African women in agriculture face greater impacts of Covid-19 restrictions
In an opinion piece for Forbes Africa (5 June), CTA’s Sabdiyo Dido Bashuna describes how African women in agriculture are more impacted than their male counterparts by Covid-19 restrictions. But the pandemic has also triggered creativity and survival techniques, leading to product diversity, new digital marketing and distribution channels. Across Africa, women make up 50% of the agricultural labour force as well as often taking primary responsibility for caring for families, households and communities. Yet historic inequalities mean women are facing the added pressure of the coronavirus outbreak while also having access to just a fraction of the necessary resources, from land and labour to finance and training. Women, whose roles are often home-based – and even more so during the coronavirus outbreak – tend not to present themselves for support. So one challenge is reaching women in the first place with agricultural advice, financial support, and inputs. Online networks such as VALUE4HERConnect provide a platform for African women entrepreneurs in agriculture, offering networking, mentoring and training support in a way that is convenient for heads of households. These kinds of networks are also helpful in addressing a second challenge: the majority of women’s agri-businesses tend to be smaller and more likely to fail given the low levels of resilience. Only a small fraction of rural women own bank account, for example, so accessing such funds is a challenge. Providing grants and flexible loans for women can help them afford financial services like insurance and credit. Additionally, for women to fulfil their often care-based roles in households and on farms throughout the pandemic, they must be safe both from the risk of infection and from gender-based violence, which has increased as a result of lockdowns. The new coping mechanisms and survival techniques adopted by women in agribusiness during the pandemic need to be documented, supported and scaled.
FAO: Young agriculture entrepreneurs forging Africa’s digital future
The Covid-19 pandemic has driven many people to digital platforms in Africa – people are buying, trading and transporting goods and services through digital channels across the continent. The FAO Regional Office for Africa (3 June), in collaboration with Generation Africa, held a webinar involving over 200 young agribusiness innovators and other agri-food systems actors to discuss the status of digital solutions in the sector. These agripreneurs have the potential to support the efforts of many farmers and transform agri-food systems during the current crisis – and also in a post-coronavirus Africa. FAO is currently initiating a network of SmartAgriHubs for Africa, which will serve as innovation centres for advancing digital agriculture on the continent, with youth at the forefront.
Edson Mpyisi, African Development Bank Chief Financial Economist and Coordinator of the Enable Youth Programme, told participants in the webinar that Covid-19 and the technological acceleration it has set in motion could revolutionise all levels of the agricultural value chain in Africa, and propel agribusiness to make Africa self-reliant. Innovations described included UjuziKilimo, a Kenyan platform that digitises farming records and data to advise rural farmers on inputs and planting; and Foodlocker, a Nigerian platform giving smallholders direct market access, which is particularly valuable in a time of social distancing and market shutdowns. Download the webinar here.
Africa goes online for groceries
Reuters (5 June) reports that across Africa, mobile tech startups are helping people get hold of fresh food during the pandemic by tapping into the rapid rise in smartphone use. About one-third of people in Sub-Saharan Africa had access to a smartphone in 2018, more than double the number four years earlier. Examples include Fresh in a Box (Zimbabwe), which now distributes about 2.6 tonnes of vegetables daily from nearly 2000 small-scale farmers to customers’ doorsteps; and the Market Garden app in Uganda, which connects women produce vendors to a new source of online customers. In Namibia, a website called Tambula (“take” in the local Oshiwambo language), described as “an online mall”, was launched about a week into the country’s lockdown, which started in March.
One positive to come out of the new coronavirus pandemic is that people are becoming more aware of e-commerce and realising that food from informal traders is often more affordable than that from retail shops. In Nigeria, PricePally, a digital food cooperative, allows people to buy food online in bulk from farmers and wholesalers, splitting the cost with other site users. PricePally had about 320 paying users before the virus hit; that number shot up to more than 1000 after the country’s lockdown at the end of March.
Just as lockdowns around the world have disrupted food trade across borders, they have also made it difficult for people working abroad to send food back home. Zimbabweans living in South Africa who would normally pay bus and taxi drivers to carry food packages to their families have turned to an app called Malaicha (a Ndebele word meaning “transporting goods to and from”), which allows people in South Africa to order groceries for delivery in Zimbabwe, making it possible to get food to their families in a few days, rather than weeks. The app is provided by Hello Paisa, known for its international money transfer service.
IATF’s Virtual Trade Fair
Although the second Intra-African Trade Fair (IATF2020), initially set to take place in September 2020 in Kigali, Rwanda, has been postponed due to Covid-19, IATF’s Virtual Trade Fair will be bringing together exhibitors and visitors from all sectors throughout 2020. Organised by Afreximbank in collaboration with the African Union, the second IATF will still be hosted by the Government of Rwanda and is now scheduled to take place from 6 to 12 September 2021 in Kigali. It will now be dubbed IATF2021.
