COLEACP’s Covid-19 surveys in sub-Saharan Africa
COLEACP’s qualitative surveys on impacts of the coronavirus, carried out with 175 businesses in 18 sub-Saharan African countries between March and August 2020, identified financial management and logistics as key priorities for support. While some more resilient horticultural businesses are responding to the pandemic by exploring opportunities offered by different markets and delivery platforms such as online trading, others will need support to do so.
In the early days of the pandemic, COLEACP decided to seek first-hand information on the impact of Covid-19 on operators of horticultural businesses to assess how support could best be redirected as a response. So between March and August, in partnership with regional and national horticultural professional associations, COLEACP organised surveys in 19 sub-Saharan African countries.
The surveys reached out to COLEACP members and partners, plus members of the relevant partner associations, in countries within ECOWAS (Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea, Mali, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Togo); CEMAC (Cameroon); COMESA (Ethiopia); EAC (Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda); and SADC (Madagascar, Mauritius, Zimbabwe).
In total 175 businesses responded from 18 countries, ranging from MSMEs to large-scale exporters, and including different types of operators throughout the value chain. Most of the responding companies sell on more than one market: 39% are operating on local markets, 14% on regional markets, 65% on European markets and 15% on other international markets.
These were not intended to be systematic surveys – respondents were self-selecting and needed to have internet access. The numbers of operators taking part from each country ranged from three to 23, varying greatly in size and operation. Some surveys were carried out early in the pandemic, others later when different levels and types of impacts were being felt, and some were repeated over several months. A few of the surveys organised on COLEACP’s behalf by national producers’ associations followed a different format that was specific to the context. But the results provide an illuminating qualitative snapshot of the key impacts of Covid-19 to date, and have been used to inform COLEACP’s and partner organisations’ priorities going forward. More detailed survey results can be accessed by COLEACP members and partners via the respective country websites, and this article describes some key takeaways.
Impacts on trading
The clearest impacts were on logistics – companies in all 18 countries reported disrupted domestic logistics, such as curfews and checkpoints, as the number one issue. Exporting companies cited disruption to air freight and increased cargo costs as key impacts.
For the majority of companies (82%), orders were down on their initial projections, although the impact varied. Notably, just over a quarter of respondents said orders were reduced by 75% or more.
Of the 64 companies that estimated the impact on their turnover, 45% said they had suffered losses of over 50%, with 14% seeing losses over 80%. 33% estimated their loss of turnover at 10–50%.
While not all companies were able to quantify their losses, in Kenya, for example, for the 3-month period March–May the cumulated respondents to the repeated surveys reported an average (median) loss per company of €135,000.
The impact on prices was less clear cut, and varied by market sector. Overall, while 37% of companies said they were receiving lower prices, 44% said prices remained similar to the same period in 2019. And some respondents reported higher prices: in Nigeria, for example, 46% of companies said prices had risen on 2019.
The main challenges cited by respondents were consistently cashflow problems, particularly covering overhead costs and inputs for new production cycles, and meeting commitments towards financial institutions.
Potential government support differed between countries, but a clear pattern was seen of companies being unaware of government support offered, only a few companies attempting to access government support, and even fewer companies actually receiving support. Only 7% of the 86 companies that responded on this question said that they had received any government or local authority support; 93% stated that they had received no official support. Types of support mentioned included a Covid loan (although the company received only 15% the amount applied for), reductions on utitlies such as water bills, special dispensations to move produce in restricted zones, and assistance with field inspections.
Impacts on labour
Of 133 responding companies that normally employed casual seasonal workers, 76% had reduced the number employed due to Covid-19, and 23% had not been able to employ any seasonal workers at all due to the crisis.
Impacts on permanent staff were less marked, but 85% of companies reported some level of impact on permanent staff. 19% of companies were forced to lay off staff. Other measures to reduce staffing costs included reducing wages (23%) and putting a stop on recruitment (28%).
Of 88 respondents who use external producers, 32% of companies said they were unable to guarantee a market for their small-scale outgrowers, 24% were unable to honour existing contracts, and 17% were unable to pay outgrowers for their fresh produce. In general, companies were scaling down on new planting schedules which will have an impact on future supply, and on revenue and livelihoods for outgrowers, in the coming weeks/months.
63% of companies had played a corporate social responsibility role in their community – distributing food (23%) and health and safety equipment (35%), and awareness-raising on the virus.
55% of companies said that they had not yet identified any alternative markets, but were looking for opportunities. Only 9% of companies said that they did not wish to enter alternative markets. 28% were selling more on domestic markets, and just one company mentioned moving into regional markets (Morocco). 17 companies (11%) said they had moved into processing their fresh produce.
Just 19% of companies said they had access to an online platform to market their products. Five companies were using their own website for this purpose, and four used specific online agri-food sellers such as EspaceAgro (mentioned by companies in Madagascar and Senegal) and Garden of Eden in Rwanda. The remainder mentioned non-specific social media platforms (Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, Twitter). In six countries (Benin, Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, Mali, Tanzania, Togo), all of the respondents said they had no access to an online platform to sell their products.
The vast majority of companies in all countries surveyed were applying virus containment measures in their workplaces as recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO). But respondents in all countries identified a need for more information and support on the virus as the pandemic evolves, and on applying measures in the specific context of horticultural businesses. Particular challenges identified included the costs of implementing Covid-19 safety measures, and difficulties in applying social distancing measures on staff transport.
Key support needed
Finance is a major bottleneck for many companies’ operations due to impacts on turnover coupled with increased costs for logistics, safety measures, etc. In all 18 countries, advice and support on financial and cashflow management, access to finance, risk management and contingency planning were the key support areas identified. Specific Covid-19 procedures for farm and packhouse operations were also earmarked as an area needing more support.