COVID-19 is creating challenges for our day-to-day project implementation plans, in particular, how we work with farmers. Digital Green established task forces in its India and Ethiopia country offices to explore how we can adapt our approaches and leverage technologies to communicate vital information amidst social distancing and lockdowns and to support smallholder farmers in coping with the economic impacts of COVID-19.

The task forces shared the following innovations they are implementing to support farmers under the unprecedented challenges of this pandemic.

 

Surveys to understand farmer needs

Digital Green is collaborating with its government partners in India to gather ground-level data via phone and WhatsApp surveys. The goal is to survey 800 farmers (200 each in AP, Bihar, Jharkhand, and Odisha) and provide government agencies with information to help them to proactively respond and prevent agricultural shocks and food security issues. Key questions in the survey include the challenges around the completion of the Rabi crop harvest, crops and acreage planned for Kharif crops, and inputs needed for the Kharif season.

Similarly, in Ethiopia, Digital Green conducted rapid phone and interactive voice response (IVR) surveys to gather data on agriculture and health/nutrition-related needs. In collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture Extension Directorate and Agricultural Transformation Agency, the collected data will be used by government partners to target extension advisories, as well as inform policies and decisions to modify agricultural programs.

Results from the survey in Ethiopia, which reached 200 farmers in four regions, identified the following challenges: (1) While farmers are aware of COVID-19, there is a need to reinforce messaging about preventive measures such as social distancing. (2) Limited transport services, market closures, and travel restrictions are disturbing market access. (3) Farmers are concerned about their ability to access quality inputs and receive services from unions/cooperatives. (4) Farmers expect planting delays due to lack of inputs and a shortage of labor. (5) Locust swarms are destroying harvests and imperiling the upcoming planting season. (6) Farmers are concerned about limited opportunities to work together, support each other, share experiences, and learn from videos.

 

Integrating digital channels of content delivery

The survey in Ethiopia conducted by Digital Green revealed that 88% of respondents listen to agriculture programs on the radio and identified it as the most accessible information channel, followed by phone audio messages (51%) and text messages (37%). Only 9% of respondents have both a smartphone and access to the internet and use mobile apps. Based on these findings, Digital Green is prioritizing radio, IVR and SMS as communication channels that do not require in-person presence for sharing information. Potential content delivery includes information about traders/buyers via IVR on a regular schedule, digitally linking farmers with potential buyers in collaboration with local government, providing digital extension information (agronomic and livestock handling practices), and early warning information regarding weather, disease and pest outbreaks.

 

Supporting market linkages

In India, Digital Green launched a directory to help buyers discover local smallholder farmers with available produce. This responds to concerns from farmers near Bangalore, whose crops were going to waste on the farm given that the traditional markets (mandis) were disrupted by the lockdown. This directory helps create market linkages, prevent crop loss, support food security, and ensure farmers are still able to sell their crops.

Also in India, Digital Green is evaluating ideas for new products and services that build on our existing solutions and helps smallholder farmers increase income and realize operational excellence in a commercially viable, scalable manner. We are exploring themes like marketplaces, traceability of produce, and agronomic advisory services.

 

Direct support to partners

As noted above, the surveys are not only providing valuable information on farmers’ needs and how to best address those, but the results are shared with government partners in order to support their efforts to address the impacts of COVID-19 on agriculture.

Our government partners are requesting support to ramp up their digital responses for example (1) provision of remote/virtual training on new technologies and practices; (2) co-funding for radio, poster production, microphones and fuel and other means to broadcast public health messages in villages, as well as personal protective equipment for extension staff and laborers; and (3) financial support to cover content production and broadcast costs to reach farmers with agricultural messaging using regional radio.

 

How are you and your organization supporting and reaching farmers during this pandemic? If you see opportunities to collaborate with Digital Green, please reach out to us too! Share your ideas and feedback at covid19@digitalgreen.org 

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