Effects of Covid-19 on labour markets – Burkina Faso, Mali and Senegal
A recent paper from Maastricht Economic and social Research institute on Innovation and Technology (UNU‐MERIT) presents survey evidence on the labour market effects of Covid-19 in Burkina Faso, Mali and Senegal. The paper examines whether informal employment exacerbates the effects of Covid-19 on two outcomes – job loss and decreased earnings – and how remittances may help to mitigate the effects of Covid-19 on workers’ ability to support their basic needs. Results suggest that informal workers are the hardest hit by the pandemic, as they more likely to experience job loss and decreased earnings. Informal workers have experienced severe cuts in earnings due to reduced work time, bans on work in public spaces, decreased demand, increased costs of inputs, and increased transport costs. Particularly for self-employed workers, the bans on movement across regions have restricted many economic operators from accessing cheaper supplies of goods and services. In this context, remittances may help to support the most vulnerable in Sub-Saharan Africa; however, there are predictions of decreases in remittances due to the global economic contraction. Potential government actions to mitigate the negative effects of Covid-19 are considered, including decreasing the fees on remittances to make sending money cheaper.
Benin: $160 million from World Bank for agricultural sectors
The World Bank, through the International Development Association (IDA), has granted Benin a $160 million credit to increase the competitiveness of agri-food value chains, particularly pineapple and cashew, and develop new export chains for fresh agricultural products (Commodafrica, 4 June). Nearly 10,000 ha of pineapple plantations and 135,000 ha of ageing cashew plantations will be replaced or newly developed with high-yielding planting material. There are also plans to build a cargo terminal for the cold storage of highly perishable products, and related commercial infrastructure, at the future airport in Glo-Djigbé. To facilitate access to markets, 1200 km of roads will be rehabilitated and 4200 km of rural tracks will be maintained. Private sector investment will also be encouraged in selected value chains – pineapple, cashew, fresh fruit and vegetables – along with the establishment of logistics service providers in Benin, through a support mechanism for agricultural investments through the provision of cost-shared grants to beneficiaries, and a risk-sharing mechanism.
Guinea: Impacts on local potato markets
In Guinea, potato producers and market gardeners are severely affected by the Covid-19 pandemic (Guinéenews, 3 June). This article describes the situation in detail, in light of measures announced to support the farming community through the Agence de Promotion des Investissements Prives (Agency for the Promotion of Private Investments, APIP) with the availability of 500 billion Guinean francs. In Mamou, the 2020-2021 agricultural campaign is already compromised. The ban on travel to the interior regions of the country by the people of Conakry is having a negative impact on the agricultural production chain. The scarcity of buyers in weekly markets leads to a drop in product prices. Potatoes and aubergines are rotting in the shops of Soumbalako and Dounet due to a lack of preservation equipment. Labé seems to be one of the regions most affected by the consequences of Covid-19, especially in the potato production sector. Potatoes are rotting in the shops due to transport restrictions – only customers for small amounts are coming, but the exporters who take tonnes don’t come. A potato producer in Garambé (in the urban commune) is considering giving up altogether: “I have produced 7 hectares of potatoes this year. The harvest was excellent but to date I have difficulty selling the equivalent of one hectare while more than one other hectare is rotting in the warehouse.” In Lélouma, the closure of weekly markets has negatively affected the market garden sector. Women who farm vegetable gardens, producing tomatoes, aubergines, cabbages, okra and peppers, are affected by the decision of the local authorities to postpone the holding of all weekly markets throughout Lélouma. In Tougué, one of the prefectures of Middle Guinea where women practice market gardening, especially eggplant (kobo kobo), onion and tomato, they are finding that their markets in Conakry or Diawbhé (Senegal) are almost at a standstill. In Kankan, yam producers are “pulling the devil by the tail”. Many growers were already leaving the sector for other better subsidised sectors such as cashew nuts, and the Covid-19 health crisis is not helping. Pandemic-related travel restrictions have slowed down the influx of customers, most of whom come from other prefectures in the country or even neighbouring countries. Currently, due to the lack of means of conservation and processing, large quantities of yams are rotting. Growers are waiting for safe and reliable support measures promised by the national authorities, but which are slow in coming.
