Impact of COVID-19 on Household Incomes and Food Consumption – The Zambian Case


August 5, 2021 - Author: Mulako Kabisa, Mitelo Subakanya, Miyanda Malambo, Antony Chapoto, Mywish Maredia, and David Tschirley


The 2019 novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) has devastated health and economic systems worldwide with varying impacts across different economic sectors. Projections of its impact in early 2020 were that developing countries in the global south with historic system inefficiencies would be the worst hit, as weaknesses in their economies would be exposed by the pressure the pandemic would place on health, food and economic systems. Global evidence on the impacts of COVID-19 on economic livelihoods suggests that the most vulnerable income sources to COVID-related shocks would be temporary wage income as opposed to permanent wage income, primarily because casual work that requires day to day contact would be less due to social distancing requirements and movement restrictions (Diao and Mahrt, 2020). Also, national and household food security and nutrition would be negatively impacted, mostly through loss or reduction in household income (both formal and informal sectors) and disruption of supply chains due to movement restrictions within and across countries (Mofya-Mukuka et al., 2020; GRZb, 2020).  

In Zambia, it has been expected that food consumption would be reduced as the informal sector, which employs over 70 percent of the country’s population, would be hardest hit – particularly for those in agriculture and trade (wholesale and retail) (CUTS and UNDP, 2020). Current local evidence shows that urban households are bearing the brunt of impact compared to their rural counterparts and the sources of impact include price gouging, reduced customers, and reduced business income (Kabisa et al., 2020; Mulenga et al., 2020; Mofya-Mukuka et al., 2020). 

This brief aims to contribute to the local evidence on the impact that COVID-19 has had on incomes and food security in Zambia. This study complements nationwide-surveys documenting the impact the pandemic is having in real time on the economic livelihoods of Zambians in both rural and urban areas, and tracking food consumption changes during the course of the pandemic. This is in order to provide empirical evidence to guide government policy interventions.

This brief is organized as follows: Section 2 gives a brief overview of how the Zambian government has responded to the COVID-19 pandemic and this is followed by a summary of the data collection methods in Section 3. The survey results are discussed in Section 4 and conclusions of the findings and their policy implications are summarized in Section 5.


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