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CEO Blog: Dan Collison reflects on his first month at Farm Africa and the challenges of Covid-19

26 May 2020

CEO Blog: Dan Collison reflects on his first month at Farm Africa and the challenges of Covid-19

I’m so pleased to have been appointed as the new Chief Executive for Farm Africa. Coming from a long background in development and humanitarian affairs in Africa, Asia and the Middle East, I’ve admired the organisation for many years. I’m excited to be leading an expert, international team, and it’s been an interesting experience getting to know the organisation as it lives through lockdown. It’s certainly tested my virtual relationship-building skills, working out of an attic room at home, but I’m getting used to it and it’s been wonderful connecting with new colleagues across eastern Africa and the UK who have given me a very warm welcome to Farm Africa.  

I’ve learned a lot already. Undeniably, it’s a challenging year for the organisation and the region that we work in. 

Farmers and rural communities in eastern Africa are facing a new, triple threat on top of the long-term limitations on livelihoods in areas where food security and market access are already precarious:

  • Covid-19, although infection spread and mortality rates are currently lower than in other regions, the impact on economic activity is sharp and is pushing communities further into poverty. Rising inflation and a decline in agricultural export markets threaten years of improvement in economic growth.
  • The desert locust invasion continues, devastating crops and livelihoods. Eastern Africa is in the midst of the second 2020 wave and a third wave is predicted for July.
  • Flooding has hit parts of the region, particularly Kenya, caused by heavier rainfall linked to climate change.

Image of locust in Ethiopia. The plague of locusts has caused severe damage in locations in Konso in Southern region and Ambalaje in Tigray Region.

As a result of this triple threat, the UN warns of a ‘hunger pandemic’, with 70 million people at risk of serious food shortages in eastern Africa this year. This combination of disasters has the potential to push already vulnerable communities over the brink.

In the UK, the voluntary sector is hard hit by the shutdown of large parts of the economy and by the likelihood of a recession. Farm Africa has furloughed staff, temporarily closed our London office, and put in place savings that will help to see us into 2021. But like many charities, our fundraising has taken a sharp dip as events and income drop out of our calendars and budgets. Our supporters are remarkably loyal, but we’re asking people to work with us at a time when attention is very much focused on problems closer to home.

Farm Africa feels more relevant than ever. The communities and partners that we work with urgently need support to help them survive this challenging time, and to recover their livelihoods in the months and years to come. Our organisation has decades of experience, and deep expertise, in what works in supporting sustainable agriculture and in adapting to environmental change.

Speaking to colleagues over the last couple of weeks I’ve already encountered amazing examples of the transformative impact of our work:  

  • In western Kenya we’ve supported groups of young farmers to diversify and improve the quality of vegetable produce through training and better access to markets, resulting in a 35% increase in household income.
  • In Uganda our team is working with women coffee producers to improve both their land rights and production techniques, leading to a 60% increase in the production of high value coffee varieties.
  • And in Ethiopia I’ve learned how our approach to participatory forest management has not only helped communities manage forest resources more sustainably, but has influenced government policy and practice on this crucial area.

Our projects are also having to adapt to the new realities of the Covid-19 pandemic, and we have seen teams introduce social distancing, personal protective equipment and hygiene messaging alongside our regular activities.

These are big achievements. I’m proud to be leading an organisation that last year reached 890,000 farmers and farming families with transformative action. Farm Africa has a critical role to play in sustainable growth for some of the world’s poorest communities. Right now, that seems like a more important goal than ever.

You can keep up to date with Farm Africa’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic and the desert locust invasion here.