'To prevent this disease, we have to stay at home, but if we stay at home, we die of hunger'

Livelihoods, vulnerability and coping with Covid-19 in rural Mozambique.

Article published in World Development

Date: 21 April 2022

Author: CwC team

Portuguese version / versão em português

(c) Casey Ryan

An open-access paper summarising key findings on livelihoods, vulnerability and coping with Covid-19 in rural Mozambique from the 'Livelihood impacts of coping with Coronavirus in rural Africa’ (CwC) research project has just been published in World Development. In this blog post, we summarise key findings and reflections from the paper, and the questions it raises for further research.

We have reported in previous blog posts on setting up our research project, the methodological metamorphoses required, some initial findings, and perceptions of Covid-19 intersecting with a multitude of crises.

The project was a collaboration between the Universities of Edinburgh, Eduardo Mondlane, Manchester, Sheffield and the MICAIA foundation.

In CwC, we aimed to co-create knowledge around the livelihood impacts of the Covid-19 lockdown, and the coping strategies employed in contexts of diverse vulnerabilities, building on phone interviews with diverse panels of community members. As Covid brings an additional danger of silencing and invisibilising these important voices, we strived to create spaces for these voices to be heard.

Key findings

In this article, we addressed the questions of how Covid non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) affected livelihoods in rural Mozambique, and how these impacts intersected with existing vulnerabilities and crises across different occupations, social groups and genders. Based on phone qualitative interviews (n=441) with 92 interviewees from 9 Mozambican communities (May-July 2020), we showed that non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) significantly reshaped lives and livelihoods, exacerbating existing vulnerabilities and creating new exposures.

Study districts, communities, panellists, number of study weeks, key livelihood activities and recent major hazards affecting the districts. Source: Authors.

(c) Eduardo Castro 2020

There was a paucity of external support from the state or other safety nets for our panellists. State interventions such as restricting transport, trading and distancing, only produced adverse impacts for our panellists. Stall owners had opening times and permissible sales curtailed, eliminating the specifically female livelihood of brewing traditional drinks.

Travel restrictions significantly affected diverse occupations such as transport operators, wholesale-to-retail vending, stall operators struggling to refill stock, and charcoal producers, whose train links to wholesalers and urban customers ceased altogether. For many panellists especially in the charcoal communities, this led to elevated levels of food insecurity and hunger, prompting interviewees to rely more strongly on environmental resources including forest food products.

(c) Andrew Kingman 2020

Our empirical data shows vulnerabilities being accentuated or created by Covid in ways that may require rethinking vulnerability and coping. School closures and social distancing at water collection points meant greater workloads for women, children lost out on education and girls were at risk of early marriage, while isolation of the elderly was accentuated.

Charcoal production, a rare opportunity for cash income in many parts of rural Sub-Saharan Africa, was not a highly effective coping strategy under Covid given a breakdown of transport links, reliable pricing and sales opportunities. The better-off, such as transport operators or larger-scale agricultural sellers, who would ordinarily be expected to benefit from diversification, were unable to do so given the hyper-covariate nature of Covid and NPIs leading to border closures, distancing and transport restrictions.

The only value chains which largely continued to function were those involving socially-oriented investors with civic-based priorities, including maintaining fair livelihoods for baobab collectors and honey producers. In contrast, agricultural and charcoal value chains either collapsed or saw producer prices and volumes reduced.

What has come out of the project?

We have put together a non-academic report of all findings in English and Portuguese in addition to this blog series. In addition, findings and Covid information have been shared locally through posters or radio programmes.

In terms of further research, we hope to continue engaging with the degree to which local coping strategies can be promoted or upscaled, how vulnerabilities and Covid-19 interact and intersect, and link to broader issues around environmental and other crises.

We were surprised by how central different value chains were to shaping lives and livelihoods in response to Covid NPIs, which we hope to pursue further conceptually and empirically. We are working on another paper which explores the value-chain dimension of our work more systematically. Abiding power asymmetries in value chains, and the ways they were accentuated under Covid, thus merit further research.

Thank you!

A tremendous thank you to everyone who has been involved in the project. Especially the longer questionnaires posed a significant challenge to our interviewers, and we appreciate all their time, energy and commitment in conducting a total of 441 phone interviews across nine communities.

Just as large a thank you goes to all our interviewees, who gave generously of their time to answer our questions insightfully, reflectively and patiently, and all research partners for their support, including the District Governments of Guro, Mabalane, Mabote, Mapai, Sussundenga and Tambara. Thank you also to the University of Edinburgh’s Land Team, especially Geoff Wells and Ellie Wood, for helpful comments and constructive discussion on our paper – all errors remain our own.

We are very grateful to the Scottish Funding Council’s/University of Edinburgh’s Global Challenges Research Fund allocation for funding our joint work, as well as for further support from the UK’s Foreign and Development Office and the International Development Research Centre, Ottawa, Canada – all views are our own and do not represent any other organisation.