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Business News of Tuesday, 23 June 2020

Source: B&FT Online

Digitising cocoa farming to increase youth resilience to coronavirus


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Physical interactions are less desired as cases of the COVID-19 pandemic surge in many countries. This has the potential to limit farmers’ access to inputs and extension support services, which play a major role in enhancing farm-level productivity and improve farmers’ incomes and livelihoods.

Under the Next Generation Cocoa Youth programme (MASO), Solidaridad has adopted digital tools to deliver good agronomic practices and production support information to encourage young farmers to remain in cocoa production during the pandemic.

The MASO programme, funded by the Mastercard Foundation, seeks to train and mentor young people between the ages of 18-25 in cocoa-growing communities to enable them to engage in cocoa farming and related businesses in order to promote sustainable cocoa production and improve their livelihoods.

The programme piloted the deployment of Interactive Voice Response platform (IVR) in 2019 to reach young cocoa farmers for real-time feedback on their experiences, learning and practices for additional support where necessary.

The IVR platform is compatible with basic feature and android phones. It allows the target audiences to receive pre-recorded messages in real time without the need for physical interaction.

Promoting good agricultural practices

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic and the attendant restrictions on movement, Solidaridad is able to maintain contact with the young cocoa farmers using the IVR platform to raise awareness on the disease. Under the MASO programme, Solidaridad has deployed the IVR platform to engage 8,191 youth on good agricultural practices, such as land selection, land preparation, line and pegging, weeding, pruning and the right application of fertilizer.

The messages are prepared and disseminated in local languages to promote understanding among the young farmers. The platform is also used to assess farmers’ understanding of the messages delivered and to identify and plug gaps.

The MASO programme seeks to reach 13,000 youth with climate-smart agricultural practices by the end of June this year through the IVR platform.

Providing relevant skills

Under the MASO programme, training and mentoring of the youth also occur. This is to provide them with entrepreneurial skills and financial literacy to enable them to establish and scale-up profitable cocoa ventures. Relevant training on financial literacy and leadership are also provided to the youth via the IVR platform.

“Currently, training contents on financial literacy and leadership have been developed. The contents are being packaged for deployment via the IVR platform,” says Philip Kankam, programme manager of MASO.

The platform comes in handy for the conduct of a needs assessment on young people who are recruited onto the programme. The assessment enables the programme team to develop tailor-made content for the newly recruits.

Inculcating savings culture in beneficiaries

An essential part of the MASO programme is the Youth Savings and Loan Association (YSLA), which is geared towards inculcating the culture of savings in young cocoa farmers and entrepreneurs. To this end, the Interactive Voice Response platform is being used to engage the youth to enhance their financial literacy and to save and reinvest in their businesses.

Curb gender-based violence

MASO also focuses on gender in its delivery. Through this, young women and men are equally encouraged to venture into cocoa farming, and also receive education on reproductive health and rights.

As parents spend more time at home with their children as a consequence of some of the measures to contain the spread of the disease, there are some reported cases of gender-based violence in some cocoa-growing communities.

The MASO programme is using the IVR platform to sensitize families against violence and other domestic abuses. Additionally, the programme is developing training content on gender inclusivity.

Other actions to respond to COVID-19

Aside from deploying the IVR platform to sensitize project beneficiaries on COVID-19 safety tips since March 2020, Solidaridad has provided 4,500 face masks and hand sanitizers to the MASO youth, to reduce the spread of the virus in the project areas. Also, 1,200 pieces of posters on COVID-19 safety tips for farmers have been printed and distributed to youth beneficiaries and their communities.

The programme has supplied 10,148 kilograms of maize seeds to 1,799 youth to plant on 2,537 acres of land. The aim is to build the resilience of the youth and their families amid the potential adverse impact of the pandemic on food security.

For Olivia Afoakwa, a 24-year-old beneficiary of MASO in Edwinase in the Ashanti region of Ghana, the supply of maize seeds, face masks and hand sanitizers give her the confidence that her household will be protected. “I am grateful to the MASO programme for supplying us with these items. We will not lack food or other essentials during this COVID-19 season”.

Stepping up the use of IVR

Using the IVR platform, MASO will continue to engage its beneficiaries on basic cocoa agronomy and related businesses, and share basic safety tips on COVID-19 for the benefit of the young farmers and their families.

With physical training stalled due to restrictions on movement, the programme is also rolling out training manual videos on best agronomic practices for community facilitators who will be recruited. These training videos will be disseminated through WhatsApp — a text and voice messaging application.

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