AgriFin’s COVID-19 Response

Eleanor Muli, 53, in her dried-up fields. She relies on rain-fed agriculture to support her family, a livelihood that has become increasingly fragile with the growing effects of climate change. Kenya has been battling recurring drought conditions since 2014. Since December 2019, hundreds of millions of locusts arrived in Kenya, where they continue to form swarms and destroy farmland, especially around the arid northwest.

We believe that moments of crisis can be moments of transformation, and we’re rapidly deploying strategies and partnerships to digitally address the COVID-19 pandemic and Desert Locust Invasion threats


Double Threat

East Africa is on the brink of an unprecedented Desert Locust crisis. COVID-19 response measures have hampered distribution and transportation of needed pesticides, leaving over 9 million hectares at risk of massive crop devastation. With over 2.5 million farmers already impacted, the FAO said the situation is “dangerous” as a second generation of swarms have now started to form in northwest Kenya and threaten to invade Sudan, Chad, Somalia and Ethiopia.

Incomes & Livelihoods

With the COVID-19 pandemic, the business of growing food and moving it to markets has become increasingly difficult. Slowdowns in financial markets, curfews and social distancing affecting mobility, and disrupting supply and decision-making across agricultural value chains, converge to challenge already strained systems. UNDP estimates that developing countries stand to lose $220 Billion in income, and that 50% of jobs across Africa could be lost due to the pandemic .

Food System Safety

Entire food supply systems are breaking as rural producers scramble to access resources to grow food for their communities and the greater supply chain. Farmers and other workers along the food supply chain are risking their health to prevent food shortages. Many of these workers lack access to healthcare, increasing their health risk from exposure to COVID-19. It is vital that farmers receive the right information to ensure they are working safely.


Smallholder farmers in East Africa are a crucial part of the food value chain that is currently facing two distinct crises: coronavirus and a locust invasion. However, the ongoing uptake of digital solutions is helping to strengthen resilience in the agriculture sector and ensure that fresh produce can still reach the hundreds of millions of consumers reliant on smallholders for their food.


More than ever before, smallholder farmers need access to information, financing, insurance, quality inputs, and connections to buyers in order to face the challenges confronting them. Many of our ecosystem partners themselves are facing significant business and operational risks as we weather this storm. AgriFin is committed to:

  • Support farmer education and information flows to support health, productivity and resilience outcomes
  • Support safe market systems for farmers, distributors, sellers and buyers
  • Focus on clearing logistics bottlenecks to move food working with logistics channels and hubs
  • Invest in the planting season with partners that build productivity, links to markets and reduced waste
  • Support Ag-Tech companies, especially e-commerce and e-market platforms, to expand their market reach
  • Support uses of digital data to expand service delivery and financial services.

〉 LEARN MORE: Our Joint Response to the COVID-19 & Desert Locust Crises


The AgriFin model is deliberate about adapting our programming to cope with the effects of systems-level disruptions, leveraging our network of digital partners and solutions that can collaborate and support the farmers and each other. Our work is driving innovation and collaboration across growing groups of partners to combat the joint threat of COVID-19 and Desert Locusts. Click on the tabs below for some highlights of our COVID-19 response activities in different countries. 

(Note: this list is not exhaustive of all of our COVID-19 response activities; the activities listed below are ongoing and evolving).


Digitizing Smallholder and Extension Officer Engagement

Mercy Corps AgriFin has partnered with the Agricultural Transformation Agency of Ethiopia (ATA), Center for Agriculture and Bioscience International (CABI) and CropIn to design, taste and scale multi-channel information and locust location reporting services. This includes dissemination of COVID-19 Desert Locust information through WhatsApp for Business Desert Hotline and the 8028 Farmers Hotline and WhatsApp digital tools.

AgriFin supported ATA to integrate COVID-19 related farmer-friendly content into the 8028 Farmers Hotline. AgriFin support had made critical COVID-19 information available to the 5 million farmers who have access to that 8028 Farmers Hotline. So far, the COVID-19 content has been accessed by 25,000 users. 

ATA, Mercy Corps Ethiopia and Mercy Corps AgriFin have leveraged radio and television to broadcast public service announcements (PSAs) to educate the public to identify desert locusts, understand the impact of desert locusts and deploy best practices to report and control the pests. The radio and television PSAs were broadcasted through 6 national and regional radio and television stations. So far,we have reached approximately 3.4 million smallholders via radio and another 1.6 million smallholder farmers via television. ATA has also trained digital advisors (extension officers) on how to use the 8028 Farmers Hotline and the Desert Locust WhatsApp Hotline to provide information on desert locust observations. Lastly, the ATA has disseminated a set of strategically designed IVR and SMS messages, developed by CABI to reinforce the radio and TV PSAs to 1.4 million smallholders through the 8028 Farmers Hotline.

