Zimbabweans abroad switch to food delivery apps to help family at home | Global development

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    With the click of a button and a few phone calls from Wolverhampton, in England’s West Midlands, Sharonrose Manhiri ensures her grandmother in Zimbabwe’s Honde valley receives her groceries every month.

    Manhiri is one of an increasing number of Zimbabweans who have settled overseas taking advantage of a range of food-delivery apps and websites that have sprung up in Zimbabwe to help their families survive the country’s deep economic crisis.

    Each month, from her home in the UK, Manhiri orders her 85-year-old grandmother, Victoria Samanga, supplies from a Zimbabwean online delivery company, Fresh in A Box. She then contacts a “runner” to collect the order from the city of Mutare, in eastern Zimbabwe, and take it the 80 miles (130km) to her grandmother’s home in the remote Honde valley.

    Although it can be complicated, “it is always worth it”, she says.

    “It is a big part of staying in touch with my roots, staying connected to who I am. It’s more than just sending groceries or money,” says Manhiri, 30. “It is how I stay connected to the most important person back home, which is my grandmother.

    “It is just for her to know that even though I’m far away, I am thinking about her upkeep and wellbeing.” It is a sentiment that became particularly important when Covid-19 stopped trips home.

    Zimbabwe’s diaspora – 3 million of whom live in neighbouring South Africa – has for years been instrumental in keeping the economy afloat and keeping people from going hungry, often sending money through money-transfer agencies such as Mukuru, WorldRemit and Western Union. The central bank reported diaspora remittances totalled $1.4bn (£1.06bn) last year, up from $1bn in 2020, defying expectations that the amount might drop during the pandemic.

    But more people are opting to send groceries directly now, rather than money, because it is cheaper. Cooking oil, for example, costs $3.50 to send to someone in Zimbabwe and paid for from South Africa, while it costs $4.50 to buy in Zimbabwe. And money-transfer agencies such as Senditoo are diversifying into grocery deliveries to meet the demand.

    Gamuchirai Mutume, 36, who lives in California, US, finds online grocery shopping more efficient.

    “I normally go online, order groceries and pay. The shoppers are so professional. If I order in the morning, by afternoon they would have been delivered. It is a very good and efficient process” she says. “I can take care of my family back home with ease.”

    Her aunt, Juliet Mbofana, who lives in Norton, about 25 miles from Harare, says: “I always look forward to receiving groceries from my niece. They always deliver at home, and this has been of great help during Covid-19.”

    Taking advantage of this rise in online deliveries, Simbisa Brands, which operates fast-food restaurants across Africa, has developed a platform called InnBucks, which allows Zimbabweans around the world to buy lunch or dinner for their families back home.

    For Aldrin Maimba, 36, a Zimbabwean living in Canada, buying his mother pizza every week keeps him connected to home and family. She orders, he pays directly from Toronto, and the pizza is delivered.

    “I miss my mother and I know she still loves her Hawaiian pizza,” says Maimba. “So, I use this app to buy pizza and other goodies for delivery at our home. It is very efficient. I just want to keep her happy since she stays alone at home.”

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