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COVID-19 risks to food security are real - but farmers step up to the plate with pre-emptive action and aid

23 Jun 2020

We're in this together

Compassion, generosity and proactive leadership: this is how our agri-fund farmers’ response to the COVID-19 outbreak has been described.

We’re in this together.
Extraordinary times require an extraordinary response. Our people and partners have responded by dedicating time and resources to various initiatives. This is how our farmers have stepped up for farmworkers and their future during the COVID-19 crisis.

The farms in our portfolios - due to their developmental mandates - are typically situated in areas that are remote and underserviced. This can exacerbate the impact of the current pandemic. Both the health of the workforce and the business of every farming operation are at stake. Despite the fear, uncertainty and frustration arising in this period, the reaction of the farm operators has been truly uplifting.

Farm initiatives

At the Piketberg farm in the Futuregrowth Agri-Fund 1, the management team have arranged for every worker to be tested via a mobile testing service, and used these results to inform the way forward as the harvest season draws to a close. At the olive farm near Leeu Gamka in the Futuregrowth Agri-Fund 2, the operator has arranged for all workers to be provided with a daily dose of vitamin C and a nutritious meal, in order to boost their immunity. At the same fund’s Brandwacht farm near Worcester, the operator has arranged for a medical doctor to attend the site at least once a week in order to screen the workers and their families and address any concerns they may have. And at the Bonathaba farm near Wellington, the farm manager, Christie Henn, has taken the lead in accessing all government and regional communications around COVID-19 that are relevant to the agricultural sector, and distributing them to other concerned parties.

Covid-19: Farmers step up

At the Blackstar farm in Zambia (in the Old Mutual African Agricultural Fund, managed by Futuregrowth), the operator immediately mobilised protocols for washing and sanitation, and, more importantly, made a concerted effort to educate every worker and community member about the virus, its consequences and how to prevent its spread. At the same fund’s Norsa farm in eSwatini, the operator was one of the first in the country to convene a crisis and strategy meeting, resulting in a set of detailed prevention and response measures, and has initiated community education forums together with the eSwatini Ministry of Health.

Blackstar farm, Zambia

At a Fund level

Being involved in the management of funds that include diverse farms across southern Africa is challenging in that practical and logistical considerations are different in every area. However, the current situation does also provide an opportunity to share and reinforce best practices across the operations.

The Fund Advisor, UFF, is making a concerted effort to provide support and guidance to the management teams at every operation, in order to safeguard those who work on the farms and to ensure business continuity, so that we can continue to produce vital food supplies.

Initial measures

When news of the outbreak first spread, prior to regulatory guidance, our immediate interventions were practical: every worker on every farm was given training on the nature of COVID-19, on the importance of social distancing, on etiquette for coughing and sneezing carefully, and what to do in the event of symptoms manifesting. There was a particular emphasis on handwashing, with training demonstrations and informational posters in appropriate languages supplied. Every worker, whether temporary or permanent, was provided with soap to take home and asked to share this information with their families.

Ongoing measures

As the pandemic situation evolved, these measures were enforced with additional training, and each farm was assisted with more formalised risk assessments and various protocols, in order to identify any gaps in prevention and management. This has included transport and farm gate protocols. UFF is also holding regular strategy meetings with the farms, while keeping abreast of regulatory developments and international trade fluctuations.

Outlook

Our collective efforts and initiatives like those described above will define how these farms emerge from the crisis – and allow us to continue contributing to southern African food security and economic stability during the pandemic and in its aftermath.

Read, Emerging stronger: building an economically and environmentally resilient AC world

EFFORTS AT A GLANCE

  • Workers tested via a mobile testing service – for their wellbeing and to aid harvesting plans;
  • Oranges distributed by citrus farms to needy communities – to boost their immunity;
  • Workers’ families screened once a week on the farm by a medical doctor – and concerns addressed;
  • Communications around COVID-19 collated and distributed to the agri community – to ensure everyone is kept up-to-date;
  • Immediate mobilisation of required protocols for washing and sanitation – to pre-empt contagion;
  • Education of farm workers and community members about the virus and its consequences – to facilitate prevention;
  • Convening a crisis and strategy meeting - to establish a coherent set of response measures;
  • Guidance provided to farm management teams – to assist in adapting to the new reality;
  • Formalised assessments introduced - to identify gaps in COVID-19 management; and
  • Keeping abreast of regulatory developments and international trade fluctuations – so as to update strategies accordingly. 

Our collective efforts and initiatives like those described above will define how these farms emerge from the crisis – and allow us to continue contributing to southern African food security and economic stability during the pandemic and in its aftermath.

For further information, please read the following articles:

  1. Coronavirus Food Supply Chain Under Strain: What to do?
  2. COVID-19: Channels of transmission to food and agriculture
  3. Lower export demand will be among agriculture’s Covid challenges
  4. From the desk of the Citrus Growers’ Association CEO
  5. Agriculture After the Pandemic
  6. How responsible investors should respond to the COVID-19 coronavirus crisis

READ: COVID-19 risks to subsistence are real