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Digital Defense:
How Information Can Help Farmers Fight COVID-19
Most of us have come to rely more heavily on digital devices during recent quarantines—and that includes smallholder farmers. Digital technologies are seeing increased adoption in smallholders’ communities and may play a powerful role in their emergence from the pandemic. 
Woman in field holding phone

This story is an update from our COVID-19 and Smallholders news series.

The most meaningful form of support smallholder farmers need is also one of the simplest: information.
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But when a global pandemic interrupts the typical channels by which farmers communicate, sharing information isn’t so simple. 

 

Agronomic advice is critical for any farmer, no matter their location or the size of their operation. Farmers rely on insights into current market conditions, weather forecasts that affect planting, guidance on the proper use of new products, pest pressures, crop disease outbreaks and much more. At the same time, many of the world’s smallholder farmers live in areas where communications infrastructure is limited and expert advice is farther than a few clicks away. 

 

 

Remote Work

Under ordinary circumstances, smallholder support efforts like Bayer’s Grower Engagement Teams stay infrequent, in-person contact with farmers, troubleshooting issues, answering questions, and planning next steps. Lockdown measures have changed that, leaving farmers without much-needed help. 

 

The good news is that numerous digital tools exist for just these purposes, and they’re ripe for adoption in smallholder networks. As planting seasons have ramped up in recent weeks, digital apps and smartphones have surged in use by farmers and support teams. “The kind of digitization we would have hoped for in a year or two happened in a month,” says Saswati Panigrahi, Communications Business Partner at Bayer Crop Science.

Saswati
The kind of digitization we would have hoped for in a year or two happened in a month.
Saswati Panigrahi
Communications Business Partner at Bayer Crop Science

Conference Calls of Thousands

Conference call technology is being used in ways it never has before, at least not among smallholders. In India, Bayer’s Grower Engagement team is conducting large-scale live audio conferences with hundreds of farmers at a time. A demo conference in early April gave apple growers a forum to discuss this year’s spraying schedules and recommended dosages while also providing experience with the new medium to support team coordinators. These programs, known as Grower Connect, are gaining traction throughout India, where smallholders and advisors are using smartphones to engage in timely agronomic consultation.  

 

 

Apps that Bridge the Gap

A similar program in China is mobilizing Bayer WeGrow, an existing chat platform, to engage farmers about practices that will help them ensure this year’s harvest is unaffected by the COVID response. So far, webcasts and other communications sharing farming advice have reached an audience of more than a million. 

 

In China’s Shangdong province, a demo farm operated by Seminis, Bayer’s vegetable seeds arm, was the site of a first-of-its-kind virtual farming experience. A demonstration held in April used virtual reality technology to educate farmers about new products and techniques. From their own devices, farmers were able to get “hands-on” experience with real plants on the Seminis farm from a safe distance. This demonstration marks a breakthrough in a large-scale effort to empower smallholders with digital solutions from here on out.

 


Sharing Knowledge, Sharing Security 

These digital technologies aren’t new. What is new is the level at which they’re being adopted among smallholders from South America to South Africa to Southeastern Asia. One of the best tools to support smallholders has always been information, and that might also be one of the best defenses smallholders have against COVID-19. 

 

While nothing can replace the value of having a trusted agronomic partner walking the field alongside a farmer, there’s also something to be said for sharing valuable insights and education with millions of smallholders. Information can change the fate of a farm. And if digital adoption is part of the new normal for more of the world’s 550 million smallholders, maybe it can change the fate of global food security too. 

 

 

 COVID-19 & SMALLHOLDERS

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