Year 2020 was challenging for Heifer due to the COVID-19 Pandemic and its repercussions but what was more severe was the crisis that loomed in livelihoods of majority of the smallholder farmers, project holders, partners and the marginalized communities that we are working with.
The onset of COVID-19 pandemic disrupted food production and supply chain aggravating the livelihood of poor rural communities. Poor households relying primarily on farm activities and daily wage labor to fulfil their daily needs, were the hardest hit as food stock was emptied and immediate income sources were disrupted.
Moreover, most of agri-entrepreneurs, expanding farm enterprises with bank loans, had to pay despite all the losses and they suffered more. This not only created chaos in the food supply chain, it also discouraged many smallholder farmers and forced them to leave their farm and travel across the border to India for unskilled labor jobs.
The achievements of community development and poverty reduction during the last 2 or 3 decades have been jeopardized due to the extensive damage of the pandemic. During this uncertain time, we took the opportunity to reflect on the things that affected the food production system and the smallholder farmers whose livelihood depends on it. In this context, Heifer Nepal focused on some major issues causing market and supply chain disruption and encouraged the farmers by strengthening market and infrastructure. Most importantly, we saw how building capacity of cooperatives was building resilience of smallholder farmers as the cooperatives were always standing with the farmers during the challenging times when government and private sectors could not extend for support.
Farmers largely depend upon the market system for delivery and transportation is a crucial part. When travel restrictions were enforced, Agri products transports were heavily reduced and perishable products could not be stored. Vegetables and Milk were among the most affected as these commodities must be collected daily. Even though government announced food deliveries were allowed, there were many travels impacts that hindered the food delivery system. There was need to support smallholder farmers so that they could manage the agri-product delivery as per their need. In this context, Heifer Nepal immediately came up with transport vehicle support for 6 cooperatives to enable the agri-products deliveries which increased their collection as well as sales.
Smallholder farmers invest all they could for a whole plantation season in a hope that their investment will payback once it goes to the market. During pandemic, businesses were closed, and farmers could not acquire a fair price in the market. In such challenging time, cooperatives have innovated all the ways to ensure that farmers product will not perish and will get a fair price. They started agri-ambulance to collect and deliver to doorsteps of consumers bringing fair price in return to the farmers.