The ATA has been working with CropIn to finalize its pilot and expand to include an additional 20 woredas (districts) in 2021. During the initial pilot, the ATA and CropIn registered 1,139 clustered farms with 57,385 farmers participating in the farmer scheme. This pilot has enabled the ATA to better understand their farmer clusters, monitor the progress throughout the farming season, and provide guidance when needed based on the information they have collected through the pilot. In 2021, the team plans to triple the number of clusters and farmers registered.


Providing Interactive Voice Response (IVR) and Gamified Content to Support Public Health Messaging 

In partnership with Viamo – Nigeria’s leading IVR channel and Airtel – one of Nigeria’s leading mobile service providers, AgriFin supported the gamification of key hygiene and COVID-19 safe farming messages in Nigeria’s 5 most common languages.

Leveraging existing mobile infrastructure, we aimed to reach over 50,000 farmers via Airtel’s 3-2-1 toll-free service line by communicating information through audio using Interactive Voice Response (IVR) technology, which allows anyone, regardless of literacy level, to access the information which is key for the rural populations. 

The mobile game was designed as a journey that can lead users through choices that reflect decisions that they are likely to take. The tool allows users to hear an explanation of alternative routes for a better outcome if they make mistakes. Further, AgriFin will be able to assess anonymized data on the participants’ journeys for a better understanding of their awareness of hygiene and safe farming in the pandemic. As of November 2020, 27,159 farmers had played the COVID-19 Safe Farming Game of which 41% are women. This promising IVR campaign is likely to reach more farmers and has more impact if monitored over a longer time.


Expanding Ecosystem Research on the Impacts of COVID-19  

We are committed to delivering ecosystem learnings that can enhance and build on AgriFin’s capabilities to support business continuity and income sustainability among smallholders, our partners, and other actors during the pandemic. We recently supported a national survey in Kenya by Ipsos-Kenya to gather feedback from agro-dealers across the country on the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on their businesses. We apply these findings in our partner engagements in order to come up with viable, farmer-centric solutions. This Agro-Dealer Case Study is the first in a series of related upcoming research projects. Learn more hereRecently, we partnered with Busara Center for Behavioral Change to assess our impact on behavioral change for digital channels during an emergency response. Read the impact report here 

Using a Messaging Platform Hotline to Track Desert Locusts

AgriFin is working with a dynamic group of partners across several initiatives dedicated to desert locust information content development, reporting and tracking in Kenya. Via a new WhatsApp line, farmer communities can easily report desert locusts in their areas and access up-to-date information. With support from the Skoll Foundation, AgriFin partnered with Penn State University and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to create the locust content, while Mediae and Shamba Shape Up are hosting the TV show and WhatsApp line, whose software was developed by Penn State is receiving all of the data reported in via the WhatsApp line and using it to inform research and provide weekly country level maps so that Kenyan farmers know the locusts’ latest locations. Shamba Shape-Up is reaching 5 million rural people with COVID-19 information in a talk show format featuring experts and bespoke video content that can also be shared through social media.

Linking Smallholders to First-Loss Crop Insurance

In collaboration with the World Bank ‘Disruptive Agricultural Technologies (DATs)’ project, AgriFin is supporting agribusinesses to grow their scale, improve their profitability and competitiveness, and address other critical business constraints. We partnered with one of the DAT cohorts, Acre Africa, to support the expansion of insurance to 15 counties in Kenya. Since the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic, Acre has pivoted how they market to farmers, using phone-based instead of the field-based acquisition of insurance clients, leveraging bulk messaging and World Bank / County data. This pivot has resulted in reduced costs, increased customer acquisition, and expanded value chain reach. Similarly, in partnership with Pula Advisors, AgriFin is piloting a seed insurance project with Kenya Seed Company in the maize value chain. The acquisition process, which was originally in-person, transitioned to mobile phone-based recruitment and training via text messaging supplemented by a call center facility, with early results showing high uptake and reduction in operational and logistics costs.

Moving Forward with Starbucks

With financial support from The Starbucks Foundation, AgriFin has engaged Producers Direct among other partners to conduct a public COVID-19 information campaign and response for tea and coffee farmers via digital channels. We aim to reach approximately 500,000 tea and coffee smallholder farmers in the next 12 months. The main objectives for this initiative are two-fold. First, to reduce the impact of COVID-19 on coffee and tea farmers in Kenya by increasing knowledge and awareness to achieve more concerted behavior change. At the same time, support sustainable production and inclusion. Second, prepare farmers for COVID-19 vaccine response by strengthening digital channels and content for disseminating critical public health information related to vaccines to tea and coffee farmers. 

The information will be disseminated among the tea and coffee farmer networks of Sireet OEP, Michimikuru and Kiegoi Co-operatives as part of Producers Direct’s FCDO-funded youth engagement project. Other partners include Fairtrade Africa, Rainforest Alliance, Taylors of Harrogate, Falcon, Waitrose and Touton. Eventually, the digitized content will be integrated and accessible via the Government of Kenya’s Open Content Agriculture Hub (supported by the World Bank, GiZ and AgriFin). 


Our COVID-19 / Locust programming has been possible thanks to the continued generous support of Mastercard Foundation and Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, together with special support from CISCO and the Skoll Foundation.