Covid-19 and HRNS

Remaining committed in uncertain times

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the globe, it has been a severe shock for smallholder families in coffee regions. Basically, their whole life got turned upside down. They got into economic trouble, faced health risks and were confronted with an almost hopeless situation. At Hanns R. Neumann Stiftung we did everything possible right from the beginning of the pandemic to address these issues and to help smallholder families to manage the situation and to come stronger out of it.

With closed markets they couldn’t sell their produce, nor could they buy food. Access to health facilities became difficult. Not being allowed to move in public space, evenfetching water from far away sources got difficult. They lacked access to information about COVID-19, healthcare, reliable testing, or sanitation materials like soap or disinfectants – all very important to protect oneself against this so far unknown virus. Crop cycles on their farms were in danger as they couldn’t hire important farm labor or did not have access to seedlings or inputs they required. And even if they had, they might have lacked the necessary cash as markets were closed. Social insecurity was on the rise as the lockdown also triggered increased domestic violence.

Making the impossible possible

For the HRNS project work a full turnaround has been necessary in early 2020 as well to continue with what HRNS is committed to: supporting smallholder families. Gatherings were not possible, personal contact was limited. But smallholder families needed ongoing support in this situation. And we managed to do so. We adapted our work, innovated approaches, and found new pathways together with the smallholder families.

As weakest link in the entire coffee supply chain it has been obvious from the beginning that this COVID-19 pandemic will harm smallholder families additionally to their difficult living conditions.

HRNS immediately started to raise awareness about the new Coronavirus. HRNS distributed knowledge about washing hands, basic security measure like keeping distance, coughing into the elbows and more. Where possible, soap and hand sanitizers were distributed.

Fieldworkers got on the phone and called farmer families to check-in and provide support. And then everything went fast: Through messenger groups smallholder families and HRNS staff exchanged on the situation and shared agricultural knowledge. Training sessions were held online in group calls or webinars. Extensionists recorded tutorial videos in their own farms or demo plots and shared them through messengers. In Uganda a radio show was initiated to stay connected with the people and to inform them how to deal with this situation. New income streams were identified and implemented. In Guatemala, smallholder families started fish farming, to just name one of many.

Through additional income streams and food production, smallholder families got more resilient in this uncertain period of time.

For very urgent individual field visits special permissions to move could be gathered after a while. Then smaller gatherings became possible again. Under strict measures like wearing masks and keeping distance.

Going digital: the new normal

Another thing happened during the pandemic even in smallholder support: Digitalization became the new normal. During a survey it became clear that farmers want more digital support. In Honduras a coffee diploma for young coffee farmers went fully online and took place as scheduled. Individual or group support through messengers or with videos remains an important tool for HRNS.

Digital tools can not totally replace the human contact. But they start to play a bigger and more important role. Utilizing the power of digitization in smallholder support is a pathway, HRNS is committed to keep following.

We stayed and we will not leave

Together with smallholder families we mastered the situation in the best possible way. In the end we were stronger together then before. We learned a lot how to adapt and what will be needed in the future.

HRNS remains committed in every situation to support smallholder families as much as possible. We feel ourselves as part of their family.

Get invovled with HRNS

Curious to learn more? Partnering with Hanns R. Neumann Stiftung means to join hands-on and committed work with smallholder families in coffee regions. It means to be willing to bring change for them. It means to be ready to get involved and work together.

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