Response to COVID-19

At a time when movement of people, goods and services are restricted, digital extension is more important than ever

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the physical limitations imposed by social distancing protocols, have severely limited and – in many instances – entirely halted traditional in-person extension services. Yet farmers remain hungry for information capable of empowering them to improve their incomes and sustain livelihoods. Precision Agriculture for Development’s digital services bypass the need for in-person information provision, offering a two-way, low cost and impactful service at scale that empowers farmers despite the impacts of the pandemic.

As part of the Uganda Coffee Agronomy Training (UCAT) program, PAD is providing a Q&A service to coffee farmers via our Interactive Voice Response (IVR) platform. IVR allows for a two-way relay of information: each farmer has the opportunity to record questions that are answered by an agronomist, recorded in audio, and pushed back to the farmer via mobile phone call. 

Below is a message left by one of our farmers on PAD’s UCAT service:

My name is John Akello*, I come from Rwampara. I want to ask about manure. The cooperative gave us manure, but before training us on how to apply it, COVID-19 or coronavirus disease broke out, so we didn’t learn how to use it. 

I have the manure, but I don’t know how to correctly apply it in my crops and coffee. I want you to teach me how to use it. How should I apply it? Is it yet time to apply it, is it past time to apply, or is it still not yet time to apply it? 

Thank you for your advice, we appreciate it. I want to thank PAD for your service.

In turn, our agronomist provided the farmer with the following advice:

Only apply manure when the soil is moist, or else nutrient losses can occur. Since we have had relatively good rainfall, it is a good time to manure. 

OR else if you feel the soil is not moist enough, wait and apply at the start of the long rainy season between September and November. If kept, cover the manure or keep it under shade to prevent loss of nutrients. Also ensure that your manure is dry before applying and not fresh, otherwise it will burn the coffee plant.

To apply manure, dig to a depth of three to four inches in a ring around the base of the coffee plant, two feet away from the stem. Apply one ten liter basin of manure to each coffee tree in the dug area to avoid direct contact and prevent damage to the coffee tree. Mix the manure with soil to avoid losses. Only apply manure when soil is moist or else nutrient losses can occur.

* The farmer’s name has been changed to ensure privacy. Transcript edited for clarity.

As the example above illustrates, disruptions to the global and local movement of people and the functioning of supply chains associated with COVID-19 and social distancing protocols, are exacerbating the challenges that smallholder farmers already confront arising from informational gaps, financial hardship, and market failures. 

We are gathering data on how COVID-19 is affecting farmers to inform policy-makers and program design –

A lack of systematic and reliable data on the evolving needs of smallholder communities acts as a significant constraint for policymakers in mounting an effective and targeted response to the crisis. 

To address this information deficit, and to inform ongoing program design and content development, PAD is conducting a multi-country phone survey to understand how the pandemic is affecting agricultural production, food security and behaviour. In addition, we will collect data from agro-dealers in a subset of countries to monitor the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak on agricultural supply chains. Data and findings will be published on our website, contingent on obtaining the necessary approvals. 

Specific research focus areas include:

  1. Current conditions in agricultural markets and the extent of disruptions experienced by farmers and agro-dealers, including changes in market access, prices, and goods availability;
  2. Farmers’ food security and changes in food availability; 
  3. The availability of information about coronavirus and related public health advice, as well as farmers’ responses to that information; and
  4. The impact of COVID-19 on in-person extension systems (in Pakistan only).

Current Data Collection Activities:

PAD is currently conducting survey operations in India (three sub-national states), Pakistan, and Kenya. We plan to conduct panel data collection in selected locations and anticipate that data collection activities will span the period April 2020 – October 2020, and that additional countries and/or sub-national entities will be added following the fulfillment of review procedures and the commitment of funding. 

Sampling targets: 

  • 1,000 farmers per week in India; 
  • 1,000 crop farmers, 100 dairy farmers and 500 agro-dealers in the first round of our survey in Kenya; and 
  • 300 Agriculture Officers (extension agents) and Field Assistants in Pakistan.

We are currently in advanced talks to expand data collection activities in several countries in Asia and Africa. 

Please check our website and our social media handles for updates.

We are grateful for our ongoing collaboration with state government partners in India, the Provincial Government of Punjab (PK), and the Ministry of Agriculture in Kenya; our research partnership with the Centre for Economic Research in Pakistan (CERP); and the Kenya Markets Trust and the International Growth Center in support of these data collection activities.

A Digital Response to COVID-19