ICRISAT is working with an array of development partners in Eastern and Southern Africa to build resilient and sustainable farming systems in the region in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. It presents a four dimensional plan – diversification of farming systems, seed accessibility, capacity building and gender integration – through which it aims to continue supporting vulnerable farming communities.
Building on its experience with its existing partner networks, ICRISAT’s market-oriented and partnership-based projects can alleviate the pandemic-related stresses on communities through these four interventions:
Diversification of farming systems for improved resilience and profitability
Over the years, ICRISAT has developed an array of technologies suitable for sustainable intensification. These technologies, including multiple cropping combinations such as groundnut/pigeonpea to targeted cereal-based farming systems, can help build smallholder farmers’ resilience to climate variability and post-pandemic shocks, making farming more profitable. These diversification efforts can be re-packaged to enhance adaptation to shocks.
Enhancing access to seed at scale of grain legumes and dryland cereals
Through community seed banks and other tested approaches, ICRISAT is scaling out quality declared seed of legume and dryland cereals that improve smallholder farmers reliance at this time of crisis. The seed bank model also supports grain aggregation, which is key to market integration, towards supporting the farmers to grow their incomes as they deliver food to their community.
Building capacity of partners to promote technologies in a participatory manner
A multi-level strategy to build the capacity of different partners – including government officers, community-based organizations, and local leaders including women – has been instrumental in the partners now supporting operations in areas that have now become beyond reach, due to COVID-19.
Gender integration and empowerment to engage actively in agribusinesses
The COVID-19 pandemic has further aggravated challenges faced by women, youth and other vulnerable groups. ICRISAT programs are helping improve the resilience of such vulnerable groups by ensuring their participation in livelihood-strengthening activities, such training on climate-smart agriculture, engaging them in seed production as a business, and targeting them for training in business development. This has helped increase their asset base and improve their access and control over productive resources.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nation, COVID-19-induced breakdowns in the food supply chain represent serious concerns for food and nutrition security in Africa. In Malawi, 1.9 million people are already in need of food assistance, despite experiencing a good growing season, with maize, the staple crop, project to yield 25% above the previous five-year average. Ensuring food and nutrition security for a growing population while adjusting to an overall net increase of pandemics and disasters is a major global challenge.
ICRISAT’s efforts are a step in the direction of meeting this challenge.