Adapting to the ‘new normal’ to keep agribusinesses operational during COVID-19

Land plotting

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses have had to adjust to a new normal. Below we throw a spotlight on one of the CRAFT project partners and their efforts to stay afloat.

“As a private business working in agriculture, we cannot afford to fold our hands and wait for COVID-19 to go away. Business must go on because seasons don’t wait for you and if you miss a season, you have lost a whole cropping cycle and yet people have to eat. This is what John Tusasirwe, the CEO of Transformation for Rural development Limited (TRAFORD), one of the Climate Resilient Agribusiness for Tomorrow (CRAFT) project partners had to say while distributing improved climate resilient soybean seed to farmers in Dokolo district, Northern Uganda.

John and his team have been distributing improved early maturing and drought tolerant seeds (Maksoy), and agro inputs (pesticides and tarpaulins) to 625 of their contracted farmers at UGX 4,500 (EUR 1) per kg. This follows two weeks training of 50 selected lead-farmers as Trainer of Trainers (ToTs) by TRAFORD’s team of 10 Master Trainer of Trainers. The ToTs were trained in climate smart agricultural practices so that they in turn can train the targeted 1,250 small holder farmers (60% of whom are youth, including women) that TRAFORD will be working with in this season.

off loading seeds

TRAFORD staff offload soybean seed as they commence distribution

Field training

Field training for ToTs during COVID-19 allows for groups of upto 5 participants

Their initial plan was to train 50 ToTs in groups of 10 over a period of five days. With the government COVID-19 directives restricting meetings to no more than five people, John sought the Resident District Commissioner’s permission to allow them to train five ToTs each day. “The most important thing for any business right now is to be flexible and adaptive to whatever changes one is confronted with. We had to increase the number of days for the training from five to 10 days so that we could operate within the standard operating procedures set out by government. We provided all the farmers with face masks to wear during the training and provided handwashing facilities with soap for all the groups. The RDC made a follow up with us and was happy that we were applying the government COVID-19 protocol,” John added.

This adaptive approach has seen John and his team reschedule seed distribution over one week because of the rains and the Government restrictions on public gatherings. The team moved with security provided by the Uganda police in their truck full of soybean covered by tarpaulins to protect the seeds from rain. John is already looking ahead to ensure that training for the farmers is undertaken once seed distribution is completed. The company has set up 38 demonstration gardens as training sites for the 1,250 out growers targeted. Each ToT will train approximately 25 farmers in groups of five over a period of five days to ensure all the 25 farmers in each group are covered. For this season TRAFORD will be supporting the farmers to plant soybean on at least one acre of land each bringing the total acreage to 1,250. By training the farmers on climate smart agricultural practices, TRAFORD hopes to not only increase the yield per acre to 550 kgs (from an average of 400kgs) but also build in resilience to potentially disruptive climatic conditions. TRAFFORDprojects that they will be able to source between 400 and 500 metric tonnes of soybean from the farmers. John is hopeful that their efforts will pay off despite the challenges presented by COVID-19.

Transformation for rural development (TRAFORD) is a private limited company registered in Uganda that is engaged in oil seed production, bulking and marketing. In March 2020 TRAFORD signed a two year partnership agreement with the CRAFT project through its Climate Innovation Investment Facility (CIIF) to implement a co-investment business plan aimed at scaling up the company’s soybean aggregation and marketing capacities. Through the partnership TRAFORDwill support 5,000 small holder farmers increase their production through the adoption of climate smart agricultural practices and technologies.

Learn more about the CRAFT project here