Undeterred Africa RISING adapts operations for continuity despite COVID-19-related restrictions

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues globally, the Africa RISING Program has had to make critical operational adjustments to facilitate continuity of its activities, strategies, and approaches. “This is the ‘new normal’ and we have to adapt,” noted Mohammed Ibrahim, Africa RISING Site Coordinator in Tigray, Ethiopia. 

The immediate effect of the pandemic reduced the implementation speed of pre-planned project activities. Franklin Avornyo of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), an Africa RISING implementing partner in Ghana, noted that the restrictions and lockdowns in Ghana caused delays as partners could no longer visit project sites.

“Firstly, it affected the quality of our deliverables. Secondly, it delayed processes in general because offices were closed and the national postal service, for example, was no longer efficient. Activities that we would hitherto accomplish within a month, now took between 2 and 3 months,” adds Avornyo.

Despite the setbacks, Africa RISING staff and partners found various ways to “keep things moving” and ensure that improved agricultural technologies still reached smallholder farmers.

Africa RISING partners and farmers plant Desho grass in Tigray, Ethiopia, while observing safety protocols (Photo credit: Haimanot Seifu/ILRI).
Africa RISING partners and farmers plant Desho grass in Tigray, Ethiopia, while observing safety protocols (Photo credit: Haimanot Seifu/ILRI).

From early March 2020, several Africa RISING staff and partners resorted to working from home. This new modus operandi, first enforced by the governments of the six countries where the Program implements its activities, soon became a policy adopted by the CGIAR centers leading Africa RISING—IITA, the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), and the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).

Many Africa RISING staff were teleworking full-time for the first time and became conversant with the online collaboration tools through a “learning by doing” approach. Despite the steep learning curve, most program staff are now achieving excellence and near-normalcy using these tools.

“Staff in our field offices in Ethiopia have started to use Telegram for frequent research data sharing,” said Ibrahim. “This sharing of data and information is key for us at this stage because we have just commenced activities linked to starter inputs distribution and planting. We provide mobile data allowances to facilitate our partners’ internet access,” he added.

Francis Muthoni, IITA and Africa RISING GIS Specialist in Eastern and Southern Africa, now relies more on the use of satellites to conduct remote surveys and collect data. “Those of us who work with remote sensing data have an advantage because satellites are still collecting data despite the pandemic. Because of this, my work can continue. I am implementing some of the activities as planned, unlike colleagues whose sole source of data is from the field,” noted Muthoni. 

“But after analyzing the data I have collected, I need to work with my colleagues in the field to validate it. At that point, I anticipate that I will have challenges, but I am now working on a plan to reschedule some of those kinds of activities,” he said.

Speaking at a planning meeting for Ghana partners on 24–25 June, the Africa RISING West Africa Project Chief Scientist, Fred Kizito, urged partners who could no longer implement field activities/surveys due to COVID-19 restrictions to focus on data analysis and writing publications. Program staff and partners in various countries and locations shared this view as they now had more time on their hands due to limited travel. 

Africa RISING Project Coordinator in Mali, Brihanu Zemadim, reiterated this, saying he expects more project publications in 2020 and the coming year.

For more on Africa RISING efforts to adapt in the face of the coronavirus pandemic, read Undeterred by COVID-19: How Africa RISING is adapting operations for continuity in research and delivery.

Africa RISINGCOVID-19IITA News no. 2551

Communications • 14th September 2020

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