Adapting to new realities

Monday, October 26, 2020
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Our biggest concern was how we would continue our work and support these farmers.

Johnstone Ndunda with Fadhili Trust, a partner of Tearfund Canada
When the pandemic hit, Kenyan farmers undertaking training in conservation agriculture adapted to new ways of learning. (Photo: Fadhili Trust)

Continuing our work to end hunger through the pandemic

When the COVID-19 pandemic was declared, Johnstone Ndunda worried about the farmers he works with.

“We had just done conservation agriculture training with farmers in January,” says Johnstone, who works with Fadhili Trust, a Kenyan partner of Foodgrains Bank member Tearfund Canada. “Our biggest concern was how we would continue our work and support these farmers.”

Fadhili Trust, Tearfund Canada and the Foodgrains Bank began working together at the beginning of the year to address hunger in the communities where Fadhili works. They began with conservation agriculture training. It was off to a good start, but then the pandemic began.

“Whatever gains we had, we really stood to lose,” says Josephine Munywoki, director of Fadhili Trust. “Where our farmers are new to conservation agriculture, Johnstone and his colleague Anita Kamoni are working hard to train farmers, and then COVID-19 hit.”

Finding new ways of connecting

“We did needs assessments right away,” says Johnstone. “We spoke with farmers to figure out what areas of support they needed. Then we came up with a new way forward.”

The Kenyan farmers Fadhili supports were facing troubles with pests like the fall armyworm. Fadhili worked with Tearfund and Foodgrains Bank staff to come up with creative solutions to this issue while working through pandemic restrictions and safety precautions.

“Part of our role is to provide training to partners,” says Neil Rowe-Miller, Foodgrains Bank Agriculture and Livelihoods Technical Advisor in eastern Africa. “So we scrambled to learn how to do that remotely. One of the lessons we learned is that it’s possible to do ongoing training, rather than just one-time webinars. We set up a WhatsApp [mobile messaging app] group with the staff at Fadhili to stay connected and providing ongoing support.”

“I woke up one morning and the Fadhili WhatsApp group had 89 messages that I hadn’t read yet—I thought oh my gosh! Staying connected like this has been really great,” adds Neil.

One very silver lining is that we have been pushed in directions that will make us better at what we do, even post-pandemic.

Neil and staff at Fadhili Trust worked together and found a way to prepare insecticides using local plant species, which is less expensive and easier to access than synthetic pesticides. Then Fadhili staff began training farmers.

“The farmers showed us great commitment to learning,” says Johnstone. “We first provided face masks and soap, and then we started working within government regulations.”

They reduced their farmer training groups from 20-30 people to a maximum of ten, hosting additional trainings to ensure all farmers could participate. Hosting the training outside meant they could easily physically distance, and when they couldn’t be present in communities physically, Fadhili staff communicated with farmers using mobile phones.

Their hard work paid off. Not only is the natural pesticide useful for controlling pests, but farmers who previously had been using synthetic pesticide no longer have to go to the market to buy it, potentially exposing themselves to COVID-19.

“One very silver lining, which doesn’t diminish the suffering that’s happening because of COVID-19, is that we have been pushed in directions that will make us better at what we do, even post-pandemic,” says Neil.

“My initial concern was that this was going to be devastating for our work. But our ability to adapt and continue working quickly has been a phenomenal testament to the value we have as a network of the Foodgrains Bank. Collectively we are more powerful than we can ever be individually.”

– Shaylyn McMahon, Digital Communications Officer

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