Bringing Dignity to Colombian Agriculture during Pandemics
This post is written by Camila Kauer García, Program Specialist, with Yoset Castillo Torres, Social Inclusion Director of Producers to Markets Alliance.
Social inclusion efforts are especially important during the COVID-19 pandemic because those who face higher health and economic risks related to the pandemic tend to be historically marginalized. Yoset Castillo Torres, Social Inclusion Director for USAID’s Producers to Markets Alliance (PMA), knows this all too well having worked with marginalized groups for the last 15 years.
Yoset spearheads PMA’s efforts to ensure historically marginalized groups such as women, youth, Afro-Colombians, indigenous groups, and victims of armed conflict have access to technology and training to improve agricultural productivity. So far, Yoset and her team have worked with 56,966 individuals, comprising 62 percent of total training participants. In order to make sure these beneficiaries continued to receive the support they need during the pandemic, Yoset and her team immediately reviewed their previous quarter activities and results and made adjustments to continue technical assistance and realign objectives and timelines.
Maintaining messaging and outreach
According to Yoset, social inclusion messaging is crucial to drive behavior change; and this element doesn’t shift during a pandemic. What does change is how that messaging is delivered. To keep the momentum going under the limitations imposed by the COVID-19 outbreak, Yoset encourages technicians to check in with female and youth beneficiaries via regular phone calls. Technicians also provide guidance via texts, emails, and WhatsApp.
Agronomists continue to make some individual farm visits, but they are following strict social distancing guidelines. They use the opportunity to film on-site analysis and send videos of the visit to other beneficiaries. This enables Yoset and her team to reach as many clients as possible with the social inclusion messaging they need. “There are huge populations being forgotten, and we are not taking into account everything they contribute to development,” she says. “In Colombia, one needs to get mud on their boots to know that we are not all seeing the same conditions, and that not all solutions are pertinent to the problems of the people.”
Using knowledge for quick adaptation
Accounting for the unique needs of beneficiaries, Yoset and her team always consider the many demographics they work with; currently, 35 percent of PMA’s training participants are women, 18 percent are youth, 13 percent are Afro-Colombian, 20 percent are members of indigenous populations, and 36 percent are victims of armed conflict. Knowing their clientele helps them customize their specific needs, which has helped to also address changing needs during the pandemic. Yoset spends a lot of time strategizing ways to tailor agriculture training, technical assistance, and access to markets.