Using the SourceTrace digital platform to support farmers during the COVID-19 pandemic

Update from the drought-tolerant crops component of the AVCD program

Despite minimal field visits during this period of the COVID-19-related restrictions, the Accelerated Value Chain Development (AVCD) program staff and management are working with extension officers and lead farmers to monitor the progress of the drought-tolerant crops component’s work.

The team is using the SourceTrace digital platform as the main channel for providing extension advisories to farmers. Initially the component trained 10 project staff on the use of the SourceTrace digital platform to send good agricultural practices (GAPs) and other advisory mobile phone-based messages (SMS) to farmers. The training was conducted by the SourceTrace host team, which is based in India, through Zoom. After the training, the component, including the breeders and field technicians, developed protocols for creating and sending advisories and GAPs messages to farmers. The protocols included timing and type of messages, quality control measures, and approvals required from the county extension staff. Continuous training and monitoring on the use of the digital platform is ongoing.

In Kitui, Makueni and Taita Taveta counties, farmer producer organizations (FPOs) were trained on farmer profiling, field inspection and marketing. In collaboration with county extension officers, the project team has formulated and submitted several SMS alerts to approximately 11,000 farmers with information on GAPs including on weeding, thinning, pest and disease control, post-harvest handling, storage and aflatoxin management. The messages were customized for each county and specific crop. The first round of SMS messaging started on 4 May and regular messages on good agricultural practices have been sent to farmers. For example, during the week of June 15th, 6,498 farmers received messages on pest control in pigeon pea. The project is also working with extension officers and the county meteorological departments to use the same platform to send messages on weather patterns. Additionally, the component has started sharing nutrition messaging on the platform based on the dialogue cards produced by the project. In addition, the SourceTrace digital platform is now linked to AVCD’s Monitoring and evaluation platform, MEASURE, to access data on farmer-beneficiaries.

In production, seed provided to FPOs and model farmers is doing well as the rains have been good. Weeding and spraying against pests is ongoing. Foundation seed production at Egerton University (12 acres of sorghum, finger millet, groundnut, green gram and pigeon pea), Kampi Ya Mawe (two acres of pigeon pea) and Kiboko Station (four acres of green gram and cowpea) is continuing. The SourceTrace app provides support to seed producers and model farmers. Marketing of produce aggregated by farmers continues. In Taita Taveta, the TANAFA Cooperative has sold eight tonnes of sorghum to the county COVID-19 Resource Mobilization Committee. Also, they have donated two tonnes of red sorghum to the committee and 575 kg of blended flour (sorghum, groundnuts and pearl millet) to the Taveta National Government Constituency Development Fund for distribution to  vulnerable households. Similarly, 12 tonnes of red sorghum have been aggregated for Kuguru Quality Foods in Ruiru. In Kitui, the WIKIVUUWA Cooperative has sold 12 tonnes of sorghum to a private buyer and the MAVO Cooperative has sold 55 tonnes of white sorghum to East Africa Breweries Limited. During this lean period of movement restriction, farmers have been able to harvest large quantities of green pigeon pea from short- and medium-duration varieties for home consumption and sale in local markets. Notably high moisture stress due to deficient rainfall was recorded in Kitui, Taita Taveta and Makueni, where farmers are concerned about the economic impact of continued restriction on movement.

Community seed banks are working well with members reporting favourable seeds sales to farmers during the ongoing long-rain season. DTC Seed Forums have, however, been put on hold, but the collection of the necessary information from counties in preparation for the ‘opening up’ is continuing. In preparation for the upcoming National DTC Seed Workshop, the component has developed a write-up to contact other projects to discuss a possible partnership.

Similarly, the nutrition team has worked with the Makueni County Department of Health to develop a nutrition fact sheet for the county. The draft fact sheet was validated during an online meeting on 24  June 2020. The team has also developed SMS text messages to be sent to all project beneficiaries through the AVCD digital platform and the first batch of messages sent in June to 11,228 farmers in Kitui, Makueni and Taita Taveta counties. The messages remind farmers on the importance of consuming diverse diets for better nutrition of all household members. There are plans to resume nutrition training activities in Makueni, Kitui and Taita through community health volunteers starting from the end of June. This will be done in accordance with the Kenya government directives for managing COVID-19.