MiFOOD Paper No. 9: Emerging Digital Technologies and Cross-Border Food Remittances of Zimbabwean Migrants in Cape Town, South Africa, During the Early COVID-19 Pandemic

This paper examines the emerging unexplored synergies between digital-mobile technologies and cross-border food remittances in Southern Africa. Cell phones and apps or applications for smart mobile devices offer migrants new formal ways of sending food remittances. With large volumes of cash and non-cash items flowing through it, the South Africa-Zimbabwe remittance corridor is a priority market for these new fintech companies. However, recent discussions on digital remittances have focused largely on cash transfers. Similarly, limited attention has been paid to food remittances in the broad discussion on remittances, even though cross-border food transfers are crucial for food and nutrition security in Sub-Saharan Africa. Our paper aims to stimulate further discussion on the under-assessed links between digital-mobile technologies and food remittances using our case study. We draw on the findings of a questionnaire-based survey and in-depth interviews in 2020 with Zimbabwean migrants residing in Cape Town, South Africa. Most of our participants regularly remit food to their families and sending households in Zimbabwe, which has long faced a domestic ‘food crisis’. Our research highlights a marked shift in food remitting away from popular informal channels and the increased use of digital and mobile food transfers during the initial wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sean Sithole, Daniel Tevera and Mulugeta F. Dinbabo

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