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Innovations in agriculture during COVID-19 – Episode 14

This month’s programme is all about innovations in agriculture. We’re travelling around the world to hear about new technologies designed to ensure food security.

After catching up on the latest news about IFAD’s COVID-19 response with Associate Vice-President Marie Haga, our first stop is Côte d’Ivoire, where Florent Clair tells us all about chemical industrial company UPL’s latest biotechnological advances. Then, heading up north-east, we visit Pinduoduo, China’s largest e-commerce platform.

We then head over to South America, where we speak with the ACUA Foundation’s Emperatriz Arango to find out about the new Kumé project, which empowers home chefs throughout Latin America and the Caribbean to promote and share their region’s traditional gastronomy right from their own kitchens. We also hear from three home chefs involved with the project.

Our journey ends in the depths of the Amazon, where Chef Roy Riquelme tells us about how the people there – especially indigenous peoples – are coping with COVID-19.

Episode Contents


COVID-19 update with Marie Haga

Marie Haga, Associate Vice-President for IFAD

It has been said that COVID-19 treats everybody equally, but that’s not true. In this month’s update on the pandemic, IFAD’s Associate Vice-President Marie Haga puts the focus on how the pandemic is affecting small-scale farmers, women, youth, indigenous peoples and people with disabilities. 

This month, Marie is most concerned about small-scale farmers lacking access to seeds due to market restrictions – a situation that could seriously threaten next year’s planting season, along with already fragile rural livelihoods.

Florent Clair on technical innovations in agriculture

Florent Clair, Sustainability and Partnerships Coordinator for UPL

UPL, a family-owned company based in India, has been working on technological innovations in agriculture for over fifty years. Their new model for global agriculture, OpenAg, is designed to help feed sustainable growth for all.

We spoke with Florent Clair, Sustainability and Partnerships Coordinator for UPL, about the importance of technological growth and innovations for small-scale farmers. Florent is based in sub-Saharan Africa, where farmers have to contend with, a pest called the Fall armyworm. This caterpillar, originally imported from America, spreads incredibly fast and is now present all across Africa. According to FAO figures, this pest is responsible for harvest losses of almost 40 per cent, threatening the food security of around 300 million people across the continent.

Florent spoke with us about UPL’s newest solution to this problem: a biological tool that turns the pest against itself.

XinYi Lim’s insights on e-commerce

XinYi Lim, Pinduoduo representative

The majority of China’s rural population relies on agriculture for both subsistence and income. Recently, the country’s giant e-commerce platforms have been asking themselves how they can support small-scale farmers.

We spoke with XinYi Lim, a representative of Pinduoduo, to learn more about how the platform is contributing to the improvement of agriculture and food systems in China.

E-commerce is an especially high priority in COVID-19 times because it provides farmers with an alternative to traditional distribution processes that also makes them more resilient. Digital platforms can help them connect directly to the market and get feedback in real time: for example, about which products are selling well and which packaging customers seem to prefer.

Emperatriz Arango on the Kumé Project

Emperatriz Arango, Deputy Head of ACUA Foundation

Digital solutions are also an area of focus for Latin America’s Afro-descendant Cultural Assets (ACUA) Foundation, an organization that works with IFAD to empower rural Afro-descendant communities through promoting their ancestral knowledge, cultures and local crops.

Emperatriz Arango, Deputy Head of ACUA, spoke with us about the Foundation’s strategy and current projects. One of them in particular, the Kumé initiative, promotes traditional gastronomy right from its participants’ home kitchens.

ACUA-Kumé Project: Cooking with three home chefs

To find out more about the Kumé initiative, which began as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic, we spoke to three chefs who are supporting the project by giving cooking lessons via Zoom. These three home chefs, like many others in the Kumé initiative, are dedicated to preserving and handing down indigenous gastronomy to keep their cultures alive and contribute to food security.

Chef Carmen Campos from Lima, Peru

Chef Carmen Campos

Chef Campos leads the Afro-Peruvian Association for Development and Culture UBUNTU. Her organization’s work in their local communities promotes cultural identity through art, sports and gastronomy.

We asked Chef Campos about the products she grows and uses in her dishes – dishes she thinks are undervalued nowadays.

Chef Piedad Olivo from Ecuador

Chef Piedad Olivo

Chef Olivo is originally from Esmeraldas and currently lives in Same, where she studies law and works to defend human rights.

During her childhood, she learned to cook with her mother, also a follower of Afro tradition.

She explained what the Kumé initiative has meant to her community in COVID-19 times.

Chef Nayibe Angulo from Buenaventura, Colombia

Chef Nayibe Angulo

Chef Angulo is one of the leaders of the Corporación Social Ambiental Ecológica y Turística, an organization founded in 2012. Its aim is to manage the effects of migration that took place due to chemical fumigation in Buenaventura.

Her focus is on collecting native seeds and preserving traditional recipes in order to protect natural resources in her area. She told us about her latest project with ACUA, aimed at recovering the plantations of her ancestors. 

The challenges of COVID-19 in the Amazon

The COVID-19 pandemic came at a critical time for people in the Amazon. They were already facing problems of land degradation and crop loss due to the devastating fires that raged out of control last year.

Lack of safety measures has allowed the virus to reach isolated areas via people travelling by boat. Currently, 15 of the 20 Brazilian cities with the highest percentage of inhabitants killed by COVID-19 are located in the Amazon.

These communities, especially indigenous communities, are essential in the struggle to mitigate climate change. They protect the world’s largest rainforest and have a profound knowledge of rainforest species, which they use for traditional medicine.

It is vital that we continue working to safeguard these communities in order to prevent the current crisis from becoming a threat to food security and local health.

Chef Roy Riquelme on cooking and preserving in the Amazon

Chef Roy Riquelme

We ended our trip around the world in the depths of the Amazon, where Chef Roy Riquelme from Peru’s Madre de Dios region tells us about the situation his community is facing with regard to COVID-19.

He also told us about the work he does with his project Cooking&Preserving and his future prospects.

Chef Riquelme gave us the sweetest possible ending to this journey: the recipe for his Brazil nut sauce with cocoa.

Summing Up

Thanks to our producer Francesco Manetti and everyone else who’s worked on this programme. But most of all, thanks to you for listening to this episode of Farms. Food. Future., brought to you by the International Fund for Agricultural Development.

Remember: we want to hear from you! What do you think about our stories and the issues we’ve discussed, and who would you like us to speak to next? Get in touch with us at podcasts@ifad.org. Send us your voice or text messages to that address, and we’ll be happy to play you out in the next show.

And don’t forget to subscribe to this podcast via your favorite podcast platform – and please rate us!

We’ll be back at the end of December with more news fresh from the farm. 3 December is the International Day of People with Disabilities, and next month, we’ll be discussing the importance of recognizing disabled persons as active members of society – including in rural economies.

And once again, we’ll be trying to be good for you, good for the planet and good for the farmers.

Until then, from me, Rosa Gonzalez Goring, your guest presenter for this month, and the team here at IFAD – thanks for listening!