Reimagining a new socio-economic fabric for African informal economies

Social safety nets will not be able to cover ordinary people’s coping mechanisms. Where economies were functioning normally, many farmers, traders and other entrepreneurs were busy servicing loans taken from banks and Micro Finance Institutions. What is going to happen?

Importance of careful business profiling
The biggest challenge for policy makers is navigating difficult trade-offs between promoting public health and stimulating socio-economic revival while competing for limited resources. Widespread informality and information asymmetry in most African countries makes it easier for government to mistakenly subside what is in abundance and miss sectors that need critical help. For instance food distribution remains an unsustainable option when it is better to provide resources to communities so that they can produce their own food in gardens, wetlands and production zones.

Teasing out all these issues requires careful profiling of people, communities and available resources. A biggest headache for countries like Kenya and Zimbabwe where the informal economy employs more than 80% of the population is how this economy can be re-opening during the lockdown and post-COVID19. The importance of careful profiling of economic actors in the informal economy cannot be over-emphasized. The following is how a detailed and meaningful profile will look like for each actor:

Capture covid

Profile element Justification (why it is important)
Personal details  
Name and sex Name is about identity. Who are we dealing with?  In the final analysis, sex reveals the extent to which the informal sector is dominated by women, for instance.
Age This has economic implication for business. What has been the impact of closing businesses on youth in response to COVID-19? What is the impact on the elderly pensioners?  How many young people have become unemployed due to the lockdown?
Marital Status COVID-19 has had a different impact on the married, unemployed single mothers and widows.
Household Size Household size has an influence on the pace at which small enterprises can recover from the pandemic. For most SMEs, more than 90% of the business income is more of a salary for the household.
Level of Education This has a bearing on the introduction of financial literacy and provision of technical skills.  How many graduates and school drop outs are in the informal sector?
Home Address (Location) Where do informal traders and SMEs stay? If staying in Epworth, why do they prefer selling to Mbare? What are the business factors for staying in Epworth and doing business in Mbare? This is a description of the ecosystem.  While policy makers may want to be directed by availability of land and by-laws in allocating work spaces, traders and SMEs know what should be considered in setting up a business.  They know the behavior of their customers and target market.
Mobile Number This is becoming a key unique identifier.

 

Business Information  
Business Name and Location Where is the business operating from?  This assists in mapping and revealing the concentration of SMEs.
Is the premise a. rented from i. private property ii. Council property. owned c. home This will assist in assessing risks. If one is renting at a private property, does the by-laws allow or property owners are just taking advantage of desperate SMEs. In most countries private property owners have become more of tax collectors. What plans can be put in place to bring commodities closer to consumers and de-congest Mbare? How can some premises be combined into industrial parks that accommodate street vendors and those operating from home? If you chase street vendors you are saying where they bought is also illegal.
Year business started This provides landscape in terms of experience as shown by years.  Are SMEs growing? What is dominating in terms of years?  What is the age of the business? How old is the SMEs?  If an SME has been running for 20 years but policy makers still do not recognize it, there is something wrong with government policy not with the SME. One cannot continue to be called informal merely because s/he has not been given works space or there is no supportive legislation. For instance what company registration is needed for brick molding? Youth enterprises should not be called projects but enterprises.

 

Average monthly sales How much is a SME contributing to the economy? Such information will provide a basis for clustering. It will also lays the foundation for creating a growth path. If someone has been in business for 20 years but sales are going down, it could signal lack of adaptation or existing knowledge has reached a limit.
Number of employees: a. full time b. part time This is a key component of economic growth.  By closing SMEs, how many families have been affected?  Any support required may not just be for the business but enhancing employment creation.  Job losses need to be accounted for as SMEs may not be able to sustain full-time employees post-COVID19.

 

List of assets and estimated value This shows production capacity and contribution of the SMEs to national economic growth.
Do you have any running loan? If yes state amount and lender? What is going to happen to enterprises that had acquired loans pre-COVID?  Their reputation with financiers is likely to get sour?  If more than 60% had loans, how are they going to be repaid?
What kind of support does your business currently need? Provide details This is critical. Most countries do not have fluid needs assessment management systems for the SMEs sector. In most cases there is an assumption that SMEs need loans when they probably need knowledge and skills.  Some have their own knowledge and should not be locked in five day training courses. Others are always learning from each other and can produce items without having gone to college.
Equipment

 

As technical people, SMEs know what equipment is lacking.  In clustering SMEs, policy should be informed by existing type of equipment or come up with special grants that can enable SMEs to import appropriate equipment. A supply chain for equipment can anchor rural industrialization with no need for every aspiring entrepreneur to visit the capital city for everything.

