During these exceptional times challenges arise for our partners in the field all over the world. For Jula Consultancy, our business development partner in cashew, fruit juice and cocoa in Sierra Leone, this Corona crisis brings opportunities for the development of their training methodology of farmers to strengthen their position. We talked to director Mohamed Fofanah about the alternatives like e-learning for their conventional way of working.
Mohamed: “In 2014-2015 we had the Ebola crisis in Sierra Leone. During this period we realised that the conventional implementation methods in remote areas like the cocoa producing regions in Sierra Leone are extremely vulnerable for logistical restrictions. We could not work with our farmers because gatherings with more than 5 people were not allowed at that time. So we needed to be creative and think about how we could continue our work and how we could interact with the farmers at a distance. We started with alternative training methods”.
Digital Farmer Field School
Together with FairMatch Support, Wageningen University and Van Hall Larenstein, Jula Consultancy started with The Digital Farmer Field School (DFFS). DFFS facilitates interaction between farmers in groups and experts in the back office of Jula to improve farming performance. The e-learning model allows farmers to ask for advice, receive feedback and contact trainers on a tablet. The answers are provided by both experts as well as other farmers. This model is based on audio visual content which fits the needs of illiterate farmers.
Mohamed: “During the Ebola crisis we noticed that the pilot we did in the Kenema and Kailahun districts, (where the first Ebola outbreaks were) were very successful. We saw that both male and female, young but also older farmers showed interest and motivation to use the e-learning tool. They used it for example to take photos of diseased cocoa pods and ask for recommendation for improvement. And there were discussions on crop management amongst farmers”.
Preparing for social distancing
“With the outbreak of COVID-19 we notice the same challenges as during the Ebola period. With Ebola still in our minds people in Sierra Leone realise the seriousness. There is great awareness of the situation in the world and this is why we started early with measures. There is currently a nationwide curfew and inter-districts movement restrictions to curb the spread of COVID-19. This means that we can only move inside our respective district of residency. We have various staff members of Jula working in different districts so we can continue for now with the training of farmers. We’re preparing ourselves because we know that if the positive cases continue to increase exponentially, direct training will become impossible to continue”.
Strengthening the position of farmers
Mohamed: “How can we continue our work and strengthen the position of farmers with minimal movement and no face to face contact? Here at the office of Jula Consultancy we take the time now to review and develop existing methodology. One of the things that we are looking at is the development of DFFS. During the Ebola crisis, we piloted the DFFS, I think this could be an opportunity for us to re-visit this tool again and see what we could include on it to make it more useful and adaptable to the current situation. It’s a work in progress and offers a lot of possibilities. Farmer groups can easily indicate their desires for support through the back office of the DFFS. Based on track records and training support can easily be adapted to the needs of the farmer groups.
Off course there are restrictions of this method. Farmers need to have access to internet and need to have a tablet or mobile phone. The development of farmer leaders can offer a solution to this problem. If one or a couple of farmer leaders have access to internet, than they can help other farmers and their work can continue. Like I said, it’s a work in progress and we keep on learning and developing”.
Want to know more about our partners and the impact of the corona virus? Please read this blog about our cashew processing partner in West Africa.