The COVID-19 pandemic revealed the vulnerability of smallholder farmers to unexpected crises. The crisis disproportionately impacted women, leading to negative consequences on household gender and nutrition outcomes. The pandemic exposed agricultural institutions to risks that impacted day-to-day operations and long-term impact, forcing institutions to adapt to the difficult environment on the ground.
Africa’s agriculture sector faces long-standing obstacles and opportunities. Many challenges — related to climate change and drought; pests and disease, such as the recent locust infestation in East Africa; gender gaps in access to land, as well as agricultural inputs and extension; and trade — affect farm productivity and nutrition security in intersecting and overlapping ways.
In India and Mozambique, Tanager works with smallholder farmers on reducing aflatoxin contamination in peanut crops. Reducing aflatoxin contamination requires identifying pain points in the supply chain where aflatoxin can infect yields and introducing smallholder farmers to techniques that can reduce moisture.
The trainings are largely based off of the Smallholder Agricultural Market Support (SAMS) Guidance, which Tanager helped the WFP to develop back in 2017. Like the guidance, the trainings are designed to be both flexible and specific: we can’t anticipate every situation in every country that could occur in the future, but we also know that if we just provide general statements then it’s not really good guidance. That being said, one of the main things we consider when preparing for a training is how much experience country offices have with smallholder programming, since we want to provide information that is both relevant and applicable. We’ve facilitated training sessions for both individual country offices as well as for regional bureaus.
The first impact on women here in Burkina Faso is that it limited their access to the poultry market. During the lockdown, the main urban cities were closed, so the goods could no longer come to the cities. Most of the poultry produced by women is sold in the urban markets, so since the urban market was closed, they had to store their poultry. This means they had to increase their spending to feed them and house them, which created additional, and unexpected, expenses. Also, women couldn’t access some basic inputs like feed and poultry vaccinations services. Those are the key impacts that affected women. So women were limited to very little income in the first few months of lockdown.
In India, as with the rest of the world, 2020 was a year of struggle and resilience. My country was under a government mandated lockdown for almost three months which negatively affected many industries, with the service and industrial sectors coming to an almost complete halt. However, the agriculture sector was the least affected by the pandemic, as the government deemed many farming activities to be vital. Now, post lockdown, while various industries are gradually opening but continue to struggle, agriculture is an economic bright spot and has experienced a growth rate of 3.4% during Q1 of 2021. Despite several hindrances like produce dumped for lack of buyers or crashing prices, farmers kept the process running and all major cities across the country continued to receive supplies of fresh vegetables, fruits, and milk throughout the lockdown.
For at least the last 15 years, the international development community has increasingly prioritized improving social and economic outcomes for women. As Tanager’s team prepares to participate in AGRF 2020 – “the world’s premier forum for African agriculture, bringing together stakeholders in the agricultural landscape to take practical actions and share lessons that will move African agriculture forward”, I am especially interested in how the international community can leverage this increased focus to improve women’s access to finance.
As an agriculture and food security career professional, and as a board member of ACDI/VOCA, Tanager, and AV Ventures, I am especially concerned about COVID-19’s effects on smallholder farmers in developing countries. We cannot allow this crisis to erase the progress of the last 20 years towards alleviating hunger and poverty in the developing world.
Today is National Farmers Day in India, an important time to reflect on the plight of the rural farmer and examine how Tanager is working to improve social and economic conditions in rural communities. In the Indian economy agricultural accounts for 18% of the country’s GDP, employing roughly 50% of the country’s workforce. In most of the cases farmers in India work less than an acre of land and rarely own more than 2 acres. These smallholder farmers face a unique set of challenges that Tanager works to address through our co-created projects in India. To understand how Tanager co-creates projects help to improve economic and social outcomes for these farmers, we must first understand the challenges of smallholder farming in India.
For much of the world, the real face of poverty is a smallholder farmer. According to the FAO, of the 2.5 billion people living directly from food or agriculture sectors in poor countries, 1.5 billion of them are smallholder farmers, with about 65% of those living in extreme poverty and over 50% being classified as moderate poor (1). Recent SDG 1 projections indicate that 6% of the world’s population will still be living in extreme poverty in 2030 if current trends continue.
How do we bridge the gap towards achieving an end to poverty?