Zambian spice traders prosper, as COVID-wary customers shell out for medicinal varieties

It has become a daily practice for 38-year-old Doreen Nyoya, a resident of Lusaka, Zambia’s capital, to buy fresh spices and make a concoction for her family in an effort to avert flu-like illnesses.

“I make sure each one of my three children takes a hot cup of ginger drink every evening before they go to sleep so as to prevent colds. It also helps to boost the immune system. I prepare and serve this every day after work,” said Nyoya, a security officer.

She went on to explain how the concoction is made and mentioned that she sometimes adds garlic and lemons to it whenever resources permit.

Reports suggest that the use of medicinal plants has increased during the COVID-19 pandemic period.

Interactions with Lusaka-based traders revealed that spices with medicinal elements sales have more than doubled during the COVID-19 period and sellers are continuously running out of stock.

Traders dealing in herbs and spices are realizing substantial returns from their merchandise in general and from ginger and cinnamon in particular, which are common ingredients for homemade remedies in urban communities of Zambia.

“I am always running out of ginger and cinnamon these days. The two herbal spices are selling like hotcakes,” said Nabange Basopo while holding the last pack of the dry ginger and dry cinnamon.

The 23-year-old Basopo who trades from Kamwala trading area in Lusaka, attributed the rise in demand for ginger and cinnamon to the herbal spices’ medicinal properties, which according to her are well documented.

She however stated that the use of medicinal plants and spices to treat suspected cases of COVID-19 should not be encouraged as proper diagnosis and treatment of the virus can only be done by health experts.

“I always implore customers not to let their guard down just because they have access to homemade remedies. One still has to continue observing social distancing, wearing facemasks as well as sanitizing or washing hands with soap and water,” Basopo said.

Naomi Kakoma, a 27-year-old trader at Lupili market in Lusaka Mandevu’s compound, also indicated that she was among those that are gaining a lot in terms of profits from the sale of ginger.

“In terms of profits, I am making three times more than I used to last year from the sale of ginger,” Kakoma said.

Like Basopo, Kakoma was also quick to point out that communities should continue to adhere to health measures aimed at preventing the further spread of COVID-19, adding that claims that homemade remedies can cure COVID-19 only delay proper diagnosis and treatment of the condition.

“I have made it a point to sell facemasks along with herbal spices. The idea is to let people know that the use of medicinal plants alone is not enough according to health experts. They also need to wear facemasks particularly when they are in public spaces,” Kakoma said.

And 24-year-old Dalitso Zulu who manages a shop that among other things sells a wide range of herbal spices at Mandevu market in Lusaka, said the increase in demand for spices presents huge opportunities for agribusiness.

“For me, the fact that the shop is constantly running out of spices like ginger, cinnamon, garlic as well as a few others that have gained popularity during this period means that there are opportunities in the growing and processing of herbs and spices in Zambia,” Zulu said.