How USAID PATTA is Supporting Pakistani Ag-Tech Businesses and Farmers During the Pandemic
This post is written by Dr. Faheem Abbasi, Chief of Party, USAID's Pakistan Agricultural Technology Transfer Activity (PATTA).
Global and local agriculture sectors are being severely impacted by the ongoing COVID-19 health emergency. In Pakistan, there has been pressure on the agriculture sector to ensure continuity of food production in addition to the economic strain on farmers, agribusinesses, and other actors along the value chain. Farmers’ access to efficient and innovative agricultural technologies and advisory services is also constrained during the crisis.
The four-year USAID Pakistan Agriculture Technology Transfer Activity (PATTA) responded to the COVID-19 crisis by partnering with provincial governments and contributing towards the safe continuity of the agriculture sector through effective digital communication strategies, mobile advisory services, and awareness-raising campaigns targeting small farmers. The project developed a scaled-up response to support agricultural technology companies to cater to small farmers’ needs in Pakistan.
With the onset of the pandemic in Pakistan in March 2020, PATTA employed an innovative communications strategy to link agricultural technology companies with farmers for technology promotion and uptake. PATTA launched digital communications initiatives to significantly improve farmers’ accessibility to critical information on agricultural technologies, increase their resilience, and uplift morale during these unprecedented times.
PATTA collaborated with the provincial Government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s (KP) Department of Agriculture to launch tele-farming advisory services on agricultural technologies through SMS and robocalls among 0.4 million at-risk farmers during the pandemic. “We are running the Tele-Agriculture Farming System in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to provide vital advisory services through Information Communication Technology (ICT) to improve farmer’s accessibility to timely and relevant information on agricultural technologies. We hope to increase agricultural productivity and enhance farmers’ ability for improved crisis preparedness,” explains Dr. Muhammad Israr, Secretary Agriculture, Livestock, Fisheries and Cooperative Department, Government of KP.
The tele-farming initiative has enabled PATTA’s agricultural technology partners to digitally connect with small farmers, adopt social distancing, and encourage farmers’ adoption of agricultural tools and practices. PATTA’s small-to-medium agribusiness partners are also realizing the potential for sustainable government partnerships and widened impact on small farmers by going digital. “We adapted to digital media to promote technology uptake in the COVID-19 emergency. This was essential because the increased use of agricultural machinery can save time and reduce dependency on labor-intensive manual tasks,” says Osama Shahid, Marketing Director of PATTA’s agribusiness partner Soby Ag Engineering.
PATTA has also promoted agricultural technologies to rural farmers through radio-based tele-demonstrations and social messaging. In May 2020, PATTA collaborated with a local FM network to organize farmer-targeted tele-demonstrations. From May to July 2020, PATTA promoted agricultural technologies through two phases of radio shows broadcast to 23 selected districts across Pakistan to approximately three million listeners. “USAID PATTA will stand by its promise of agricultural innovation in COVID-19. We are aiming to increase the agriculture sector’s resilience by supporting them in linkages development and promotional initiatives,” explained project Chief of Party Dr. Faheem Abbasi.
PATTA strives for women’s greater inclusion in agriculture sectors by expanding their access to competitive agricultural technologies. In July 2020, PATTA organized five women-centric agricultural technologies radio tele-demonstrations, featuring high-performing women leaders in agri-tech who discussed key agricultural technologies to help other women farmers expand farm operations and generate income.
PATTA has given its agribusiness partners several other media avenues to facilitate technology promotion and engagement, such as promotion through the farmer-targeted print magazine ‘Kisan World’, with an estimated monthly subscription of 32,000 farmers across Pakistan.
At a time when COVID-19 was at its peak in Pakistan, PATTA also launched a dynamic social media campaign to promote safe usage of its agribusiness partners’ technologies during the wheat harvesting season. The campaign, reaching 96,795 individuals, encouraged farmers to implement safety precautions while handling wheat harvesting equipment.
COVID-19 brought forward logistical challenges for PATTA. For example, during the radio tele-demonstrations, it was impossible to physically organize recordings with partners due to social distancing requirements. The project overcame this by organizing remote telephonic recordings. In addition, since the project’s small enterprises were accustomed to traditional means of technology promotion, PATTA provided a jump-start for increasing their digital footprint and effectively utilizing social media for the first time to reach far-off communities.
PATTA significantly enhanced its agribusiness partners’ capacity to use digital communication methods and social media platforms to tap into new networks of Pakistani farmers, dealers, networks, and facilitating bodies. Through high engagement digital initiatives, PATTA enabled agribusiness partners to unexpectedly reach 1,158,392 small farmers during the crisis. PATTA’s agribusiness partners have attained higher visibility, increased stakeholder engagement, and positive feedback from farmers. The project has promoted 96 agricultural technologies and commercialized 43 of them during the pandemic. To date, PATTA’s ongoing tele-farming initiative reached 127, 902 farmers in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
COVID-19 is transforming the way agricultural information is disseminated across the sector and accelerating a digital revolution in agriculture. USAID Pakistan projects must consistently be able to cater to the growing appetite for digital media products and diverse media during the pandemic.