 

Clustering as a success factor

The above profile is critical for clustering business according to services and products. The SME sector should work hard to classify commodities towards clustering. Profiling is important for systematic formalization. The informal sector is already in motion and most SMEs in urban centers are now very dynamic. If government policy says passports can be applied online from today, everybody will apply. Likewise, SMEs should be able to take advantage of ICTs by filling in their profiles online and send completed forms digitally without travelling to towns and cities for such simple processes.

 

Charles@knowledgetransafrica.com  / charles@emkambo.co.zw / info@knowledgetransafrica.com

Website: www.emkambo.co.zw / www.knowledgetransafrica.com

Mobile: 0772 137 717/ 0774 430 309/ 0712 737 430

The power of clear role definition in African food systems

COVID-19 has revealed the importance of understanding roles of different actors in Africa’s food systems. When roles and responsibilities are unclear, smallholder farmers are exposed to conmen.  For instance, in Zimbabwe farmers are losing produce to unregistered buyers. The situation would be better if all buyers were registered and the trading of all agricultural commodities was properly regulated.

 

Due to lack of coordination, there is so much overlap and duplication of roles.  Farmers need value added services and these can come from knowledge brokers. There should be an institution whose core business is knowledge brokering and consolidating knowledge in ways that show overlaps in service provision.

Role of the Reserve Bank: Farmers and other value chain actors think the reserve bank and ministry of finance in each African country should have a budget for information or knowledge gathering and processing if it is to really unlock the potential of agriculture and food systems.

Farmer unions: While their role seems clear, it is still confusing when considered in the same breath with other service providers.  Since unions are membership-driven, they should become a local hub for information dissemination to their members.  This can be their main value added service and they can be a conduit between their members and other service providers and markets.

Agricultural marketing authorities: These should regulate brokers and service providers in the market.

Agritex extension services:  Their role should shift to monitoring farmer activity at grassroots and providing generic information, mainly for new farmers or those getting into a particular commodity for the first time. For learning purposes, extension officers can ensure knowledge barriers are  lowered so that a farmer can obtain the basics before becoming an expert.  Most farmers, particularly those new into a particular commodity, may not know what they need to know.  Self-learning works where farmers have acquired enough basic knowledge to know what they need to know.

Associations: Ideally information should travel from the farmers/associations to brokers to buyers/processors/end-users.  Associations can provide vital information required by markets. Ideally commodity associations can be built in the framework of farmer unions.

Knowledge brokers: As a way of controlling costs that farmers may end up incurring, knowledge should facilitate information movement between informal markets and processors who often find it difficult to consolidate information in terms of what volumes, quality and types of commodities in the market.  Markets also find it costly to get information from the production side, especially for specific commodities. The broker can consolidate all this information and share it with all actors including marketing authorities who can use it for policy review and crafting responses to COVID-19.

Chambers of commerce:  These should have sectoral representations from farmers unions/associations, manufacturing, input suppliers, equipment manufacturers, etc.

NGOs: These should focus mainly on social enterprise so that vulnerable groups are not left out of socio- economic activities and interventions.

Responding to a dynamic environment

All the above categories of institutions are targeting the farmer. However, if a farmer is to belong to an association, farmer union or chamber, what services does a farmer get from an association which s/he cannot get from a chamber of commerce?  There should be levels of membership and service access.  An association should provide well defined services different from what can be obtained from a chamber or marketing authority. If these roles are not neatly defined, farmers will continue losing through membership fees.

Given than the benefits of belonging to one category are not clear, farmers end up trying to belong to all and thus ending up belonging fully to none. Farmers who used to produce major staples like maize had no reason to worry about market information because prices were set by the government for the entire season. In addition to new farming dynamics associated with horticulture and other high value commodities, farmers have to keep monitoring prices and other changes.  This is where ICTs like mobile phones have potential to provide solutions beyond just calling, short message service and Whatsapp groups, some of which are leading to information overload due to lack of fresh content.

