Adapting in the Field: Delivering Extension and Input Packages During COVID-19
This post is written by Scott Massey and Dena Bunnel, Nuru International. Nuru Nigeria is a registered non-profit organization operating in northeast Nigeria. It is supported by Nuru International. To learn more about Nuru’s work, go to nuruinternational.org/blog.
When it launched programs in 2019, the young, dynamic team that makes up Nuru Nigeria had no idea what was in store for its first full year working with farmers in northern Adamawa State. With plans to provide a full crop loan package that included seeds and critical inputs for the 2020 production year for soybeans and groundnuts, Nuru Nigeria had designed a robust system of in-person training with its brand-new farmer associations and a comprehensive set of loan services. However, as the COVID-19 pandemic brought lockdowns and restrictions to Nigeria, these plans had to quickly change. Though a nascent organization, the team rose to meet these unexpected challenges and adapt to a new model of service provision.
Nuru Nigeria’s mission is to eradicate extreme poverty in fragile rural areas to build communities resilient to violent extremism. Nuru does this through the development and capacity building of farmer cooperatives. With a focus on communities impacted by the violent activities of the Boko Haram extremist organization, the farmers with which Nuru works were already fragile, rebuilding from conflict and susceptible to the impacts of climate change on agriculture. COVID-19 added one more level of stressors for farmers in the region.
Unable to hold large group trainings on important topics such as seeds and seedbed preparation for the rapidly approaching planting season, Nuru Nigeria quickly redesigned its training to accommodate small-group training and remote learning to include Good Agricultural Practice video training and phone-based extension for soybean and groundnut production. As planting time neared, a larger task loomed — sourcing the inputs for the crop loan packages, across state boundaries that were subject to restrictions, and getting those inputs safely to farmers. Nuru worked closely with Nigerian government officials to safely and efficiently obtain the needed inputs.
In May 2020, 541 Nuru Nigeria farmers across more than 50 farmer associations in four different villages in northern Adamawa state received their crop packages (seeds, inoculants, fungicide, potash for soil acidity in soybeans, fertilizer, fungicides, PICS bags). The timing of the distribution of these crop packages demanded a new level of operations in Nuru’s work: a mix of survival, adaptation, co-creation, and resilience. The team shifted the distribution plan to be spaced out to allow for appropriate social distancing. The multi-phased, multi-location distribution of these crop packages brought with it several other challenges: continued COVID-19 restrictions within communities, limited access to vendors due to state border closures, a local team rapidly adapting to a rapidly scaling scope of operations, an expatriate team returned to their home countries, and rising levels of insurgency. Nuru Nigeria undertook each challenge and faced the ever-changing circumstances with both flexibility and a thorough program of contingency planning.
The Nuru team’s efforts paid off and gave farmers much-needed access to improved seeds and inputs for more productive fields. For over a decade of cultivating groundnut as a cash crop, Aishatu, a mother of 9, has used saved seeds or uncertified seeds bought from the local market. She has been using urea fertilizer to increase nitrogen nutrients in the soil for more yield; but with the ban on the use of urea fertilizer by the Government of Nigeria, Aishatu has had difficulty in accessing an alternative to urea fertilizer which has affected yields from her farm. She expressed excitement with the crop package distributed by Nuru Nigeria for the 2020 cropping season. In particular, the certified and improved groundnut seeds will produce higher yields than the local varieties she and her household have cultivated for the past decade. The inoculant — a bio-fertilizer that increases nitrogen nutrient in the soil by promoting nodulation — is a perfect alternative to the urea fertilizer which has been banned; but it is not readily available, and it is more costly than the inoculants. Aishatu is optimistic and hopeful that her household will have a bumper harvest from their groundnut farm.
COVID-19 has tested many organizations’ abilities to operate and meet objectives during this time. However, few have been so tested in their first year of programming. Still, Nuru Nigeria rose to the challenge and ensured that Nuru farmers received the inputs and the trainings needed for a successful harvest. As Nuru Nigeria looks forward, it is further prioritizing the incorporation of digital extension and financial tools into its programs to ensure that farmers will have access to the information and tools they need in real-time and from any location. In the time of COVID-19, Nuru Nigeria is working with farmers to create more resilient communities who are more prepared for the shocks and stressors they may face.