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Facilitating Successful Harvest Seasons During COVID-19

COVID-19 has severely stressed agricultural markets and threatens food security globally in countries such as Egypt. Good agricultural practices play a crucial role in the country's food security position—particularly in Upper Egypt and the Delta, remote areas that receive support from the Feed the Future Egypt Rural Agribusiness Strengthening Project, a USAID-funded activity.  When national stay-at-home orders were extended indefinitely throughout Egypt, the Project sought new ways to continue assistance and ensure harvest success.

While many sectors simply shift to working virtually in response to the pandemic, this is not an option for smallholder farmers.  A Remote Technical Assistance (RTA) strategy enabled the Project to reach its target smallholder farmers for remote training through WhatsApp or SMS—a significant cultural change as the assistance switched from in-person training and follow-up visits.

During the spring of 2020 as the pandemic spread, the Feed the Future Egypt Rural Agribusiness Strengthening Project responded quickly to urgent harvesting technical assistance needs, adjusting work plans, shifting business meetings online, and thinking creatively about how to fit technical assistance to the new COVID-19 reality.

In practice, the Project’s RTA ranges from video guidance to on-demand question-and-answer support in specialized value chain WhatsApp groups. These groups now provide spaces for beneficiaries to receive guidance, pose questions to their peers and technical staff, and even share videos of their crops. 

The Project is taking milestone events online, as well virtual events:

  • Celebrating the Fennel Harvest Day in Qena. The virtual event was attended by farmers, representatives of the U.S. government and Giza Seeds and Herbs (GSH), one of Egypt’s main herb and spice exporters, and Project staff. The event showcased the results of forward contracts facilitated by the Project between GSH and two producer organizations
  • Celebrating a Mango Festival in Luxor. This virtual event titled “Collective Marketing…. Assured Power and Increased Profit,” was attended by representatives of the U.S. Embassy, USAID/Egypt, the Esna Pack House, Mecca Company for Import & Export, and Project staff.
  • Celebrating the launch of BASF Egypt’s Mini Mobile Agricultural Clinics, haseera days, and disease-specific SMS alerts for 1,200 tomato smallholder farmers in Luxor. (Haseera days involve field visits to provide technical recommendations on BASF-produced input supplies to smallholder farmers.) The event, attended by USAID/Egypt, BASF Egypt, and Project staff, showcased the private sector’s support for improving the horticultural sector by increasing smallholder farmers’ yields and productivity.
  • Celebrating a virtual demonstration of the first cold store in Egypt to use CoolBot technology, an innovative, low-cost, post-harvest cold chain solution. The event at Orient Group in Alexandria was attended by representatives from USAID/Egypt, Orient Group, Alex Form, and Project staff.

From April to June 2020, the Project virtually reached more than 2,500 participants with training messages, voice notes, and technical recommendations. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, the Project will continue to integrate valuable RTA lessons and strategies into its post-COVID-19 work.

 
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