As the Coronavirus pandemic continues to ravage economies and impacting negatively on agricultural production, Solidaridad, an international civil society organization, has deployed Interactive Voice Response (IVR) platform, a digital tool designed to provide access to agronomic and other production support information by farmers and communities that produce cocoa, oil palm and other food staples in West Africa.
The platform, which is compatible with basic feature and android phones, allows farmers and other stakeholders to receive pre-recorded messages in real time.
The Regional Director for Solidaridad in West Africa, Mr Isaac Gyamfi, explained that the “IVR is an important part of a remote support approach that helps Solidaridad to quickly assess ground situations to generate response plans and interventions.”
According to him, Solidaridad, currently championing smart and climate-resilience agricultural revolution in Nigeria and parts of Africa, considers the digital tool essential in bridging the obstacles posed by restrictions on movement and the limited social interactions due to Covid-19 lockdown. “At this time when physical interactions are less desired, the IVR platform helps us to reach out to a large number of our programme beneficiaries quickly to share important information on COVID-19 protection protocols and to deliver other technical crop production content that aligns with the farming season and the cropping calendar”, Gyamfi adds.
He further disclosed that the IVR had already proven effective in virtual training of farmers in places where it had been applied in parts of West Africa. “The Interactive Voice Response platform and other digital tools are not new to Solidaridad. In West Africa, they have been applied in Ghana, Côte d’Ivoire, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone, where Solidaridad is promoting sustainable practices across the cocoa, gold and oil palm supply chains.
He further disclosed that the organization used the IVR platform to transmit messages on Good Agricultural Practices to over 40,000 farmers, workers and producers under the Next Generation Cocoa Youth Programme (MASO) — funded by the Mastercard Foundation, and the second phase of the Cocoa Rehabilitation and Intensification Programme (CORIP II) — funded by the Embassy of the Netherlands in Ghana in 2019.
Ahmed Abdul Basit, Head of Digital Solutions at Solidaridad West Africa also disclosed that the organization deployed mobile data collection tools to profile 60,068 cocoa farmers, 19,627 oil palm farmers and 1,056 miners in the operational countries. According to him, the data was used to support the creation of markets for potential small and medium enterprises. “The IVR platform provides Solidaridad and partners real-time feedback on farmers’ experiences, learning and practices for additional intervention where necessary. With over 60,000 cocoa farmers already subscribing to the voice application platform, Solidaridad would continue to maintain contact with project beneficiaries during the pandemic. A total of 39,000 farmers are using the platform,” he explained.
He adds that the organization had used the IVR platform to sensitize 28,557 beneficiaries on the need to practice social distancing and other precautionary measures to prevent infection and contain the spread of the virus since March 2020 across the region.
“The organization will continue to innovate in the use of a digital classroom and other virtual tools to train small and medium enterprises and other community facilitators who are engaged for data collection. In this effort, Solidaridad welcomes partnerships with development investors and foundations, as well as government ministries, departments and agencies to scale the use of digital innovations in support of vulnerable producers and enterprises to grow as the world adapts to the new reality of physical distancing”, the organization said in a statement.
It further adds that it was fast-tracking the development of a digital self-assessment tool for artisanal and small-scale gold miners to educate them on responsible mining practices. “The organization has so far profiled some 1,000 miners in Ghana for a pilot use of a set of digital tools”, it adds.
Solidaridad further disclosed that its work in West Africa was being funded by the Netherlands Government, the Mastercard Foundation (MCF), the European Union (EU), the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO), the World Bank (WB), Henkel, Achmea, Mondelez International, and many other private sector companies. “Certainly, Solidaridad could not have done all these alone. The organization is grateful for the support of all development and implementing partners as it works to respond to the needs of beneficiaries at this critical time of COVID-19.