Kenyan farmers face uncertain future
The UK’s Financial Times (4 June) reports that Kenya’s horticulture industry is still losing around $1 million a day even as restrictions in European markets are easing. The major impacts on export horticulture that it describes have been well documented in this COLEACP Update in previous weeks. But road freight is also affected: for example, at Namanga, on Kenya’s border with Tanzania, drivers are tested for coronavirus and can wait up to five days for the test results, meaning only about 50 trucks are being cleared to enter Kenya a day, down from 250 a day before the pandemic. Those carrying perishable goods like onions and oranges say much of their cargo rots while they wait. And in Nairobi supermarkets the price of fresh produce has soared because of shortages, in some cases by up to 90 per cent. The unprecedented disruption is forcing some producers to reflect on the structure of the sector, for example by encouraging local producers through subsidising inputs to produce more items, such as onions, that are currently imported. Cold chain infrastructure needed to transport fresh produce in temperature-controlled environments is still limited and expensive in Kenya; one solution could be to transform more domestic fresh produce into dry goods. The EU is setting up a funding programme, in partnership with the European Investment Bank, to provide SMEs with easier access to finance. If it does not work, the entire horticulture export sector could collapse, warns Hosea Machuki, CEO of the Fresh Produce Exporters Association of Kenya (FPEAK). “There is a real risk of loss of foreign earnings for the country, loss of domestic revenues paid by growers and exporters, and ultimately loss of 350,000 direct jobs.” Read the full report here.
Kenya: Food inflation down but Covid-19 keeps prices high
In Kenya, food inflation was lower by a percentage point in May than the previous month as favourable weather reduced the cost of some food items (Business Daily, 3 June). But supply chain disruptions meant that Kenyans were unable to benefit fully from the improved production. Official figures show the cost of food items in the inflation basket went up by 10.6% last month, compared to 11.6% in March and April, and a high of 14.8% in February. The growth in food prices, however, remains high relative to that of other items on the inflation basket, where food carries the highest weight of 32.9 percent. “Despite the favourable weather conditions the prices of some food items remained elevated because of the supply disruptions arising from the Covid-19 containment measures,” Central Bank of Kenya said. Data from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics showed that onions, tomatoes and beans recorded the biggest price increase per kg year-on-year, while potatoes, carrots and spinach had the biggest drop.
European Union provides $50 million budget support to Fiji for the next 3 years
The EU has announced that it is providing $50 million as budget support to the Fijian Government for the next three years, with $20 million for 2020 (Fiji Village, 4 June). Speaking at the signing ceremony of the Financing Agreement, EU Ambassador to the Pacific Sujiro Seam says this is a sign of the trust and confidence placed by the EU in the government of Fiji. The budget support is focusing on rural livelihoods, particularly in light of the impact of Covid-19 on the tourism industry. Seam added that the EU supports the efforts undertaken by the government to reform the agriculture sector and implement a new strategy aimed at creating value, job opportunities, diversifying and coping with climate change.
Fiji Agromarketing to pay farmers cashless
The global Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of contactless cashless payments as a safer way to pay. Fiji Agromarketing and Vodafone Fiji have now signed an agreement for M-PAiSA mobile money to be the official payment channel for farmers (Fiji Village, 2 June). The cashless payment method will enable Fiji Agromarketing to pay their registered farmers directly on their mobile phone – a safe, secure and efficient payment method that will take away the risk of carrying large amounts of cash both from Fiji Agromarketing and the farmers. Permanent Secretary for Agriculture Ritesh Dass says Vodafone’s M-PAiSA cashless payment through mobile phone is fast becoming the new normal in the Fijian economy.
Caribbean Export: Uncovering opportunities created by the pandemic
The Caribbean Export Development Agency (2 June) notes that although the global pandemic is causing major disruption and hardship, it is also creating new business opportunities. With changing customer behaviours and needs, firms must now examine new market trends to strategically reposition themselves to meet them.
Covid-19 has forced consumers online with telecommuting, virtual classes and online shopping becoming the new norm. “Opportunities exist for Caribbean app developers to create apps that help businesses to fulfill delivery orders, much like Instacart and UberEats does for the American market.” Across the region there are several examples of companies offering digital payment options such as Trinidadian firm WiPay, which recently launched in Barbados, and Barbadian company mMoney, both of which help companies and customers with cashless transfers.
Caribbean agro-processors offering natural immunity-boosting products can also benefit during the pandemic. Widely accepted Caribbean staples like ginger and turmeric are some of the foods that are known to strengthen immunity. Jamaica is revitalising its ginger industry, valued at just under US$1 million in 2019, while CARICOM trade in turmeric is valued at approximately $1.07 million. Nutmeg and cinnamon, like honey, support healthy immune systems, which could be beneficial for Caribbean spice producers.
Caribbean Export upcoming webinars: