Interview with Davis Ikiror, Country Director Kenya-Somalia, Vétérinaires Sans Frontières Suisse
How did COVID-19 affect your collaboration with institutions from the Global North?
COVID-19 has brought with it a new set of challenges, and it has strongly affected the way we operate. One of the biggest impacts of the pandemic on our collaboration with institutions from the Global North were delays in the implementation of our programs. We normally work with farmers and pastoralists, which has been very difficult during this time due to the necessary measures, the various lockdowns, curfews and also because of social distancing. Furthermore, we had to make sure that our staff is safe. All this affected the timelines of our projects: delays were inevitable.
This in turn required us to communicate with our donors; we had to agree on amendments in the timelines. Since our donors have reporting deadlines and other obligations, our delays affect them as well. But they were very understanding, since we were all hit in one way or another by COVID-19. The pandemic situation requires us to communicate a lot, constantly update one another, get feedback and readjust plans - more than usual.
How did it affect your work in the field?
It has been a huge challenge to implement programs with minimal risk exposure during the pandemic. On the one hand, with our staff, we try to do as much as possible online, for example our meetings – this works quite well. In the field, where it is possible, we try to avoid using paper forms. We developed methods to collect data on a smartphone or tablet. Rather challenging are focus group discussions and key informant interviews. If possible, we do telephone interviews. But depending on the person, this is not always easy.
On the other hand, working with farmers and pastoralists, we had to ask ourselves how to hold meetings with pastoral groups who do not necessarily have access to internet facilities. We decided to adjust the way we work with these communities: we hold meetings outside, in trainings we reduced the number of participants and we minimized the duration of contact.
Do you need more resources for the implementation of your programs?
Exactly. For example, we have work that cannot be done online, such as trainings with farmers and pastoralists, as well as the delivery and distribution of goods. This requires physically meeting people. We minimized the number of participants in trainings to 10-15 instead of 25-30. This means we have to do more trips, travel more often or spend more time in the field to observe the health measures. This affects the budget – we spend more money on logistics that was not budgeted. Again, we have to discuss with our donors about this. They have been very accommodating, as most budgets have a contingency plan that provides some space for adaptation.
Are there any recommendations you draw from the pandemic for future North-South research?
From the collaboration with HAFL we’ve learnt a lesson: Scientists from HAFL were supposed to do an impact evaluation on one of our programs on camel promotion as a climate change adaption strategy. They were prepared to travel to Kenya in March/April 2021, but the pandemic situation was constantly changing, also from country to country. At that time, it wasn’t advisable for them to travel. The best alternative was that HAFL leads the evaluation, but a local person carries it out on site. HAFL worked this person through the process, and the local person did everything that was necessary and transmitted the data to HAFL. I know the scientists from HAFL would have liked to be in the field and so to speak ‘feel the data’, and the whole process took much longer, but it also shows the importance of a strong collaboration between institutions in the North and the South. In situations like the one we have now, a strong collaboration ensures that the work still can be done, even without too much delay.
A second thing I think is important to consider is the digital divide we’re seeing. We’ve been talking a lot about technological advancements and how useful they are in this time, but the truth is that they are not reaching everybody. There is a digital divide in the rural areas here. The technology has definitely been helping, it has helped for many different transactions – socially but also in terms of money transfers– and it has been very valuable during the pandemic. But it’s a big challenge to include the very poor groups, and especially those without formal education, and I think access to these digital technologies is a very important question that must continue to be addressed in future research.