Video diaries in the days of Corona: Voices from the ground

with contributions from Louisa Nelle, Bruno St. Jaques, Sarah Kirangu-Wissler & Matteo Lattanzi

  

Young farmers’ insights on the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on food systems in Sub-Saharan Africa @CovidFoodFuture and video diaries from Nairobi’s informal settlements.

 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, two farmers keep a video diary with their personal experiences in dealing with Corona. Photo: TMG-Sewoh
During the COVID-19 pandemic, two farmers keep a video diary with their personal experiences in dealing with Corona. Photo: TMG-Sewoh

Alexander Müller

Alexander Müller

Alexander Müller, a graduate sociologist, is the head of a global study of the UN Environment Program on "The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity for Agriculture and Food" and CEO of "TMG - Töpfer, Müller, Gaßner GmbH, ThinkTankforSustainabilty".

Sarah D'haen

Sarah D’haen coordinates TMG Research’s SEWOH Lab project. Originally trained as an agronomist and environmental scientist, Sarah’s expertise and interest lie in livelihood dynamics in the Global South, in identifying the direct and indirect drivers of vulnerability and poverty, and finding ways to address these in an effective, inclusive and sustainable way. Throughout her career she has applied this interest in research and implementation projects focused on land use change and adaptation to climate change. She has worked extensively with local and national level stakeholders, scientists and policy makers, predominantly in Sub-Saharan Africa, and more recently also in Europe. She holds a PhD in Geography.

TMG – ThinkTankforSustainabilty

GIZ

 

Under its SEWOH Lab project, TMG Research has, together with local partners, launched a series of activities to gain closer insights into how poorer segments of Sub-Saharan African societies experience the effects of the pandemic and navigate the resulting uncertain job, income and food production and supply spaces.

 

What coping mechanisms emerge? What pragmatic food production, distribution and procurement mechanisms do citizens explore and apply? Are new or innovative structures and patterns arising in rural, or local urban and peri-urban agricultural production? What strategies are being applied in the (informal) distribution chains of (locally) produced food?; and finally: how do informal workers with a now dwindling income access food?

 

Togo: serving food in a school. Photo: Christoph Püschner/Bread for the World
Togo: serving food in a school. Photo: Christoph Püschner/Bread for the World

The overarching goal of the activities is to provide a unique and direct insight into the challenges, responses and solutions from the local perspective. Central to our approach are the key actors of the local food system: young, urban and peri-urban farmers, street vendors and informal retailers, and low-income consumers. Together theypresent a plurality of perspectives on the issue and contribute to the emerging discussions in different national contexts.

 

Under the twitter handle @CovidFoodFuture, young farmers in South-Africa, Madagascar, Malawi, DRC, Kenya, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Benin, Burkina Faso, and Senegaltweet several times per day on the dynamics and developments in their national and local food systems. In addition to the tweets, each participant also publishes a series of longer observations on local food system developments in their country and city. The stories are posted in the sectionCOVID-19 FOOD/FUTURE on TMG Research Medium page “Enabling Sustainability”. This continuous flow of information enables tracking the evolution of the crisis in a dynamic way, identifying how citizens and governments alike are responding and adapting to its impacts in real-time.

 

Street food in a residential area of ​​Lome, the capital of Togo. Photo: Christoph Püschner/Brot für die Welt
Street food in a residential area of ​​Lome, the capital of Togo. Photo: Christoph Püschner/Brot für die Welt

Information posted during the first 10 days of April clearly showedhow the details of lockdowns and social distancing measures wereplaying out across the participating SSA countries, and how peoplewerecoping with them. Participants’ observations identified emerging challenges for all food system actors, with farmers and vendors facing noticeable disadvantages due to disruptions of logistics. On the producers’ side, experiencing harvest losses was one of the most tweeted challenges.

