The effects of COVID-19 are being felt across the globe; the Farm to Market Alliance’s (FtMA) operations spanning 12 counties in Kenya are no exception.
Kenya is not immune to the rising curve of COVID-19 cases; the first case was recorded on the 13 March 2020 and as of the 29 April 2020 the number had risen to 384. Numerous prevention and mitigation measures have been implemented by the Government of Kenya such as the banning of public gatherings, passenger-carrying international flights and a nation-wide curfew from 7pm to 5am on unauthorized movements, which took effect on 27 March. The production and distribution of food remains an essential service and is directly exempt from these restrictions but is indirectly affected, therefore so too are FtMA’s operations in Kenya.
However, this has not deterred FtMA’s efforts in ensuring that productivity is not negatively impacted. The first action taken by FtMA Kenya was to ensure that, where possible, all staff telecommute from home and for those in the field, personal protective equipment was provided. FtMA Kenya’s operations spread across 12 counties therefore inter-county travel by field staff is usually required for cross-learning and support. In the wake of COVID-19, this has been halted to reduce the risk of field staff contracting or transmitting the virus, and now takes a digital format through group Skype calls and the sharing of weekly clustered county progress reports.
FtMA, a consortium of six agri-focused organisations (AGRA, Bayer, Yara, Rabobank, Syngenta and the World Food Programme), was established to bring benefit to all actors involved in the smallholder food sector. It collaboratively works to overcome any bottle necks that might exist in smallholder value chains, co-innovates new products and services and brokers the necessary partnerships and linkages between smallholders and private sector players. The approach is demand-led and holistic, tackling all challenges simultaneously with partners and utilising an innovative Farmer Service Centre model to do so. The Farmer Service Centres act as key hubs in the farming community, run
by rural entrepreneurs, aggregators, farmer groups or cooperatives and serving approximately 200 farmers each.
The plays a key role in bridging the last and first mile gaps between value chain players and smallholder farmers and overcoming distribution challenges to positively impact smallholder livelihoods while creating value for all value chain players. Leveraging on existing storage and logistics infrastructure, the hubs provide a centralized facility to aggregate input buying and output sales, provide agricultural know-how, mechanisation booking services and spray service provision linkages. The owner of each Farmer Service Centre earns a commission on transactions placed by farmers.
These linkages between Farmer Service Centres and suppliers of the services are facilitated by FtMA. FtMA has structured training on good agricultural practices, business coaching and mentorship for Farmer Service Centres to
support them to run profitable, efficient, inclusive and impactful agri-businesses.
Under normal circumstances, these Farmer Service Centres interact with the farming community constantly and with physical interaction, consequently COVID-19 has disrupted this. Prior to the new norm of banned public gatherings and social distancing, FtMA would conduct trade fairs, farmer field days, mechanization demonstrations, exchange visits, input linkage meetings and training for Farmer Service Centres.
These are all crucial in facilitating farmers’ access to the various products and services offered by smallholder farming value chain players. In the interest of safety for FtMA field staff, Farmer Service Centres and the communities which FtMA operates in, these activities have either been postponed or have taken a digital format, for example linkage meetings are now happening virtually. Digital extension is being provided for smallholders and Farmer Service Centres. through broadcasting SMS messages and interactive voice recordings (IVR) to promote continuity of the season activities, which include the purchase of quality seeds, crop protection and fertiliser to ensure productivity is not affected in the Long Rains 2020 season.
On top of these adjustments, FtMA has been leveraging the Farmer Service Centres to help community sensitization towards the preventive measures that individuals should take in the fight against the spread of COVID-19. Daina Kadogo Mwarania (aged 34 and pictured in the cover photo), a farmer and a Farmer Service Centre located in Gachua, Meru County is among those who are leading this fight at the local level. She was appointed Assistant Chief of Gachua sublocation in July 2019 as a result of her good work in training farmers in good agricultural practices and linking them to the various products and services under the FtMA partnership-portfolio.
Assistant Chiefs are the eyes, ears and arms of the National Government at the local level in enforcing the measures put in place towards fighting the global pandemic. They are charged with the responsibility, in conjunction with the Administration Police under the Nyumba Kumi initiative (a strategy of the National Government to anchor community policing at the household level), of ensuring the social distancing guidelines and wearing of masks are adhered to in public spaces. They also play a role in ensuring those who have been directed to self quarantine to follow the directive and in enforcing the nation-wide curfew. Assistant Chiefs are responsible for a cluster of households within their administrative control.
FtMA uses various digital tools (such as WhatsApp chat groups, bulkSMS packages and IVRs) to disseminate varied types of information (i.e planned field days, content on the various products and services) within the FtMA ecosystem. During the COVID-19 era, FtMA has leveraged these communication channels to disseminate approved Ministry of Health and World Health Organization messaging on COVID-19 facts and prevention measures to the Farmer Service Centres and smallholder farmers in the FtMA network. Those Farmer Service Centres with physical locations (i.e. the agrovets) have also installed handwashing stations, helping to encourage this important behaviour, while those with advertisement screens are broadcasting COVID19 preventive messages.
Smallholder farmers’ productivity has not yet been halted as FtMA and its strategic partners have successfully implemented mitigating measures to ensure that food supply in Kenya is not disrupted during the COVID-19 period. Employing digital communication and one-to-one visits to farmers, the Farmer Service Centres have been able to continue aggregating farmers’ orders and produce (harvest of the Short Rains 2019 season), whilst providing access to the range of products and services. These include access to mechanization, markets and finance (through the Cereal Growers Associations’ (CGA) bespoke financial product known as the to help farmers afford the necessary inputs for the current Long Rains 2020 season, which farmers ordinarily have difficulty in accessing. At the same time, the agrodealers, distributors, input company representatives, buyers and logistics partners in the FtMA network have been actively involved in delivering these aggregated sales orders and delivery of aggregated produce to the designated end markets.
Between January and April 2020, USD 371,060 worth of inputs and equipment have been sold, 4,080 mt (maize, potatoes, sorghum and soya) worth USD 1.3 million has been aggregated and delivered to end markets, and USD 33,751 has been facilitated in finance for smallholder farmers – with earning commissions worth from the various linkages made. The use of M-Pesa (Kenya’s mobile money transfer service) is being heavily advocated to help minimize the risk of virus transmission.
FtMA’s operations have morphed and adjusted to accommodate the current situation whilst field teams and partners are actively innovating new ways of working to both mitigate transmission risk and avoid any productivity shortages, helping to ensure that Kenya’s food security does not evolve into an additional crisis on top of the current health pandemic.