Charles@knowledgetransafrica.com  / charles@emkambo.co.zw / info@knowledgetransafrica.com

Website: www.emkambo.co.zw / www.knowledgetransafrica.com

Mobile: 0772 137 717/ 0774 430 309/ 0712 737 430

Pitfalls of embracing a natural farming region approach to agriculture development

Pitfalls of embracing a natural farming region approach to agriculture development

Agricultural practices in much of Africa have always been done in line with natural farming regions. While this approach is sensible, it has consistently disadvantaged dry regions. There has been a tendency to think that drought-prone areas do not have resilience pathways that can be commercialized. Most agricultural decisions continue to be influenced by rainfall patterns as drivers of investment.

Artificial boundaries

Looking at what happens in African mass markets, it is possible to conclude that boundaries between dry regions and high rainfall regions may just be artificial.  There are strong synergies between the two.  Just as drought-prone areas are a market for food from high rainfall areas, high rainfall areas also constitute a huge market for commodities like small grains that do well in dry regions. An integrated approach to building food systems will ride on the strengths of both regions.

However, most African countries are yet to tap into the existing and potential strengths of dry regions. For instance, most mechanization investments are directed at high rainfall regions at the expense of dry regions. Instead of identifying appropriate mechanization for dry regions, governments have tried to foist crops that do well in high rainfall regions on dry regions together with associated equipment like combine harvesters and heavy duty tractors. Crops like wheat that consume a lot of water are often imposed on dry regions where small grains grow naturally but there have not been efforts to support the necessary innovation that would see small grains being produced under irrigation, possibly in winter.

Mapping of existing resources

Agricultural investments should be guided by careful mapping of existing resources like land, soil types and water sources including forests which also contribute to local food systems. Such efforts should also look at knowledge and human skills. Dry regions have been left with old people as the young generation migrate to high rainfall areas because they do not see agriculture-related opportunities in dry regions.  Youth from dry regions are often found working in horticulture plantations of high rainfall regions and sugar cane farms when they should be applying their knowledge in their home areas.

Indigenous Knowledge Systems (IKS) also have to be carefully mapped so that such knowledge does not completely disappear with the old generation. Much of the land in dry regions is lying idle as the old generation which has the knowledge on how to use the land in producing traditional crops no longer have the energy to work the land. The old generation has abundant knowledge in producing small grains, indigenous vegetables and indigenous poultry but youths are not available to receive that knowledge.

Infiltration and dilution of IKS

A disturbing trend is the infiltration and dilution of indigenous knowledge systems by modern companies scrambling for relevance. For example some livestock feed manufacturing companies now claim to produce road runner feed suitable for indigenous poultry.  How authentic is that feed and why are African researchers or innovators not upgrading and commercializing indigenous poultry feed that has been produced traditionally for generations?  What value is being added by local universities and tertiary institutions that are located in dry regions?  How much of their curricula or content comprises local knowledge or IKS? Rather than adopting foreign syllabus, these institutions should be focusing more on contextual issues like developing local food systems for local, regional and global consumers.

Which supply chains are informed by small grains, indigenous fruits, indigenous vegetables, indigenous chickens and many other local resources that can drive growth? Serious efforts should go towards developing appropriate supply chains and markets. Many development organizations are promoting production of small grains and indigenous chickens but they are not developing markets. If a region has enough potential to produce its own food, 10% can be local consumption while the rest goes to markets.

Opportunities in value addition

Appropriate technology for small grains is lacking and that presents a challenge for commercialization.  Most few quantities produced for surplus get to the market through public transport which is uneconomic for every farmer to come with his/her bucket of small grains. Better markets tend to be distant from smallholder farming areas.

Given that much of the production across Africa is seasonal, there is no control over production cycles and supply is rendered inconsistent. Preservation of indigenous fruits for consistent and organized supply to the market is also lacking. Universities should participate in promoting the utilization of wild fruits, indigenous vegetables and other crops that are abundant during rainy seasons. Seed for propagation of indigenous crops and wild fruits is another critical pursuit. Small grains have remained labour-intensive for generations, making the crops unattractive to the youth.  Why do we not have plantations for indigenous fruits which do not need too much attention and can give young people time to multi-task? Building on existing IKS is the best way of developing dry regions rather than bringing foreign innovations and knowledge which cannot tap into these areas’ competitive advantages.

charles@knowledgetransafrica.com  / charles@emkambo.co.zw / info@knowledgetransafrica.com

