How Guelph woman helps tackle pandemic food insecurity in Zimbabwe

U.N. assistance launched earlier last year to help support people during pandemic

U.N. assistance launched earlier last year to help support people during pandemic

Elizabeth VanVeen moved to Zimbabwe after accepting a job in 2019. (Photo provided by Elizabeth VanVeen)

Elizabeth VanVeen is raising awareness about the current hunger crisis situation in Zimbabwe and how it’s worsening with the COVID-19 pandemic

The Guelph woman moved to the country in 2019 after accepting a job as a program policy officer with the UN World Food Program, an organization that recently won a Nobel Prize for its humanitarian work.

She said the pandemic has impacted the country in many ways, including its farming industry.

“It hit here around March and April [2020], that’s when harvest typically is. So, when it hit, we went under a mandatory curfew. And in that instance, lots of people lost potential income because they couldn’t go to work. Maybe they worked in an informal sector. It took longer for food commodities to reach markets. So COVID also impacted the production of 2020,” she said in an interview of CBC Kitchener-Waterloo’s The Morning Edition.

“They were able to grow food just not as much, and it couldn’t get there as quickly, but mostly we were also heavily impacted by a severe drought,” she said.

She said the program she helps support, the lean season assistance program, usually launches in the period between harvest to help people stay afloat until the next harvest. The pandemic situation forced the program to launch earlier last year, when it was projected that 5.5 million people in Zimbabwe would be food insecure, said VanVeen. She said the program reached about 3.9 million people in the country.

VanVeen said she’s worked in roles that had some sort of connection to food her whole life.

“Giving food is a language that’s immediately understood and everyone appreciates a good meal and food is essential to sustaining a healthy life. So for me, the connection between food and work and a healthy life and caring for your neighbour all kind of joins together,” she said.

She said she’s thankful that her home country, Canada, “cares not only about food insecurity in its own country, but also … in other countries.”

She said, last year, Canada was the World Food Program’s fifth largest donor.

People stand at the Manjerajera Nutrition Garden in the Mount Darwin District, Mashonaland Central province in Zimbabwe on Dec. 3, 2019. The garden was created with support from the United Nations World Food Programme in partnership with the Government of Zimbabwe and World Vision to sustainably address food insecurity for rural, vulnerable households in the area. At the garden they grow butternut, orange maize and okra. If there is a surplus, participants are able to sell it at local markets and use the proceeds to send their kids to school. (WFP/Matteo Cosorich)

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