 

Panic purchases caused shortages of goods in the short term

 

We saw that several pathways led to post harvest losses, be it because farm workers could notmake it to the fields, crop transport options between fields and markets hadbeen reduced to physically carrying goods for hours, or because markets weresimply closed. Losses also occurred after major clients cancelled weekly orders, and due to the reduced buying power of a considerable part of consumers. Finally, lack of adequate storage and refrigeration facilities led to spoilage. Particularly affected were poultry farmers, fishermen/women and fruit and vegetables growers.  Several tweets advocated easing/adapting restrictions for these producers. Faced with increasing sales barriers, many producer groups adjusted their prices.

 

Customer panic buying caused temporary scarcity of available goods, a scarcity which was later stabilised but replaced by a rise in prices due to border closures and international trade restrictions, and, more locally, due to added transportation costs;Some retailers had startedhiringprivate vehicles to transport crops from field to market.Across the countries, the tweeted information suggested that COVID-19 and the related measures wouldexacerbate existing inequalities across all aspects of food and nutritional security. Households dependent on the informal economy were found to be particularly struggling.  Several tweets pointed outthe huge number of children from these households now missing out on daily school meals.

 

A plethora of responses and ad-hoc solutions were quicklyobserved across the continent. Apart from food aid and food bank responses, several governments, NGOs and religious associations started planning and implementing more targeted distributions of food packages to vulnerable households, next to establishing solidarity funds for, for example, those working in the informal sector. Major markets in capital cities have been moved out to stadiums or other big event spaces so that food trading can continue whilst observing social distancingrequirements. Information campaigns targeting (rural) farmers wereobserved and several countries sawfarmer unions bulk buying farming inputs or staple food, stabilizing both the supply and demand side of the market.

 

In mid-April, digital solutions to physical barriers were among the most prominent type of responses tweeted about. Digital platforms and communication were being used to train people or facilitate local food trading. ICT and mobile phones were identified as helpful in allowing extension workers to carry out their services remotely, e.g. advising on storage techniques and farmgate pricing. However, most tweeted solutions indicated a need for remote data collection and strengthening of monitoring systems. On the consumption side, online platforms were emerging to inform consumers about food access and to overcome physical accessibility issues. Apart from digital solutions, practical interventions were increasingly reported.

 

Towards the end of April, initiatives targeting the rural poor and aiming to mitigate the impact on food production, market access and employment in rural areas continued to be rolled out. Censuses to identify the most vulnerable segments of the population were carried out, direct cash transfers operationalised, and in some regions, the collection of taxes on agricultural products was suspended. In some countries, markets had reopened in order to relieve those involved in the informal sector and to revive the economy, while other countries were already experiencing a progressive deconfinement.

 

In a number of countries, both national and locally backed initiatives around urban gardening, livestock keeping, fish breeding, and even beekeeping were emerging or being strengthened, with the aim to keep nutritional diversity up as much as possible. In some capitals and bigger cities, informal workers had now engaged in door to door fruit and vegetable trading as an alternative income source.

 

 

Videotagebücher from Nairobi show the reality in dealing with Covid-19

 

This activity documents how different actors within Nairobi’s food system navigate and cope with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Focus is on low-income consumers and those sectors within the urban food system that are key to the food security of the urban poor, more specifically urban and peri-urban agriculture, and the informal food retail and vending system.

 

We use a collaborative visual research method, under which we equip eight (8) individuals with smartphones, and enable them, to ‘showcase‘ their personal experience and navigation of the new reality under the COVID-19 pandemic in self recorded video diaries. The short video sequences, accompanied by and supplemented with insights gained from more in-depth direct exchanges with the participants, are published on a continuous basis on TMG Research's Medium page.

 

Central to our approach is the question what food people in informal settlements in Nairobi have access to, and how they obtain this access in times of crises. We are interested in finding out what role urban and peri-urban agriculture and the informal food system (could) play here, in overcoming some of the food security and social unrest challenges posed by a global pandemic like COVID-19. We ultimately hope to identify entry points for strategies to make the wider Nairobi food system more resilient to future crises.

