[Column] Nixon Gecheo: Role of digital agricultural tools during pandemic
13-08-2021 09:41:00 | by: Bob Koigi | hits: 3366 | Tags:

Covid-19 has exposed the vulnerabilities of agricultural and food systems in the world but particularly in low and middle-income countries. 

Declining incomes and disruptions to the food supply chain are exacerbating extreme poverty and are challenging food security, forcing farmers to make tough choices. 

According to the World Bank’s Covid-19 Household Monitoring Dashboard, in Ghana as of April 2021, 76 per cent of households with farm income saw their income decline in the last 12 months and Up to 70 to 80 per cent of smallholders have reported in various surveys that they are worse off now than prior to the pandemic

Measures to combat the spread of Covid-19 are having a detrimental impact on farmers’ lives in most low and middle-income countries.

The challenges female smallholders face, from access to technology to informal participation in value chains, have been exacerbated by Covid, risking a widening of the gender gap.

In agricultural value chains, agribusinesses and cooperatives have seen their businesses disrupted by measures to contain the spread of the virus.

Agritech companies are also facing tough operational challenges and a more complicated environment to raise financing.

Digital agriculture tools have, however, enabled smallholder farmers to continue receiving advisory, acquire much-needed financing, receive inputs and identify new markets for their products.

Digital agriculture tools are transforming how food systems operate to become more agile and resilient to unforeseen events.

Digital advisory, agricultural digital financial services and Agri e-commerce solutions have emerged as the three most sought after digital tools by farmers during the pandemic.

Mkulima Young, an online marketplace for agricultural inputs, equipment and crops experienced fourfold increase on their platform between March and May 2020. 

Value chain actors that had already digitised their processes and operations and invested in critical infrastructure have found it easier to pivot and support smallholder farmers during the pandemic.

Lockdowns and limits on in-person gatherings shifted advisory from in-person to online.

Agritech companies, mobile network operators and agribusinesses added Covid-19 advisory to their existing tools to help farmers navigate challenging times.

Governments have played a key role in accelerating the adoption of digital financial services, for example by digitising agricultural subsidy schemes for inputs.

Mobile network operators and governments are also helping to boost mobile money usage by waiving fees and raising transaction limits.

Donors and agribusinesses are leveraging digital tools to distribute cash payments, input vouchers and extend loans.

When farmers in Kenya were asked what they needed most during the pandemic, they consistently and overwhelmingly cited financial support. 

Governments have responded with a range of measures to help low-income populations and small businesses weather the pandemic, including easing mobile money regulations, issuing moratoriums on existing loans and issuing low-interest loans.

Many African governments use measures such as subsidies, grants and income support payments to stimulate the use of inputs that enhance agricultural productivity, support smallholder livelihoods and provide a safety net for farmers.

These measures have become even more relevant in the context of the pandemic. 

Nixon Gecheo is a Senior Program Officer, Digital Systems & Solutions for Agriculture at the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, AGRA