How Zimbabwe uses modern technology to distribute food to the vulnerable

Jacqueline Ntaka

DROUGHT, a harsh reality for many African nations, has tightened its grip on Zimbabwe. This year’s dry season has left countless rural and urban communities teetering on the brink of food insecurity. In this critical moment, the Government has a vital role to play in ensuring food reaches those who need it most.

However, traditional methods of distribution are often plagued by inefficiency. Here, modern technology emerges as a powerful tool, offering a comprehensive toolbox to streamline food distribution and effectively reach the most vulnerable populations affected by the drought.

The cornerstone of this tech-driven approach lies in accurate data. By leveraging technology, the Government can create a detailed vulnerability map of the entire country. This map would be built upon a combination of datasets, including satellite imagery that identifies areas with low vegetation cover — a potential indicator of drought’s impact on agricultural production.

Additionally, mobile apps or SMS surveys can be used to collect data on household food insecurity levels, income levels, and family size. Finally, Geographic Information Systems (GIS) play a crucial role in combining all this data to generate a vulnerability map. This map acts as a vital resource, pinpointing locations with the highest concentration of food-insecure households.

Once vulnerable populations are identified, technology can streamline the distribution process itself. Here’s where mobile money platforms like EcoCash or OneMoney come into play. By distributing food aid through these platforms, the need for physical cash handouts is eliminated.

This not only reduces the risk of theft and corruption but also promotes financial inclusion within these communities. Furthermore, electronic vouchers distributed via SMS or mobile apps can be used by beneficiaries to redeem essential food items at designated shops. This system ensures transparency and accountability throughout the distribution process.

Delivering food aid to remote areas, often geographically isolated, can be a significant challenge. Here again, technology offers promising solutions. While still in its early stages across Africa, drone delivery emerges as a potential game-changer.

Drones have the capability to swiftly transport food aid to remote areas, especially during emergencies. Additionally, equipping delivery trucks with GPS trackers allows for real-time monitoring of their location and progress. This ensures efficient route planning, minimises delivery times, and reduces the risk of diversion or theft.

Technology’s role extends beyond streamlining logistics; it can also empower communities and improve communication channels. USSD (Unstructured Supplementary Service Data), a basic mobile phone technology, allows users to access information menus without an internet connection.

Through USSD, beneficiaries can receive updates on food distribution schedules, collection points and even valuable nutritional information.

Interactive Voice Response (IVR) systems can also be established as automated phone systems to answer frequently asked questions about food aid distribution. This not only reduces the burden on call centres but also empowers communities by allowing them to access information easily.

While technology offers significant advantages, it’s important to acknowledge the challenges that come with its implementation. The digital divide, where not everyone in rural areas has access to smartphones or internet connectivity, presents a hurdle. However, solutions like USSD and community radio announcements can bridge this gap.

Moreover, for technology to function effectively in remote areas, reliable solar power sources may be needed to charge devices and power communication infrastructure. Finally, tech literacy training programmes can be implemented to ensure communities understand how to utilise these new technologies effectively.

Modern technology is not a stand-alone solution, but rather a powerful tool that can be used to augment existing food distribution programmes. By combining traditional methods with these technological solutions, the Government has the potential to create a more efficient, transparent, and equitable system for reaching vulnerable populations during this drought and beyond.

This blended approach can ensure food security for all Zimbabweans, fostering a more resilient future for the nation.
l Jacqueline Ntaka is the CEO of Mviyo Technologies, a local tech company that provides custom software development, mobile applications and data analytics solutions. She can be contacted on [email protected].

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