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The COVID-19 pandemic has affected all facets of human life across the world this year. Farming and agricultural research have not been spared. In most communities, food prices have surged occasioned by prevailing COVID-19 management guidelines and policies including restrictions on human movement which have affected the production and availability of food.

The full effect that COVID-19 will have had on smallholder farmers’ lives and livelihoods, especially in Africa, is at this time difficult to know. But what is certain is that a disruption of their livelihoods has already occurred.

It is against this backdrop that Africa RISING partners in Ghana recently held a hybrid review and planning meeting to come up with ways of ensuring the project’s research and development obligations continue in 2021 in light of the challenges brought on by the pandemic. A hybrid arrangement for the two-day workshop, which took place on 24–25 June, was agreed on beforehand to allow only a small number of participants to physically attend the meeting while others participated virtually.

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Some of the project partners engaged in group discussions during the meeting. Photo credit: Wilhelmina Ofori-Duah/IITA.

While opening the meeting, the Africa RISING Project Steering Committee chair and International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) deputy director for West Africa, Michael Abberton, lauded partners for showing a special kind of dedication to still plan for the coming cropping season despite the prevailing challenges. He noted that smallholder farmers needed the support most, considering that they were highly vulnerable to the shocks imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Also speaking via an online link at the start of the meeting, Africa RISING project manager, Irmgard Hoeschle-Zeledon, noted that while COVID-19 posed challenges to the usual project operations, it also provided an opportunity for partners to ensure that interventions make a positive impact to farmer’s lives when they need it most. Hoeschle-Zeledon also highlighted the need to implement some of the recommendations from the recently concluded Africa RISING Program Internally Commissioned External Review. 

Six review presentations, each offering a broad summary of partner activities in the previous year (2019/20) were presented at the meeting as follows (click links to view presentations).

Switching over to planning for the 2020/21 season, the project’s chief scientist, Fred Kizito noted that the work plans for the coming year should focus on synthesis/high-level analysis of the data already collected by partners over the past four years. 

‘I urge that we all double our efforts in writing chapters for the Africa RISING West Africa Technologies Handbook, which will be the project’s legacy publication. So far, only a few of you have sent in chapters. This important activity should be included in the work plans you develop for the coming year,’ he said. He added that the West Africa team is also expected to contribute to Africa RISING cross-regional journal publications that is being developed jointly with scientists from the eastern and southern Africa (ESA) region, and Ethiopia regional projects.

Discussion by partners at the meeting also focused on how they can best enhance the use of the data collected so far to enhance the utility of the Sustainable Intensification Assessment Framework (SIAF).

‘We have a lot of data in our computers collected over the past four to five years,’ said Africa RISING West Africa project economist, Bekele Kotu. ‘We should look at them more closely and apply the SIAF to better understand some of the technologies we have introduced to farmers. Additionally, the existing data sets can also now be used to produce other outputs like publications, technology briefs and the technologies handbook,’ he added.

Now in the second-to-last year of its implementation, the Africa RISING program has a goal of reaching 92,000 smallholder farm households in six countries with various sustainable intensification technologies by the year 2021. Whilst unforeseen challenges like COVID-19 pose significant obstacles to this ambition, project partners are still focused to get technologies in the hands of as many farmers as possible. Using the Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) Framework within the project, the partners committed to continue tracking the number of beneficiary farmers and to document success stories of the impact of the project’s technologies on farmers’ lives. 

‘Together with our partners (the United States Agency for International Development [USAID] and the International Food Policy Research Institute [IFPRI], the team is implementing M&E activities that will broadly contribute to our understanding of the effect of technology adoption by farmers in the project,’ said IFPRI’s Carlo Azzarri, Africa RISING M&E lead. He said that the M&E team is looking at the association between agricultural market integration, adoption of agronomic practices, yields, food security, and poverty in northern Ghana—a desk study that is using the Ghana Africa RISING baseline studies data that was collected in 2016.

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