 

From the material collected in the first three weeks of this activity two key insights are emerging. A first one is that, under the current circumstances, urban farming can be a sustainable livelihood in Nairobi, sustaining food security and nutrition of urban farmers and their families.Urban farmers in Nairobi maintain an income, lower than usual since demand for fresh and thus costlier products is lower, but still better than the majority of people working in the informal economy who lost their job opportunities. Urban farmers maintain their food security and nutrition, since a) fresh and nutritious food is available and accessible on their own farm and b) they maintain enough income to buy other food items to complement their diet.

 

Alex Sikina, urban farmer in the Kangemi informal settlement of Nairobi: “I specialise in growing indigenous vegetables, because they are more nutritious and can prevent many diseases. They also fetch better prices at the market. During this corona period, many consumers are preferring to buy the cheaper but less nutritious vegetables like Sukuma wiki. But my family and I have continued to consume the indigenous vegetables because that is what I grow on my own. Even though the market is down, I still make some income.”

 

A second insight emerging is that, amongst non-farming residents of Nairobi’s informal settlements, income, and thus access, constitutes the most important constraint to food and nutrition security. Many families skip meals and drop fresh nutrient-rich foods. The majority of the people living in the informal settlements in Nairobi are working in the informal economy. Due to the economic downturn many have lost their income opportunities. Before the pandemic, the middle and low-income population in Nairobi would already spend up to three-quarters of their salary on food. Without income the majority of the low-income population is not able to meet their food needs anymore. With less food available in the markets and food prices higher, the main constraint is money to buy food, and thus access.

 

An important additional factor here is that families now have to provide (extra) food for their school aged children, who normally benefited from school meals. Most families reduce the amount of meals they eat per day, and minimize their diet to staples, like maize and beans. They cut out especially fresh and nutritious, but costlier vegetables. Mildred Bwasio, a resident of Kangemi informal settlement: “Corona has adversely affected me and my family. All my family members are now home - eight children, my husband and two relatives. We sometimes have to skip lunch. For breakfast, we buy one loaf of bread and take a slice each with black tea because we can no longer afford milk. My husband, who works as a security guard, can no longer contribute to the daily meals. Before coronavirus, he would get tips from people working in the office block where he guards. Now they are working from home. There are no more tips”.

 

Watch the videos and follow the full stories under ‘Stories’ on TMG Research Medium page.

This article is part of Covid-19 Food/Future, an initiative aiming to provide a unique and direct insight into the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic on national and local food systems. Central to our approach are the experiences of young, urban and peri-urban farmers, street vendors and informal retailers, and low-income consumers. Follow @CovidFoodFuture on Twitter. Covid-19 Food/Future is an initiative by TMG. ThinkTank for Sustainability (www.tmg-thinktank.com), or on Twitter @TMG_think. Funding for this initiative is provided by BMZ, the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development.

 

The smartphone as a means of communication in times of social distance. Icon photo: Mika Schmidt/dpa-picture alliance
The smartphone as a means of communication in times of social distance. Icon photo: Mika Schmidt/dpa-picture alliance

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"Extreme is the new normal"

A report by Alexander Müller and Jes Weigelt (TMG)

As the climate changes, the population of Africa is growing and fertile land and jobs are becoming scarcer. New ways are currently leading to urbanisation of agriculture and a new mid-sized sector in the countryside

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© GIZ / Angelika Jacob

This is how developing countries can adapt better to droughts

A contribution by Michael Brüntrup (DIE) und Daniel Tsegai (UNCCD)

Droughts are the natural disasters with far-reaching negative consequences. While rich countries are still vulnerable to drought, famines are no longer found.

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(c) Christof Krackhardt/Brot für die Welt

Together and resourceful against worldwide hunger

A contribution by Brot für die Welt

Climate change disturbs the climate in Ethiopia. The answer from small farmers in the northern region is convincing: diversify!

 

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(c) Christoph Mohr/GIZ

Microinsurance against climate change

A contribution by Claudia Voß

Climate change is destroying development progress in many places. The clever interaction of digitalisation and the insurance industry protects affected small farmers.

