, water and shelter) that are crucial for managing the spread of the virus.

We are highly concerned about the capacity of public health care facilities to cater to the needs of people in the event of increased infections, from testing and diagnosis right through to treatment. We call upon leaders of the 16 SADC nations to prioritize the well-being of the public & implement the necessary decisions that will better contain viral spread and minimize its impact. We commend SADC for suspending all meetings in the interest of public health and the leadership of Namibia, Botswana, Angola and South Africa on their responses to COVID19. We call on all SADC member states to implement necessary travel bans, public gathering control steps, public education and awareness campaigns and other measures required to contain its potential spread.

To our civil society partners, we ask that you continue your important work while sharing awareness of COVID19 to your respective groups. Your voices will minimize the spread of false information. We refer all our partners and beneficiaries to the World Health Organisation for all latest updates on COVID19. Now is the time to communicate true and life-saving information, especially to citizens who may not have access to internet services.

Our organisation has heeded the declaration of the state of national disaster in South Africa. As of today, 16 March 2020 all employees of the Trust will work remotely until 14 April. Thanks to technology, our work will continue – we remain online and can be contacted via email. All travel by our staff members has been cancelled & planned events will either be postponed or hosted via webinar.

It is through precaution, correct communication and caring for each other’s well-being that our region will overcome this pandemic. Southern Africa Trust stands with nations and the world by playing our part ending COVID19.

From Southern Africa Trust Executive Management


Christabel Phiri discusses how the Botswana farming sector can address SADC food security

Listen as our Mobilisation and Engagement Manager Christabel Phiri unpacks the possibilities that farmers in Botswana have available to them in addressing food access, especially in relation to the countries’ recent State of the Nation review from their minister of Agricultural Development and Food Security.

Click here to listen to the conversation.

Date – 12 December 2019
Host – Neo ‘Skillo’ Aabobe
Stadion – Gabz FM
Show – Farmers Diary