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How has COVID-19 affected the African Indigenous food markets with reference to Umnyi (Birds plum) in Zimbabwe?

How has COVID-19 affected the African Indigenous food markets with reference to Umnyi (Birds plum) in Zimbabwe? Image

Posted on 9 May 2020, by Makhosi Mahlangu

Umnyi being sold at Shasha market in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe

Reports show that a total of 187 countries have been affected by the coronavirus, with a death toll of 255000. Zimbabwe has recorded a total of 34 confirmed cases and 4 deaths (www.worldometers.info). Similarly to China, nations have followed the same line of action by implementing a total shutdown of a majority of activities. This step has seen a complete shutdown of all activities deemed to increase the rate of transmission of the coronavirus. There has been a complete shutdown of food markets, mass transportation systems, churches, schools, universities to mention a few.

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As food is of paramount importance to any nation, it is important to look at the impact of the virus on food supply systems with an emphasis on indigenous African fruits. As COVID-19 spreads and measures to contain it become stricter, most food supply chains will be tested and strained. One particular food chain that has been affected drastically is the informal food market sector which is responsible for the marketing and selling of indigenous African fruits in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. The informal market has been affected by COVID-19, with the closure of all informal markets including the Entumbane, Shasha and 6th Avenue Markets which are the distributing centres for most of the indigenous fruits from villages across Zimbabwe. The process of getting these fruits to the market is described chronologically below:

1. Harvesting and collection

The Bird Plum is distributed widely across Zimbabwe and mainly sourced from Gwanda, Buhera, Binga and Lupane. The “Umnyi”, as it is known in the Ndebele language is collected mainly after it drops to the ground from the tree, where it is then packed in buckets and sacks. In Lupane the Umnyi is collected from Ngondo village whilst in Binga from Manjolo and Siyatshilaba villages to mention but a few. With stringent measures implemented by the Government of Zimbabwe to ensure the reduction in the spread of the virus, the harvesting and collection of Umnyi has drastically reduced due to the current lockdown, this has seen fewer quantities of Umnyi currently being harvested in the villages.

Harvesting African fruits. Photo by Barbara Stadlmayr/ICRAF

2.Transportation of the fruit

Before one transports the fruits to the markets, there is a need for a Police pass due to the travel restrictions brought on by the coronavirus. Police stations in rural villages are often far and wide from where people reside (Simpson and Krönke, 2019). This, therefore, poses a huge hurdle for individuals who seek to market and sell their product in Bulawayo markets. The fruit is often transported to the markets using various buses vying the routes which are mostly privately owned bus companies such as Green Horse and CAG carriers. Umnyi is available right throughout the year from February to November (Mlambo, unpublished). The Umnyi is often carried in 20 liter buckets or 50 kg sacks destined for the Bulawayo markets. The filling of a 20 liter bucket is no easy feat as it requires extra personnel to bring the task to successful fruition. Faster pickers take approximately 3 hours to fill a bucket (Mpofu per. comm). This however cannot be done currently considering social distancing and the current lockdown. The Umnyi is carried on top and inside the so called ‘Chicken Buses’.

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3. Quality of Umnyi at transporation

It is of utmost importance to ensure that the Umnyi is not too dry and should reach the markets in the optimal quality as dry Umnyi is less appetizing and rather unattractive to buyers, this ultimately will affect the value of the indigenous fruit.

4. Marketing and selling of Umnyi in Bulawayo

Umnyi is sold preliminary at 3 markets at wholesale prices. The 20 liter bucket is currently being sold for RTGS$400 (Approximately US$10). This is income which affects the village directly. The money is used for the procurement of various commodities within the household. Various people have been affected by the failure to deliver the Umnyi to the markets at the following levels:


Farmer/Villager-loss of income
Transporter-loss of income
Informal street vendor-loss of income
Informal mobile vendors (Scanias)-Loss of income
Consumers-non-consumption of nutrients from the fruit


Families-loss of revenue to purchase various commodities including carbohydrate-dense foods. Local community-farmer/villager is unable to procure services/goods from other community members due to a breakdown in the product cycle.

It is noteworthy that the Government of Zimbabwe has shown commitment towards the payment of electronic cash handouts to affected informal traders. In conclusion, a global health crisis has now become an African village economic crisis.

The Zimbawean government is working to ensure all citizens are safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Simpson, N., & Krönke, M. (2019). Police in Zimbabwe: Helping hand or iron fist?.