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Even remote farmers are threatened by COVID-19

Our usual support during the growing season has been hampered, or completely suspended in order to prevent the spread of the disease, and that’s why we’re trying new methods to help rural farmers.


In some locations, it’s time to plant; in others, time to harvest. But no matter what location, agriculture is essential to providing food in rural areas. During times like these, iDE’s resilient networks of small entrepreneurs can be the difference between having a meal tomorrow or having to go hungry. From Nepal to Mozambique, Honduras to Cambodia, iDE’s Farm Business Advisors are the frontline in a battle to secure food for small communities.

As Ethiopian Prime Minister and 2019 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Abiy Ahmed recently wrote in an opinion article for the Financial Times, “Our traditional and rain-dependent agriculture is dictated by the fixed timeframes of weather cycles in which planting, weeding and harvesting must happen. The slightest disruption to that chain, even for a brief period, can spell disaster, further jeopardising already tenuous food supply and food security.”

The growing season was already under threat

An infestation of a deadly pest—the fall armyworm—has arrived in Nepal. This food security emergency has now become more dire due to a stringent lockdown preventing farmers from buying critical pest management supplies. 

According to reports, Indian farmers are even being prevented from working in their fields. It is the spring growing season, and we worry about what it will mean in terms of food security among smallholders—both in India and in Nepal, along their densely-populated border—where people rely heavily on local supply chains for foods.

Our team in Nepal is redrafting their plans to use SMS text messaging, Facebook, radio, and TV to communicate with collection centers and market actors. 

Photo by Bimala Rai Colavito

We are also working with the local government to classify agrovets (local agricultural suppliers) as "essential services" under the current lock-down orders. And we are providing essential training to these agrovets on best practices to prevent the transmission of COVID-19. 

There is still time to make a difference for this planting season, if we act now. Learn about what we can do with your donation.

Still recovering from the last disaster

The previous shock for Mozambican farmers in the Beira corridor was Cyclone Idai in March 2019. The COVID-19 pandemic is hitting this vulnerable population almost one year exactly after the cyclone, and for an already stressed market ecosystem, the challenges to maintain safe social distance while still going about their farming activities will be extra hard for families. 

As gatherings of 20 people or more are no longer allowed in the communities we serve, our method of holding farmer field school trainings is also being rethought. In particular, we have to ensure that handoffs between input suppliers and farmers occur safely. Our revised approach is to limit group trainings to small numbers of people in order to ensure new social distancing norms of 1.5 meters or more between all participants. Our technicians and trainers have been equipped with buckets containing disinfecting solutions and basic safety information, which is printed and shared with smallholder farmers. 

Behavior Change Poster Gallery

We are training our network of micro-entrepreneurs to sensitize the community on best practices to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in remote areas using flyers such as this one. Additionally, we are thinking of innovative ways to continue our work while ensuring the safety and wellbeing of our staff and those they interact with. One example is how we are leveraging our Farm Business Advisor (FBA) network to serve as our eyes, ears, and voice in these rural areas. By equipping our FBAs with smart phones and solar chargers, our technical team will be able to continue to support the last-mile while reducing physical contact between suppliers and buyers, while iDE will be able to have a finger on the pulse of the rural market.

Food security problems in Mozambique are particularly acute among women-led households. When market systems programming focuses on empowering women as entrepreneurs,  the economic and nutrition outcomes are felt by the whole family. 

Read about our adjusted project norms that will enable us to reduce the shock of COVID-19 by working to prevent a health crisis from causing a hunger crisis.

Photo: Doreen Tekedese

How our networks empower rural communities

Because FBAs are entrepreneurs who connect urban suppliers and buyers to rural smallholder farmers, they can be a powerful force in a time of crisis. iDE can leverage the FBA networks to spread emergency information, tools, or opportunities. We created these networks originally to build resilience in these communities, ensuring farmers have access to inputs (e.g., improved seeds, equipment) and markets for their produce. However, the ability of FBA networks to also address disasters show just how resilient they are in connecting people to the things they need to survive.

This poster illustrates the reach of Zambia’s FBAs by varying the size of each circle, representing the home location of each individual FBA, according to the number of farmers supported. Our FBA network runs through the country, along major roadways, sending out tendrils throughout Zambia into the rural areas. And because of their prior connection to smallholder farmers that has established a level of mutual respect and trust, FBAs can be a very effective and quick method of communication to rural inhabitants. 

To reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19, we are evolving our plans to equip farmers with smartphones that can transmit photos of their harvest to buyers as well as conducting trainings on prevention practices such as handwashing, social distancing, and wearing masks.

For people at the last mile, COVID-19 is just another in a string of potential disasters. When you worry every day about where your next meal is coming from, every day is fraught. We’re not sure yet the extent to which COVID-19 preventative measures will affect rural planting and harvests, but we know that we have the network in place to properly assess the damage (through our mantra of “talking to 100 people first” before taking any action) and relaying possible solutions. The goal is to address the real needs of people—not those anticipated from half-the-world away or in offices in town—and to respond with humanity and empathy that emphasizes practical results that have real impact.

Photo at top: Andre Timana

Read More

Farm Business Advisors

The cost-efficient, sustainable way to market to farmers in remote locations.

iDE is facilitating change by supporting a network of Farm Business Advisors (FBAs), community agents who support small-scale farmers, who are often located in remote areas far away from commercial centers.


Read more: Farm Business Advisors: A Global Approach