COVID-19 Rapid Response Grant

Rapid diagnostics of COVID-19 farming impacts


COVID-19 lockdowns are disrupting smallholder farming activities and the food systems that depend on them. In Kenya, the virus struck during the main growing season and is having unforeseen effects on the food systems. Through collecting first-hand evidence from farmers across Kenya, this project aims to identify and understand the specific issues affecting farmers in order to then provide them with critical timely advice.

This project will develop a mobile phone-based panel survey approach to assess COVID-19 impacts on farming, which will be tested at scale across all counties in Kenya through the “Let it rain” campaign. The findings of this survey will inform farmers with targeted advisories through the Mediae digital media platforms, and inform programmatic responses through info briefs.

This project will focus, in particular, on the following direct and indirect effects of COVID-19:

    1. Disruptions in production during the ongoing growing season due to COVID-19, flood, locust, or other factors;
    2. Access to agricultural inputs (e.g seeds, fertilizer, labor), market, financial and climate services, COVID-related information, and Government support programs;
    3. The health of household members and their access to sufficient and nutritious food; and
    4. Community and social changes and community networks on strategies to respond to the pandemic.

The “Let it rain” campaign works to popularize localized agro-advisers by actively involving farmers to crowdsource weather information. Initial evidence from this campaign suggests that farmers’ perception of rainfall onset is based on historical events that can be adjusted in the anomalous years with early preparation and access to reliable information. This project considers COVID-related problems in the production system as another anomaly that can be mitigated by understanding the challenges faced by farmers in order to provide them with critical timely information.

Inspire Challenge Team:

About the Rapid Response Grants

In response to the food security issues brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Platform  made funding available for agile, big-data enabled projects working to tackle food system challenges. The Inspire Challenge Rapid Response Grants, totaling up to USD100,000, were available to current or previous Inspire Challenge winners.

The partnership

Team Members

The Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT

Evan Girvetz | Principal Scientist and Africa Team Leader
Aniruddha Ghosh | Data Scientist
Kevin Gitau | Consultant


David Campbell | CEO
Patricia Gichinga | Head of Production
Sophie Rottmann | Project Coordinator


Martin Aketch | Product Manager

The Alliance-Mediae partnership seeks to understand the challenges faced by actors in the food system during and after the COVID-19 period, leveraging a unique combination of digital outreach and cutting-edge scientific research. The value of this partnership is already visible through the successful first phase of the “let it rain” campaign that saw involvement of more 25000 farmers.

The Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT (The Alliance) will develop questionnaires using the 5Q approach; analyze farmers’ responses; provide advisories; develop policy briefs; provide project management.

Mediae are the producers of Shamba Shape Up, a reality makeover show filmed on smallholder farms addressing the problems of the farmers to increase production and encouraging farming as a business in Kenya and Tanzania. The show is broadcast in English and Kiswahili weekly in Kenya and reaches an audience of 6 million viewers.

Based on the 5Q survey approach, Mediae will reach out to farmers across all counties to collect information on their location, farming practices, food availability, access to market and any other challenges faced during the pandemic. They will then develop short videos, based on information collected in the survey, that address key COVID-19 farming issues and provide highly tailored COVID-19 farming advisories to be broadcast on Shamba Shape Up through the iShamba platform. The advice will cover weather, crop and nutrient management, access to inputs and credit, market linkage information, and post-harvest processing/storage.


Gender dimension

As women-headed households are expected to be hit harder during the pandemic, they can provide valuable feedback on the challenges they are facing due to COVID-19. This project recognizes the importance of ensuring all genders are well-represented in order to develop targeted advisories that consider the specific needs of gender-diverse farmers.

Aiming to have at least 40% female survey respondents, the project will leverage the ample experience of Mediae in targeting specific demographic audiences. Mediae-owned Shamba Shape Up (SSup) TV boasts an audience of 60% women while the iShamba platform has 34% women subscribers.


Project timeline

Week 1-2

Select participants, finalize questions and develop implementation in mobile survey tools

Sampling framework: The Let it Rain Campaign (Inspire Project) and iShamba text-message service boast a combined database of over 300,000 farmers across Kenya.  Mediae will randomly select about 5000 respondents from all 47 counties, taking gender, age, and location into account.

Questionnaire: Selected and willing participants will receive structured and simplified questions that can be easily understood by all literacy levels. In order to understand the underlying challenges farmers are facing during the COVID-19 pandemic, a questionnaire, following the 5Q approach, has already been developed by the Alliance team and submitted for IRB approval. 

Week 2-4

First round of response collection

Survey implementation: Taking mobile data connection into account, the Mediae iShamba call center will conduct surveys through phone calls, WhatsApp for business Sandbox, and emails. Building on iShamba’s more than five years of experience conducting surveys for different institutions, call center employees will be given rigorous training based on a content guide developed by the Alliance. Upon completion, iShamba will clean the raw data before sending it to the Alliance team for processing.

Week 5-6

Data analysis and recommendation development, information dissemination through iShamba and Ssup

The Alliance team will analyze the responses to find the spatio-temporal variability in the indicators reported in the survey. Using statistical modeling techniques, trends, and clusters related to key challenges of the farmers will be identified. Both partners will review the output of the analysis to prepare a report with recommendations. This will be followed by the drafting of bespoke, targeted advisories based on the findings. They will be disseminated to producers across the country. Mediae team will also use animations and TV infomercials to pass advisories to the 2.5 million households who watch the show.

Mediae will create four short videos that will feature on the Q&A segment of the program, based on key results from the survey carried out with 4,000 farmers. By putting a face to the issue, we aim to recognize the farmers across the country as a part of the larger community facing unprecedented global challenges.

Week 7-12

Another round of collection and analysis completed and all results packaged for policy briefs and blog development

The data will also be analyzed and packaged as policy briefs, blogs, and / or other formats for use by program delivery partners from government, humanitarian response, civil society, and the private sector. This will include highlighting the key COVID-19 related disruptions and risks and providing high-level recommendations for programmatic interventions to address these highlighted issues.