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.
〉 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.
DIGITAL INNOVATION IN A SOCIALLY-DISTANT WORLD
Smallholder farmers Iin 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.
PIVOTING TO FACE COVID-19
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).
Last Updated: 01 July 2020
DIGITIZING SMALLHOLDER AND EXTENSION OFFICER ENGAGEMENT
AgriFin has partnered with the Agricultural Transformation Agency of Ethiopia (ATA), and CropIn, to support multiple activities. This includes distribution of COVID-19 information through WhatsApp and creating mass awareness of ATA’s SMS survey on locust information to more than five million smallholders.
ATA is also in the process of training Digital Advisors (extension officers) on the use of CropIn’s AI-driven digital tools to register over 20,000 farmers, whose data will enable ATA to better understand their farmer clusters in the wheat, malt, barley and tef value chains. Owing to mobility restrictions in the country, the DAs’ data collection training strategy transformed into a digital Training of Trainers (ToT) activity. The physical training (done by the ToT graduates) was thereafter restricted to groups of four, and was done in phases, in order to minimise the trainees risks to infection.
This pivot to virtual training has resulted in reduced call center and DVA field travel costs, as well as increased relevant data flow, providing a proof of concept that can be eventually rolled out into a full training process, as well as enable real time feedback between users and faster iteration of matters raised throughout the engagement.
EXPANDING ECOSYSTEM RESEARCH ON THE IMPACTS OF COVID-19
We are committed to deliver 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 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 here.
USING A MESSAGING PLATFORM HOTLINE TO TRACK DESERT LOCUST INFESTATION
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 Turn.io. 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 expansion of insurance to 15 counties in Kenya. Since the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic, Acre have pivoted how they market to farmers, using phone-based instead of 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, early results showing high uptake and reduction in operational and logistics costs.
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 will support the gamification of key hygiene and COVID-19 behavior change messages in Nigeria’s 5 most common languages.
Leveraging existing mobile infrastructure, we aim 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 will be designed as a journey that can lead players through choices that reflect decisions that they are likely to take. The tool will allow callers to hear an explanation of what they could have done differently 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 common user choices.
DEVELOPING AND COORDINATINIG DIGITAL PUBLIC HEALTH MESSAGING THROUGH FARMER-FACING CHANNELS
We aim to reach more than 500,000 farmers with financial and informational services through Vodacom Tanzania, Arifu, Chomoka (service of CARE) and Viamo. Viamo works with Chomoka/CARE reaching women’s savings groups through its toll-free 3-2-1 IVR channel, while Arifu works with Vodacom, providing interactive SMS training to farmers registered for mobile financial services through their SMS chatbot. With ongoing analytics from these engagements, AgriFin will be able to support tailoring of services to current farmer needs.
AgriFin is also supporting Wefarm, in partnership with IDEO.org and Producers Direct to conduct a rapid iteration design and dissemination of COVID-19 awareness and prevention messaging. The aim of this project is to ensure farmers of all ages are urgently equipped with accessible and actionable guidance on how to tackle COVID-19. Content will be piloted with Wefarm and Producers Direct’s network of over 3 million smallholder farmers in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, and then make the content available to any other farmer facing organization, including other AgriFin partners mentioned above.