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(c) Nina Schroeder/World Food Programme

Hunger is caused by people, not the climate

Interview with Jacob Schewe (PIK)

A study by the World Bank predicts that millions of people in sub-Saharan Africa will have to leave their homelands because of climate change. We have spoken with one of the authors

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UNFSS Pre-Summit: What did it achieve?

Interview with Martina Fleckenstein (WWF), Michael Kühn (WHH) and Christel Weller-Molongua (GIZ)

After the summit means pre-summit: It was the first time that the United Nations held a summit on food systems. Martina Fleckenstein (WWF), Michael Kühn (WHH) and Christel Weller-Molongua (GIZ) reviewed the situation in this joint interview.

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How do you campaign “Food Systems”?

Interview with Paul Newnham, Director of the SDG 2 Advocacy Hub.

The UN Food Systems pre-Summit in Rome dealt with transforming the ways of our nutrition. How do you bring that to a broad public? Questions to Paul Newnham, the Director of the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 2 Advocacy Hub.

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Food system transformation starts and ends with diversity

A contribution by Emile Frison and Nick Jacobs (IPES-Food)

While having failed to solve the hunger problem, industrial agriculture appears to be causing additional ones both in environmental and health terms. Emile Frison and Nick Jacobs call for a transformation.

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Mr. Marí, what happened at the alternative summit?

An Interview with Francisco Marí (Brot für die Welt)

Brot für die Welt (Bread for the World) did not attend the UNFSS pre-summit. Instead, the organisation took part in a counter-summit that took place at the same time. A conversation with Francisco Marí about the reasons, the process - and an outlook for the future

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What do you expect from this Pre Summit, Mr. Haddad?

Interview with Lawrence Haddad (GAIN)

Nutrition experts from all over the world are coming together in Rome. They are not only distilling 2000 ideas to improve food systems - they are also preparing for the big UN summit in New York in September. An interview. 

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Mr. Campari, how do we create sustainable food systems?

Interview with Joao Campari (WWF)

Journalist Jan Rübel spoke with Joao Campari ahead of the UNFSS Pre-Summit. The Chair of Action Track 3 highlights key challenges in transforming existing food systems towards sustainable production and shares his expectations for the Summit.

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Land Rights, Gender and Soil Fertility in Benin

A contribution by Dr. Karin Gaesing and Prof. Dr. Frank Bliss (INEF)

Especially in densely populated areas, land pressure leads to overexploitation of available land and a lack of conservation measures. The West African country of Benin, with heavily depleted soils in many places, is no exception.

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The Rice Sector in West Africa: A Political Challenge

New insights on trade and value addition in the rice sector in West Africa

Low import tariffs, smuggling activities, unpredictable tax exemptions and weak enforcement of food safety standards: The potential of local rice value chains is undermined in West African countries.

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© GIZ

Ideas on the ground: Local solutions for global challenges

Interview with Sebastian Lesch (BMZ)

A world without hunger and with sufficient healthy food as well as climate-friendly agriculture can only be achieved if ideas are transformed into innovations and ultimately also applied - a conversation with BMZ Head of Division Sebastian Lesch on the Innovation Challenge programme of the new Agricultural Innovation Fund.

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(c) Thomas Trutschel/BMEL/photothek

Rethinking funding

By Anna Sophia Rainer

Peasant farmers tend to fail due to bank credit limits. But investment could help them generate a sustainable income. This has given rise to an intense discussion about potential digital solutions.

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Answers from the youth: "Leave or stay? That depends on it!"

GIZ study; conducted by Geopoll

Does Africa's youth want to live in the city or in the country? Which career path seems particularly attractive? And how optimistic are the young people about the future? Young adults from rural areas answered these questions by SMS.

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(c) Privat

How much private investment is the agricultural sector able to bear?

By Pedro Morazán

Small farmers in developing countries must modernise their farming methods, but poorly understood reforms could exacerbate poverty instead of alleviating it.

