Perseverance in COVID-19: An Agro-Dealer Adapts to the Pandemic
This post is written by Genet Admassu and Morgan Mickle, Banyan Global.
The COVID-19 pandemic presents a devastating threat to lives and livelihoods around the world. Low-income households and communities in emerging markets are some of those most vulnerable to the pandemic’s social and economic shocks. These challenges knock on everyone’s door these days, including 30-year-old Tefera Lemi. Tefera is a youth beneficiary of the USAID-funded Feed the Future Ethiopia Value Chain Activity (EVCA) and an agro-dealer/animal feed distributor in the Meraro Kebele, located in the Oromia Region. For Tefera, COVID-19 has meant fewer customers and sales due to movement restrictions and transport shortages.
Tefera studied animal science and rural development before taking jobs in the government and non-governmental organization sectors, where he spent many years working with communities. In 2018, Tefera decided to leverage his experiences in the agriculture sector and start his own agro-dealer business distributing animal feed, molasses, and masho feed for goat and sheep fattening. Over time, he was able to secure several loans from microfinancing and banking institutions valued between 50,000 and 150,000 ETB. Now, Tefera typically sells around 138,000 kg of animal feed, 78,000 kg of molasses, and 2,400 kg of masho feed for sheep and goat fattening per year and nets an annual profit close to 200,000 ETB. With his business, he is able to reach around 800 households in six Kebeles in Limubilbilo Woreda. His success has created job opportunities for two young men.
Tefera receives material support from EVCA. Disruptions in agricultural value chains and markets caused by the COVID-19 pandemic are severely affecting rural livelihoods, especially those of self-employed workers. Due to lockdowns and movement restrictions, smallholder farmers and agribusinesses, especially youth-run enterprises, are unable to sell their produce or access inputs, while seasonal and migrant workers are no longer generating income and need to return to their areas of origin, with ripple effects on their households. For Tefera, this has meant making adjustments to continue his business, but he is determined to not completely close his shop. Following advice from the Ethiopian Health Minister and government, such as washing hands frequently, wearing face masks, using sanitizer, keeping a safe distance from other people, and others, he looks forward to work each day and helping his community. Through EVCA, Tefera received material support for his shop, including a ventilator to keep the room air-conditioned and better store products, shelves to properly organize his goods, and assistance with ceiling repairs and paint to renovate his shop. Tefera appreciates the support he receives from EVCA and remains determined to work hard and reach more individuals who are engaged in animal fattening: “For all people who come to my shop to get service, I will teach them about COVID-19 and how they can protect themselves from this epidemic because the majority of people around this area do not have knowledge about COVID-19.”
COVID-19’s impacts on Tefera are unfortunately not unique; many individuals like him, and the businesses they support, have similarly been affected. Ethiopia’s COVID-19 trajectory, like that of other countries, has seen an accelerated increase in the number of confirmed cases and deaths over the last few months. As the government tackles the pandemic, development projects such as EVCA also face challenges to maintain momentum and reach beneficiaries like Tefera. For example, activities that gather large crowds — such as “farmer field days,” trade fairs, and mini-exhibitions — have been temporarily suspended. However, COVID-19 hasn’t stopped the drive nor the need to reach beneficiaries with critical livelihoods skills and information.
One approach that Banyan Global’s gender and youth team on EVCA has used to respond to these challenges has been integrating COVID-19 safeguards into internal activity planning processes like concept notes and budgets (and then carrying them out in project implementation). This approach has allowed the project’s gender and youth specialists to reflect on potential COVID-19 risks as they plan their activities and strategize precautionary measures for activity implementation. Such measures include reducing the number of participants per activity; adhering to national and project-specific social distancing guidelines; inviting health extension workers to provide safety demonstrations; providing safety materials such as masks, sanitizers, and gloves; and incorporating “ice-breaker”-style exercises to deliver key COVID-19-related messaging on topics like social distancing, coughing, sneezing, and seeking medical attention. These easy-to-do and little-to-no-cost pivots have contributed to ensuring the safety of EVCA team members, beneficiaries, and partners while helping advance EVCA activities and project goals. According to Genet Admassu, the Oromia Regional Gender and Youth Specialist on EVCA, “in any activity I carry out, health extension workers are present to explain to the community the status of COVID-19 in that area and how communities should protect themselves from COVID-19. They also conduct protection demonstrations. As part of this, the health extension workers explain the signs and symptoms and what to do if someone is experiencing them.”
These additions (and impact) have been well-received by both beneficiaries and EVCA staff. Tefera shared that, “COVID-19 made me realize that women have limited access to information. Those women who come to my shop, most of them do not have any information about COVID-19 and do not protect themselves. But what I do is teach them about it and how they can protect themselves and their families. The men who come to my shop, the majority of them wear a kind of face mask and they have an idea about COVID-19. So COVID-19 made me more gender-sensitive.” Similarly, Genet noted that, “I do technical follow-up with beneficiaries through phone call to see how they are progressing. So, this follow-up created a relationship between us and some have said, ‘you have not abandoned us during this difficult time’. What I would say here is that COVID-19 helped me to use technology well.”
While the negative impacts of COVID-19 are many, EVCA, its gender and youth team, and the project beneficiaries they support have embodied reliance and adversity. As we all continue to operate in this COVID-19 landscape, it’s critical to build on existing relationships, communicate often, and continue thinking innovatively to advocate for community health and best practices while helping to advance and promote agriculture and livelihoods.
The United States Agency for International Development (USAID)-funded and Fintrac-implemented Feed the Future Ethiopia Value Chain Activity is a five-year (2017-2021) project that contributes to the Government of Ethiopia’s objective to improve agricultural productivity and commercialization of smallholder farmers. As a sub-contractor, Banyan Global leads gender and youth integration, emphasizing inclusiveness in nutrition-sensitive productivity of targeted value chains, market systems, and trade, and improving the enabling environment in support of agricultural transformation.