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Blogpost: How to address COVID-19 in smallholder communities

A blogpost from our HRNS Managing Director: Michael Opitz

Webinar Questions & Answers 

Question 1: Do we have any more context around the new challenges related to accessing inputs and finance? Does this mean physical products aren’t making it to the villages / far outside major cities, or that the prices have risen (or neither/both)? And in finance, are banks and exporters reducing their product offering due to COVID, or is there another explanation? Similarly, for fertilization, is the affect that farmers aren’t willing to take the risk of buying fertilizer, or there is less access to the product(s)?

Answer: Input deliveries were/are constrained by travel bans that made it difficult in a number of regions to transport goods and deliver services to rural areas. Even after lifting restrictions permissions often need to be sought. Prices also went up. In view of risings costs for inputs as much as for food farmers also show reluctance in undergoing all necessary and recommended investments into their production system.

In terms of financing we observed that risk assessments of providers were constrained by restrictions of movement. There was less contact between lenders and borrowers which in the overall situation of insecurity hampered rural finance.

Question 2: What are the criteria behind Hanns R. Neumann Stiftung’s choice of the 18 countries where you’ve worked?

Answer: With our emphasis on smallholder coffee farming families we were selecting countries and regions first and foremost in relation to the number of coffee farms, their relevance and importance for the coffee sector and their potential for development.

Question 3: The combination of protection mask, physical distance of min 1,5m and frequent hygiene have proved rather successfully in Germany. Could you witness any such measures at smallholder level?

Answer: In Central America, similar protective measures have been taken as other measures worldwide. These include, social distancing, requiring everyone to wear a mask at all times and appropriate hand sanitation.

Question 4: In DRCongo, preventing measures are much more disseminated in cities rather in coffee producing areas. Authorities in coffee village seem weaker to convince in applying preventing measures. Would you share your experiences in other countries?

Answer: In Central America, safety and health is one of our main focus areas within our strategy towards responding against COVID-19. In our personal experience, farmers have been very receptive to the information we’ve provided and have taken the measures very seriously.

Question 5: Under small farm setting, at least in Ethiopia, sharing of farm tools is common. When thinking of sanitization, we should not forget farm tools, it is not only hands that matter.

Answer: Good point; disinfection, however, is recommended to beneficiaries in all our project regions. This should also apply to farm tool in case they are being shared with peers.

Question 6: Which coping strategies of farmers do you see in your projects?

Answer: Crop diversification, and a stronger emphasis on food security are strategies that are looking at the most immediate needs of farming families at the moment. Income diversification is being promoted, through the establishment of mid-term cash crops to provide other sources of household earnings in local and other markets.

Question 7: Looking at the coffee price crisis and now COVID-19 on top: Why should smallholders still grow coffee?

Answer: Because coffee is a cash crop and farmer families need cash to meet their needs. However, in view of price volatility it is not advisable to bank on one crop only. For stabilizing cash flows as well as addressing climate change and mitigating further risks diversification is prudent. But we need to further advance and have important debates in the coffee and other agricultural commodity sectors on the living income concept and price volatility. Both aspects are in our mutual interest.

Question 8: If you are speaking about making connections with other organizations: How can or should that work with different expertise’s?

Answer: By aligning on views and visions; operationalize cooperation by co-developing project objectives and result framework, develop joint budget and agree upon implementation structure and make it happen.

Examples: Partnership with DSW working on access to health services and family planning; Partnership with Siemens Foundation working on the management of water resources in communities and WASH services; Partnership with Digital Green on promoting digital solutions for farmer training.

Question 9: You talk about overcoming the long-term impacts of COVID-19: How can we react now with the uncertainty about what happens in the years to come?

Answer: We are always working with uncertainty which we mitigate by assumptions. Thus, the best we can do is to assume that COVID-19 will be part of our life for quite some time. This means that keeping our distance, wearing masks and taking care of hygiene will need to continue. Therefore, working with smaller beneficiary groups, using digital training in combination with physical meetings, enhancing structures in rural areas and supporting them to upgrade services while connecting and structuring cooperation with complementary partners is evident. This will not only help to mitigate the crisis but also to improve the well-being in rural areas in the mid to long-term.

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