WOUGNET’s Agricultural Interventions in Improving Livelihoods of the Rural Population amidst the Current COVID-19 Global Pandemic

Agriculture is one of the most widespread activities in the world today and plays a significant role in food production, environmental protection, landscape preservation, rural employ­ment and food security.

Agricultural activities differ through­out; For instance, there are different elements such as, the scale of farming, Intensity of farming, crop and livestock combinations, ways and means of disposal of farm produce and the level of farm mechanization among others.

A vibrant rural Agricultural sector is essential to the growth of other nonfarm sectors due to the large dependence on it for food security and employment. Additionally, most of the rural households do earn a big percentage of their income from it. Narratives around poverty, hunger, food security and nutrition largely subsumed in the food system are intrinsically linked to the development of the rural economic structure which is constantly being re shaped by many forces, for example, livelihood opportunities, forces of urbanization, changes in land use patterns, markets and the inherent social demographic structure of the villages.

The reliance on Agriculture as the main source of livelihood in the rural areas faces many challenges, for example, unreliable climatic conditions, pests and diseases, market scarcity, the agricultural gender gap among others and the biggest one affecting them at the moment is the current corona virus (COVID-19) global pandemic.

The outbreak of the novel corona virus has slowed down economic growth in many sectors including agriculture regionally and internationally. The international Monitory Fund projects global growth to slow down by 0.5% (IMF,2020) ,and uncertainty about how the pandemic progresses still looms ( Kartik, J et al, 2020).

Although the impact of the pandemic is being talked about globally on so many communication platforms mostly from national and urban centric perspectives, not much has been spoken about its impact on the rural agricultural sector which constitutes large parts of many national economies and overall consumption across product categories. For example, reduction in income of the rural farmers leading to vulnerable segments of the rural communities to fall below the poverty line due to disruption in food distribution and the general agricultural supply-chain and a decline on the demand curve as restaurants were ordered to shut down. This has caused sizeable revenue loss to many rural farmers leading to vices such as domestic and gender based violence among the communities and further more exponentially increasing the gender gap in the rural agricultural setting.

From a gender point of view, there are significant gaps between women and men in the rural agricultural sector; for example, women farm holders have significantly smaller farms compared to their male counter parts. Moreover, the share of female farm holders is par­ticularly high on farms with no clear specialization in live­stock rearing or crop production. Women provide a large proportion of the labor force of rural agricul­tural production even though official statistics based on census and survey instruments often underestimate wom­en’s work and its contribution to national wealth. Problems still persist in the collection of reliable and comprehensive data on rural women’s work in agriculture and other productive sectors because of, invisibility of women’s work, seasonal and part-time nature of women’s work; and un­remunerated family (mostly women and children) labor. Therefore, the advancement of gender equality in the ru­ral agriculture sector faces some major obstacles amidst all the current global challenges.

The logical question therefore ensues, “How can the Agricultural sectors be transformed and income earning opportunities boosted such that it increases food security and welfare amidst all the agricultural challenges and the current COVID-19 global pandemic?”

One of the best ways of addressing the numerous agricultural challenges amidst the current global COVID-19 pandemic is by use of a multi-stakeholder approach and digital technologies. New tech trends in the Agricultural sectors normally stay in the urban areas, the rural areas on the other hand get less or nothing at all of the technologies hence slowing down development in such localities.

Effective Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) deployment in the rural areas significantly addresses the basic agricultural challenges faced by the rural dwellers, for example, pests and diseases, drought and market scarcity among others making technologies become more meaningful, beneficial and playing a crucial role in rural development. However, for the ICTs to be effective and fully utilized there must be a systematic effort to understand the exact challenges of the rural dwellers and identify the best innovative ways to address them.

Women of Uganda Network’s (WOUGNET’s)  www.wougnet.org  ICTs deployed in the rural areas of Northern Uganda is greatly helping farmers overcome the daily Agricultural challenges affecting them during this global pandemic. WOUGNET through the “Enhancing Rice/Green Gram productivity in Northern Uganda” (ERIGNU) www.erignu.org has made ICTs more accessible and utilized among the rural farmers which is in turn helping them agriculturally during this current global pandemic.

We observe that ICT integration into the Ugandan Agricultural sector is still in its infancy stage and the www.wougnet.org  implemented  www.erignu.org  project approach is one of the few clear early success stories as evidenced by the Uganda Communication Commission study on the state of ICT4Agric Innovations in Uganda, 2019.

The development and promotion of the ICT web based system powered by www.8technologies.net  among the farming communities, distribution of smart phones accompanied by digital skills training has stimulated farmers desire to seek and share information using ICTs, such as social media applications especially WhatsApp and Facebook. The use of these technologies has improved access to digital extension services as reported by farmers, as they now use these platforms to engage duty bearers like district Agricultural officers to deliver services to them.

Realizing the need to share information, a number of farmer groups have formed WhatsApp groups to share their experiences and exchange knowledge, which is key for their decision making and tackling challenges like outbreak of pests and diseases and availability of market offers regionally. The ICT web based system has got options for land mapping  http://www.erignu.org/system/homepage  among a wide range of options with the mobile application http://www.erignu.org/ErignuMobile.apk  offering services like , market search, yield prediction and numerous agricultural extension services. These low-cost digital tools are greatly helping farmers cope up with the more agricultural challenges brought up by the COVID-19 global pandemic leading to increment in their household incomes hence, alleviating hunger, increasing food security and improving on their livelihoods.

The www.wougnet.org implemented ERIGNU project also played a big role in narrowing the gender gap among the rural farmers. To overcome this problem in the Northern districts of Uganda, WOUGNET had to come up with gender equality initiatives to ensure women’s full and effective participation in the ERIGNU project (Enhancing rice/green gram productivity in Northern Uganda) especially in the areas of decision making, leadership and their general agricultural roles. Intensive gender equality trainings were conducted in the project districts to make the men aware of the important roles women play in the agricultural sector. However, the roles of men were also not under looked. Before the trainings on gender, there were stereotypes like: – Only men own land, only men having the rights to sell farm produce, only men participating in the agricultural decision making processes among others.
When it came to the ICT sector, the women were not given a right to own mobile phones or radios hence no access to ICTs, this in turn led to a tremendous increment in domestic and gender based violence. 

The ERIGNU platform features are being referenced by a number of startup ICT4Agric developers to build solutions for agriculture in Uganda, through their regular consultation with www.wougnet.org / www.erignu.org   . The rural population is therefore utilizing ICT tools deployed to help them cope up with the current global challenges.


Leave a reply