Addressing the effects of COVID-19 on coffee farmers in Tanzania
To adapt to the global Coronavirus pandemic, Hanns R. Neumann Stiftung (HRNS) has adjusted our approach to the Building Coffee Farmers Alliance Phase II project in Tanzania which is funded by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA), International Coffee Partners (ICP), Coffee Kids and Tim Hortons. Many of the changes made in the project have been to protect our staff members and farmers. This means some field officers have limited their time on the ground.
Although large group trainings in the form of Farmer Field Schools (FFS) were initially postponed for the safety of our staff, role model extensionists like Ephraim Nsanganzila and his wife Maria continued to train fellow farmers within their community on Good Agronomic Practices (GAP) and Climate-Smart Practices. In addition to sharing their agricultural knowledge, Ephraim and Maria also provided counseling to couples experiencing disagreements within their households using the knowledge they have gained from HRNS Tanzania’s gender trainings.
All farmer extensionists (farmers who train other farmers) are backstopped by HRNS’ Field Officers through regular phone calls for technical guidance. “This model of extension was particularly beneficial at the time when we were not able to go to the field as much because farmer extensionists have a wider reach than our field officers,” said Godfrey Wilgod the HRNS Agronomy Team Leader. “This means our impact can be maintained and we can still reach our project targets,” Godfrey elaborated.
Now that restrictions have been alleviated in Tanzania, Ephraim who is also a leader within his farmer organization, continues to facilitate group meetings and trainings of up to 10 farmers at a time. In order to prevent jeopardizing the safety of group members during these meetings, Ephraim and the participants have been instructed to wear masks, keep a minimum of 1-meter distance from each other and are availed with handwashing facilities.
We have been provided with flyers which give important information on the COVID-19 safety guidelines which HRNS shared with us in Swahili.
Despite this continued support, the pandemic has threatened many coffee farmers’ livelihoods across the nation. When several neighbouring countries like Zambia and Kenya closed their boarders to Tanzania, there was a decline in exports due to reduced accessibility for international buyers. Fortunately, the boarders are no longer closed but farmers remain concerned that the slowdown in exports may result in them earning much less than expected in the upcoming coffee harvest.
The pandemic has also affected coffee farmers who grow other produce such as maize, beans and groundnuts because crop prices have drastically dropped. With the price of maize sharply declining from Tsh 500/kg to Tsh 200/kg, farmers are selling at a loss meaning they have less money to spend on essential agriculture inputs for their highest earning crop, coffee. This is particularly alarming because not applying inputs such as fertilizer and pesticides to their coffee may lead to a reduction in yields and profits.
Other income generating small businesses like tailoring, catering, brick making etc. have also suffered due to the recession. This is because community members are cutting down on expenditure. They simply no longer have the money for non-essential goods.
My small business of catering has been affected because customers are limiting their visits to communal places because they are afraid of the possibility of exposure to the virus.
With all these challenges, the livelihoods of coffee farming families in Tanzania are seriously under threat. Many of whom are already in risky economic situations as some farmers take out loans for various agriculture and household needs with the hope of repaying them after harvest.
Coffee farmers cannot afford a reduction in their income because some take out loans to buy agricultural supplies for their crops and for other household needs. If they don’t make enough money during the coffee harvest, they may default on repayments which will further strain their already risky economic situations.
To mitigate this, HRNS has encouraged various saving schemes to continue across all projects. Farmer organizations have been advised on how to conduct monthly Village Savings and Loans Associations (VSLA) meetings in a safe manner with only necessary members present. HRNS has advised farmers to hold meetings in the open air with adherence to other important COVID-19 safety guidelines e.g. social distancing, wearing masks, washing hands etc. Additionally, HRNS has educated farmers about the safe handling of cash during the meetings and where possible, members are encouraged to use mobile money for digital transactions.
HRNS and partners also continue to encourage farmers to grow a variety of crops for both profit and food security. This enables households to still be able to put food on the table during tough times like these when financial hardship is experienced. Additionally, HRNS and partners recognize the need to advise farmers on the safe storage of produce so that they can stock until prices increase rather than sell at a loss. Alternative high earning crops that do not need external markets such as avocados have also been suggested to farmers.
By addressing arising challenges and adapting our modus operandi, The HRNS office in Tanzania is vigilantly working to scale up our support of smallholder farmers and strengthen their social and economic statuses. Farmers who are at the bottom of the supply chain desperately need sustainable interventions to help them cope with the impacts of the pandemic. That is why now more than ever before, HRNS and partners are committed to addressing the varying circumstances across our project areas and improving the livelihoods of vulnerable, coffee farming families.