Reaching Ugandan Farmers During the COVID-19 Crisis
Sylvia Magezi
August 5, 2020

HarvestPlus has been working in Uganda since 2006, improving the lives of Uganda’s smallholder farming families through better food and nutrition security, and better livelihood opportunities. Working with a variety of partners, HarvestPlus in Uganda promotes the adoption, production, consumption, and value chain development of vitamin-A orange sweet potatoes (OSP) and iron beans. At the end of 2019, 960,000 smallholder farming families were growing OSP, and 695,000 smallholder farming families were growing iron beans in Uganda. 

The COVID-19 pandemic and resulting lockdown from March 2020 posed immediate challenges to our work, despite the fact that the agricultural sector was exempted from some of the restrictions.  Decisive action by the HarvestPlus Uganda team and its delivery partners was focused on ensuring that support for farmers was adjusted to fit within the restrictions and procedures provided. Making use of innovative approaches in Uganda, HarvestPlus and its partners were able to reach the most vulnerable and those on the periphery with nutritious staples. 

Supporting Ugandan Government's OSP distribution

The Ugandan government is striving to reach more vulnerable communities during COVID-19. OSP has been selected as one of the food security crops to distribute to vulnerable households. HarvestPlus is supporting the inspection of OSP vine multiplication in preparation for the distribution activity. NGO partners will work closely with local governments to ensure that the vines are purchased when the distribution starts. A similar initiative is under discussion with World Food Programme (WFP) field teams in Uganda to reach refugees with these vines.  

Facilitating farmers' access to planting material

The Ugandan government allowed the transport of planting material to prevent a food and hunger crisis, and allowed small group meetings of 5-10 people with special permission.  HarvestPlus Uganda and partners took advantage of these exemptions to rapidly organize and support farmers’ access to planting material. 

Together with support from district security officers, local council staff, and NGO extension staff, HarvestPlus organized distribution points for the planting material at schools and churches. It took more time to reach all the farmers as more distribution points had to be added to avoid crowding, but eventually everyone received the seeds. 

Other NGOs opted to plant seeds in group gardens so that farmers would have access to the seed in the following planting season. The farmers also received basic agronomy and nutrition information at the distribution points, and they received basic nutrition information through radio messages. 

During harvest, HarvestPlus linked farmers with surplus to buyers via telephone calls and WhatsApp messagesThis helped farmers sustain income generation, and enabled the biofortified crops to continue to reach non-farming households. 

Reaping the benefits of rapid response

The farmers planted iron beans in March and OSP in May after the lockdown was eased. By the end of May/early June, farmers had harvested the early-maturing iron beans and “payback” was collected thanks to the efforts of all partners. The payback system makes it easier to reach more farmers and build up seed supplies, as some of the poorest farmers receiving seeds agree to pay for them by giving back twice as much seed after harvest. 

Some farmers reported selling about 30 percent of the beans, and stored some as seed. The remainder was eaten by farming households. Demand for biofortified iron beans remains very high, including from government programs, refugee organizations, and NGOs. 

The demand for exports of OSP is also steadily growing. HarvestPlus continues to link exporters to farmers with the particular varieties exporters prefer, and also linking farmers to sources of clean seed. The quantities exported range from 2MT to 5MT per week from central Uganda, which is an emerging production area for iron beans. Besides exporting, farmers continue to sell in local markets, on roadsides, and in communities through barter trade.

Coaching farmers through video tutorials

HarvestPlus developed video training clips on basic agronomy and nutrition and is sharing them with local NGOs to show to farmers, in areas where extension workers are not able to conduct in-person training. This will enable the information to reach an even greater number of farmers.  HarvestPlus is also closely working with NGOs to air awareness messages on radio and talk shows in local languages. Where they are able to reach farmers, extension workers are emphasizing the importance of good nutrition and the fact that vitamin A, iron, and zinc boost immunity; all in-person trainings also follow social distancing and other safety measures. 

The work of HarvestPlus in improving nutrition for millions of Ugandan families has mainly been supported by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) under the United States Feed the Future Initiative, through two successive projects: the current USAID Meals for Nutrition Biofortified Solutions in Uganda (MENU) and the previous USAID Developing and Delivering Biofortified Crops (DDBC) project. 

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