The global Coronavirus pandemic is increasingly affecting the livelihood of millions of smallholder farming families in coffee producing regions. With more than half a million cases up to date, Brazil has the second-highest number of cases worldwide. For Hanns R. Neumann Stiftung (HRNS) do Brasil, partnerships with local governments, industry partners, and public and private organizations have always been fundamental. Once COVID-19 hit, it was quickly clear that these partnerships would play a vital role in HRNS do Brasils’ project intervention region, Minas Gerais.
“COVID-19 is increasing the uncertainty among farming families. Will we be able to harvest and sell all of our coffee? Will prices be adequate? These are all questions being asked by smallholders and our global team, among other concerns”, admits Elio Cruz, HRNS do Brasil Country Manager. “However, to ensure continued support, we are adapting our work based on health and government regulations, analyzing where farmers stand during the crisis and how HRNS can help secure the incomes of farmer households. It is our responsibility to help them find long-term solutions” he states.
Addressing farmers’ current needs and challenges became a top priority during the early stages of the pandemic. The team quickly recognized that they wouldn’t be able to work with farming families the way they used to. With COVID-19 disrupting work plans and resulting in additional risks for farmers and their families, the question became, how are we going to reach and provide them with support?
HRNS do Brasil was facing two major challenges. First, most of the work with smallholder families usually takes place in coffee farms while trainings rely on field activities. The team knew it would be key to switch to online platforms and set up adequate communication channels together with farmer organizations to stay connected. Secondly, HRNS recognized that providing farmers with valuable services such as workshops and agronomy trainings online, required access to updated resources, technical videosnand other written documents.
HRNS Brazil receives support from stakeholders
“All of this wouldn’t be possible without the ongoing commitment and collaboration with our partners”, states Cruz. HRNS do Brasil rapidly reached out to its network of stakeholders across the coffee value chain to successfully carry out these activities.
The Council of Coffee Exporters of Brazil (CECAFÉ), worked alongside of HRNS to set up WhatsApp groups so that farmer organizations can receive health information and instructions on how to take part in online trainings. “HRNS has been a long-term strategic partner of CECAFÉ. Coffee farming families are in urgent need of support from the coffee sector. We will continue to set up communication channels for farmer organizations and deepen our partnership to overcome these challenges” said Lilian Vendrametto, the Sustainability Manager of CECAFÉ.
HRNS do Brasil is working with an extensive group of partners that have contributed to the strengthening of farming families and their communities during this time. Institutions such as the National Rural Learning Service of Minas Gerais (SENAR MG) and the Federation of Agriculture of Minas Gerais (FAEMG), plus Universities and nonprofits such as the Federal University of Lavras (UFLA), University of the Fraser Valley (UFV), and Global Coffee Platform (GCP), have provided reliable information about the spreading of COVID-19 at a regional level to share with farmers and a wide range of digital resources being used as training material.
These include, technical videos and pamphlets on the topics of access to finance, climate change, integrated management of pests and diseases, as well as harvesting and post-harvesting to name a few. These resources have been shared with farmers and producer organizations remotely through live video conferences and other communication channels. Because of that, important knowledge is still being spread despite COVID-19.
“With the new harvest coming up soon, I’m pleased to know that we’ve found a quick way to equip farmers with immediate information so they can prevent the spread of COVID-19, and continue to be productive on their farms” says Celso Furtado Junior, Planning Coordinator of SENAR MG. “However, challenging times are ahead. We are currently the second-highest nation in COVID-19 deaths. We need to make sure that all of the information we have available is shared. Farming families urgently need it.”
Unity is key
“Farming communities and organizations we are working with are overcoming COVID-19 with greater proactivity and knowledge thanks to the support of our partners and all of the information they’ve made available” says Cruz. HRNS has witnessed an increasing sense of support among institutions, coffee organizations, families, and members of the community. “Farmer organizations are willing to make sure everyone else in their community is also being supported.” Cooperativa Felix, a farmer organization supported by HRNS in Minas Gerais, recently brought together all women in their community to make face masks and distribute them to hospitals in the region as a mean to increase their protection against COVID-19.