The Upside series n. 4: The hunger crisis

02 Jun 2020

COVID-19 is more than a global health crisis. The measures taken to slow the spread of the virus may break already-fragile food supply chains, shattering the lives and livelihoods of smallholder farmers.

COVID-19 is more than a global health crisis. The measures taken to slow the spread of the virus may break already-fragile food supply chains, shattering the lives and livelihoods of those who rely on agriculture, markets and trade for their day-to-day survival.

Lockdowns and restrictions on movement or activity may even prevent smallholder farmers in some of Africa’s poorest regions from working their land, caring for their animals, accessing markets to sell produce, and obtaining seeds and supplies. The introduction of COVID-19 preventive measures could therefore mean that most of them literally have no food on the table.

During this crisis, we need to ensure our farmers have the resources they need to plant and grow food for the year ahead,” said Anouchka Ratnayake, founder and CEO of myAgro, a non-profit social enterprise that helps small farmers in Mali and Senegal pay for agricultural inputs and training in small instalments using a simple bank-less digital payment system.

The same imperative is shared by another partner organisation, One Acre Fund, which directly serves farmers whose produce feeds around 15 million people in Eastern Africa every year. These farmers clearly can’t afford the damage of a pause, but how can One Acre Fund keep meeting them in their fields and providing the one-to-one customer service on which it prides itself? All of this is up for reinvention.

In the new reality of the global health pandemic, my Agro and One Acre Fund are both working around the clock to redesign their operations in ways that incorporate government guidance on meeting size, hand washing and social distancing, while keeping agriculture “open for business”.

They’ve turned to technology – like many of us! – and are now rapidly innovating the methods of payment and service packages available to farmers.

Building on the explosive growth in mobile phone ownership and connectivity throughout sub-Saharan Africa, they are digitalising their operations extensively, dramatically scaling up their use of SMS and USSD messaging, remote training and phone communication in general.

It’s a critical but exploratory process. In the words of a member of One Acre Fund’s Tanzania team, “we’re finding our way forward with a cool head, warm heart and clean hands”.

Check out the other articles the series The Upside :