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Better Life Farming in times of COVID-19

By Sourabh Kumar

Social distancing, lockdowns and an uncertainty of what comes next have become part of the daily lives of many smallholders in rural communities. For Better Life Farming (BLF) and its agri-entrepreneurs this means finding new and innovative ways to help their farmer customers carry out farming operations, and even going one step further in contributing to the health of their communities beyond agriculture.

Bringing together people and different groups around agricultural solutions is one of the core pillars of BLF. To keep up this spirit, all of the over 900 BLF Centers in India, Indonesia and Bangladesh adapted their operations and employed safety measures to continue their existing services to enable smallholder farmers in light of the pandemic.

Extraordinary circumstances call for creative solutions
From early on BLF Centers informed on Covid-19, ensured government regulations were adhered to, and educated famers on hygiene concepts to protect them and their families from catching the virus. Face masks and hand sanitizers were provided for all training sessions held through BLF.

During the initial lockdowns, any movement outside one’s house required a valid government-issued ePass to manage the flow of people in public spaces. BLF Centers in India and Bangladesh offered their internet connections to residents to obtain these permissions. With that, BLF Centers became WiFi hubs and facilitated farmers’ access to the necessary documentations. The centers even offered to print out individuals’ ePasses, thereby helping their communities run errands during lockdowns.

Contingency measures turn BLF Centers into local pandemic management centers
Our agri-entrepreneurs, together with the Alliance partners, also found alternative ways to continue to serve smallholders: Trainings were offered digitally and routine phone calls to farmers maintained close ties to the community. It was through these calls that the BLF team in Ranchi, Jharkhand, learned that farmers struggled to access health care facilities for Covid-19 testing and vaccinations.

Following our solution-oriented spirit, BLF knew that something needed to be done about this. In order to ease farmers’ access to health services, the BLF team reached out to the Common Service Center (CSC) in Ranchi – an access point for the delivery of various e-government and business-related services to citizens in rural and remote areas. Together, CSC and BLF decided to collaborate to provide Covid-19 related health services via or near BLF Centers. Since May 5, CSC’s COVID-19 Care Mobile Van started to regularly visit Ranchi, using the network of BLF Centers in the area as central stops on its route through the region.  

During lockdown I came to know about Covid-19 testing van which was giving free of cost testing facility in our village at BLF center. I got tested on May 5th 2021 and the same day I received my negative test result. I am grateful that many farmers got this opportunity to get COVID-19 tested through this van.Smallholder farmer Sajjad Ansari from the Sonchi village in the Ranchi district

Yet, government document and health services are not the only extras BLF Centers started to offer recently. As physical health and mental well-being go hand in hand, 22-year old agri-entrepreneur Lovely Singh decided to take her community support another step further. In addition to running her BLF Center, she’s a Yogic Science student at Ranchi College. When she encountered people in her village with health issues and depression, she decided to utilize her passion for Yoga to support the mental well-being in her community. Thus, in addition to helping farmers with agricultural solutions, she teaches Yoga to villagers in front of her BLF Center. “Yoga is a balance which I have been practicing for 12 years and I want to help others to bring balance in their lives, especially in these hard times,” she says.

Just as much as a tree starts with a seed, we have seen our BLF Community sprout and grow across India and other countries in Southeast Asia. The energy and determination to drive change in their communities is what unites BLF’s agri-entrepreneurs, their smallholder customers and the many local partners we work with behind a shared mission. These stories also show how adaptable and resilient the Better Life Farming model proves to be when faced with extraordinary circumstances. Let’s continue to nourish it, for it to grow new branches and win new partners along the way that come together to support rural communities, even beyond agriculture as our Ranchi community impressively demonstrates.

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