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Cycle Connect: Ensuring Food Security in Northern Uganda Amid the COVID-19 Pandemic

CC is adapting to equip smallholder farmers with the necessary resources to maintain food security during the COVID-19 pandemic in Uganda.

Photo of Molly Burke
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We know that vulnerable communities will suffer the most during this time-- particularly smallholder farmers who face food insecurity already. This is why at Cycle Connect we are responding fast to ensure our farmers are able to be resilient and food secure during the COVID-19 pandemic. Our team surveyed 1,700 smallholder farmers and heard that many are already eating their seeds due to the current lack of transport and market closures. More than half of the farmers we spoke to requested a financing and distribution solution to help them gain access to seeds and tilling services. 

Through our work to connect farmers with productive-assets and training in the last mile, we have been working to ensure food security in the communities we operate for over the last six years. These are special times and we know it requires more than business as usual to ensure food security during a global pandemic. This is why we are creating a whole new loan that is designed to meet the demand we are hearing at this time: seeds offered on financing and delivery with a coupled tilling service to help farmers plant as fast and as efficiently as possible. 



What is the need are you focusing on?

Focusing on preventing hunger for Ugandan farmers

Government restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of the virus are simultaneously threatening the already tenuous food security in Northern Uganda. We surveyed 1,700 rural households and heard that many are already eating their seeds due to the current lack of transport and market closures. >50% clients requested a financing and distribution solution to help them gain access to seeds and tilling services. 

These are farmers like Acio Harriet: Her family began eating their stocked seeds, previously saved for the planting season starting urgently soon. With their seed stock now depleted, Harriet is in need of new seeds in order to prevent hunger. She is not alone–our team heard similar stories from hundreds of families we are reaching through our call center– more than half reported this. Rural communities are eating their seeds in an attempt to put food on the table today but jeopardizing their food security for the coming months.

Which type of submission are you sharing?

  • Sharing a pivot idea your organization is considering or could consider

Describe the business pivot or adaptation in 3-4 sentences.

Cycle Connect is focused on improving livelihoods and creating economic opportunity in the last mile. We specialize in providing productive asset-financing and training to farmers living in deep rural areas, beyond the reach of other financial service providers. These are special times and we know it requires more than business as usual to ensure food security during a global pandemic. This is why we are creating a whole new loan that is designed to meet the demand we are hearing at this time: seeds offered on financing and delivery with a coupled tilling service to help farmers plant as fast and as efficiently as possible. This new loan represents an adaptation in our business model in that we normally only offer productive assets on financing plans-- but when everything is shut down food must still be on the table --which is why we are adapting to expand into seeds to ensure food security at this pivotal time. More on respond here: www.cycleconnect.org/blog

Do you plan to implement this solution?

  • Yes

Describe the impact that this solution will create in the world.

In a time of health and economic uncertainty, ensuring food security is crucial to building resiliency among last mile communities during a global pandemic. Farmers are already running low on seeds and planting needs to begin urgently soon. If we don’t act now, farmers will not only go hungry through the rest of the lockdown but for the many months to come. By taking immediate action through this new loan we can empower rural families with the resources and tools to continue planting to provide food for their families and their communities at this pivotal moment in history. This will ensure that Northern Uganda has food on the table today, tomorrow, and well into the future--meaning that they will be in a better position to fight the economic and health challenges brought about by COVID-19. By joining with us, you have the ability to give 400 families immediate access to seeds and tilling services, which will then translate to food security for 2,000 rural Ugandans amidst COVID-19.

What is the name of your business or organization?

Cycle Connect

What does your business/company do? Whose needs does your business/company address? Who do you serve?

Cycle Connect is focused on improving livelihoods and creating economic opportunity in the last mile in Uganda. We specialize in productive asset-financing and training for smallholder farmers living in deep rural areas, beyond the reach of other financial service providers. Food security is already top of mind in our work but it has become ever so more important due to the COVID-19 pandemic which acts as a further barrier to farmers getting connected to the necessary agricultural tools and training. To date, we have financed 7,000+ assets for farmers living in extreme poverty, ultimately impacting more than 35,000 rural lives. More about Cycle Connect and our response to COVID-19 can be found on our website: http://cycleconnect.org/ 733

What is your profession?

Social entrepreneur

Where are you located (country)?

Uganda

Where are you located (region)?

  • Eastern Africa

What industry is your business/company in?

  • Agriculture/Farming

How many people does your business/company employ?

  • 11-49

How old is your business/company?

  • 5-10 years old

Which classification describes your organization/business?

  • Social Enterprise

What kind of stakeholders and partnerships are needed to pursue this solution?

  • Funding- Grants

Do you need help building partnerships and finding partners?

  • Yes

If Yes to the above, please share 1-2 sentences describing the specific help you desire.

The Cycle Connect team is looking for funding partners to enable us to get more seeds into the hands of rural families amidst COVID-19. In order to respond fast to meet the urgent needs of farmers, Cycle Connect needs an additional $20,000 to enable 400 families to have food security by launching and delivering this new product. A $10k grant from IDEO would be matched by a board member to realize the full $20k needed.

What do you think are the main barriers to implementing this solution?

We are seeing great need throughout the communities. At the same time we are offering a product that eventually needs to be paid back. We are balancing need along with risk management and facing barriers to balance the two. We are looking to be open-minded about who to offer-- restructuring our normal policies-- but also committed to ensuring that we don’t put someone in a worse off position because of a loan they’re taking on. We also know that there will be barriers to supply chain. We will have to source seeds from multiple vendors in order to meet the demand.

If you are currently working on a pivot, what have you learned so far?

We learned how important having a 'reason for existence' to be defined, and additionally how critical it is to be data-centric. We were able to quickly respond to the COVID-19 pandemic because we leaned into our core ideology, which guides us. We exist to ensure that last mile communities can get access to unlock opportunities. This reason for existence is a tenant throughout the organization and is most applicable now in the wake of COVID-19. We then adapted our field-based team to be a remote support call center. Over less than two weeks they interviewed over 1,700 former and current clients who talked about their pain-points.

Website URL

Up to date response efforts in quick dispatches: www.cycleconnect.org/blog More details on our response here, too: www.cycleconnect.org/covid-19

2 comments

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Spam
Photo of Isaac Jumba
Team

Welcome to the challenge Molly Burke . Could you explain how your current intervention of providing loans during this time is different from the usual loan financing?

Spam
Photo of Molly Burke
Team

Thanks, Isaac Jumba . You can think of Cycle Connect as part sales and product company and part financing. Our current products include bicycles, motorcycles, oxen and plow, and grinding machines (for maize). We offer only a few because we do quite a bit of work to research and test products, both on the user side as well as the vendor side for quality control.

We've never sold seeds before, so this is an entirely new product for us. In a short period we had to understand: 1) what types of seeds would be best, 2) supply logistics, including where to source and verify quality control, and 3) how to roll out training.

We then had to design financing specific to this new product, including figure out how to adjust our credit appraisal process as well as ensuring repayments are tied to the harvest periods. Normally adding a new product to our portfolio could take over a year, but we had just a couple of weeks based on the demand we were hearing from the thousands of clients we spoke to.

Let me know if that answers your question.