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Africa's rapid economic transformation

A report by T. S. Jayne, A. Adelaja and R. Mkandawire

Thirty years ago, Africa was synonymous with war, famine and poverty. That narrative is clearly outdated. African living standards are rising remarkably fast. Our authors are convinced that improving education and entrepreneurship will ensure irreversible progress in the region even as it confronts COVID-19.

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(c) Joerg Boethling/GIZ

"We are not Uber for tractors"

Interview with Jehiel Oliver

Jehiel Oliver was a successful consultant. One day, he quit his job in investment banking to become a social entrepreneur. His mission: tractors for Africa. Rental tractors. What gave him that idea? Find out in his interview with Jan Rübel.

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KLAUS WOHLMANN / GIZ

Wanted: German investment in African agriculture

Interview with Stefan Liebing

Stefan Liebing is chairman of the Africa Association of German Business. The manager calls for a better structure of African farms. Jan Rübel asked him about small farmers, the opportunities for German start-ups and a new fund.

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Silicon Valley for Africa’s agricultural start-ups

A contribution by Michel Bernhardt (GIZ)

The project “Scaling digital agriculture innovations through start-ups” (SAIS) supports Africans going into business in the agricultural and food sector in scaling their digital innovations and thus reaching out to a larger number of users.

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Africa's face of agriculture is female

A contribution by Beatrice Gakuba (AWAN-AFRIKA)

Africa has a huge opportunity to make agriculture its economic driver. However, the potential for this is far from being made exhaustive use of, one reason being that women face considerable difficulties in their economic activities. The organisation AWAN Afrika seeks to change this state of affairs.

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Innovations for a secure food supply

A contribution by German Agribusiness Alliance

The COVID 19 pandemic is hitting developing and emerging countries and their poorest populations particularly hard. It is important to take countermeasures at an early stage. Companies in the German agricultural sector want to make their contribution to ensuring the availability of urgently needed operating resources.

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Joerg Boethling/GIZ

"The Green Revolution reaches its limits"

Interview with Stig Tanzmann (BfdW)

Stig Tanzmann is a farmer and adviser on agricultural issues at ‘Bread for the World’. Jan Rübel interviewed him about his reservations about AGRA's strategy.

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Frank Schultze / Agentur_ZS

The communicator

A contribution by Jan Rübel

What do electrical engineering, telecommunications and agriculture have in common? They arouse the passion of Strive Masiyiwa: Thirty years ago, he started an electrical installation company with $75, later riding the telecommunications wave as a pioneer. Today he is committed to transforming African agriculture.

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A new attempt at Africa's industrialization?

A contribution by Helmut Asche

Afrika is about ready. There are promising approaches for a sustainable industrialization. However, the path poses challenges to the continent.

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Is the international community still on track in the fight against hunger?

Interview with Miriam Wiemers (Welthungerhilfe)

The Global Hunger Index (GHI) 2020 shows that the world is not on track to meet the international goal of “zero hunger by 2030”. If we continue at our current speed, around 37 countries will not even have reached a low hunger level by 2030.

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© AHA

The farmes themselves are the benchmark

A contribution by Andreas Quiring

Strong farmes are the key to a self-determined, sustainable development. Social innovations can help make the farmers’ actual needs the benchmark.

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Kakaoernte

Doing More With Less

A contribution by Jochen Moninger

Innovation is the only way to end hunger worldwide by the deadline we have set ourselves. The secret lies in networking and sharing ideas – and several initiatives are already leading by example.

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Quinoa could have a huge potential in Central Asia, where the Aral Sea Basin has been especially hard-hit by salinisation.

Supermarket Scorecard on Human Rights

A contribution by Dr. Franziska Humbert (Oxfam)

Oxfam’s supermarket scorecard, which is in its third year, shows one thing in particular - it works! Supermarkets can change their business policies and focus more on the rights of those people around the world who plant and harvest food. However, this does not happen without pressure. 

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No rainforest for our consumption

A contribution by Jenny Walther-Thoß (WWF)

In the tropics rainforests are still being felled for the production of palm oil, meat and furniture. It is high time to act. Proposals are on the table.

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