Website: www.emkambo.co.zw / www.knowledgetransafrica.com

Mobile: 0772 137 717/ 0774 430 309/ 0712 737

COVID19 has worsened the plight of disabled agricultural value chain actors

COVID19 has worsened the plight of disabled agricultural value chain actors
For more than 10 years, Samson Mundodzi a gifted blind farmer from Nyazura in Manicaland province of Zimbabwe used to be accompanied to Mbare market for selling his commodities. Like all other farmers, Samson would have his commodities loaded onto long distance buses that passed through his home and get to Mbare market in time for consumers to snatch his commodities before returning home with the same buses.

By banning long distance buses as part of measures to contain the spread of COVID19, the government of Zimbabwe unknowingly cut the livelihood for Samson and thousands of disabled people like him. While the pandemic has turned the economy into a survival of the fittest ecosystem, where able bodied people can walk long distances to scavenge for transport or jump onto the back of trucks, disabled people cannot even attempt such tricks. The level of hassling induced by COVID19 is beyond the vulnerable.

The pull of agriculture and need for targeted responses
Given its low barriers to entry, most disabled people across Africa have found a home in the agriculture sector and agriculture-related income generating enterprises. Where governments have tried to introduce cushioning allowances for the SMEs sector, such measures have not been carefully disaggregated to cater for the needs of people with different levels of disability. If the state of infrastructure has been unbearable for able-bodied people for a very long time, what about the disabled who have many other challenges?

COVID19 has presented an opportunity for policy makers and development agencies to look critically at some of these issues with a view to developing better solutions post-COVID19. Besides being a moment of truth, the pandemic has revealed how African mass markets are a better expression of interdependencies that bind food systems and society together including different forms of disability.
The power of addressing widening inequalities
The first step for policy makers and development agencies to change the current system that is characterized by exclusion is to recognize that they are part of it. The COVID-19 pandemic forces has exposed interdependencies and inequalities that threaten to widen if not carefully addressed. Business have been presented with an opportunity to be a force of good beyond public relations gestures such as being captured on camera donating COVID19 masks as part of corporate social responsibility activities aimed at getting media publicity for marketing purposes.

To the extent COVID19 is a warm up training for society to deal with a changing climate, private companies and development agencies are being compelled to consider the impact of their decisions on communities and the environment. There has to be more purpose than making money or appetite for donor money through writing reports that paint a rosy picture when things on the ground are different.

Instead of embracing interdependence, Pre-COVID19 there has been an increasing tendency by development agencies to muscle out government and the private sector from rural agricultural ecosystems by creating consortiums that distort markets and grab roles that should be played by government and the private sector. Just as the pandemic is compelling the private sector to think deeply about how to build businesses that have a positive impact on society, the development sector should be doing the same by ensuring development programs are more inclusive to all members of the society including the disabled who should also own interventions not just be considered beneficiaries.

However markets cannot solve everything
What has also become clear through COVID19 is that markets on their own cannot solve all shocks. For instance, while in the early days of the 21 day lockdown period formal markets like supermarkets were allowed to operate, they could not meet the needs of most consumers in terms of diversity and quantities of food required. Neither was there space for the disabled to get what they wanted ahead of everyone. Some entrepreneurs and businesses may have tried to practice business differently but were constrained by the culture and rules of the market.

In the mass market it became clear that the right infrastructure did not exist to understand whether food supply chains were having a positive impact on society and lessening shocks on different actors including the disabled like Samson Mundodzi. The pandemic has shined the spot light on the need to change the system so that markets create value for all actors and different classes of consumers. Without the right comprehensive infrastructure it is difficult for farmers, consumers and other value chain actors to understand whether the agriculture sector or a particular value chain is having a positive impact on society.

That is why, post-COVID19 should see drastic changes in the marketing system so that agriculture can create value for all value chain actors, not just for funders and middlemen. Appropriate infrastructure can also enable data collection -making it possible to see who is positioned where and who is doing what as well as who is being excluded. Such immense systems change requires some interdependent combination of behavior change, culture shift, and structural change. Unless government, the private sector and development agencies commit to changing the rules of the game, outcomes will remain the same for value chain actors including the disabled and poor communal households.

When development organizations empower communities to produce their own food and add value to existing resources, they contribute in building strong communities and minimize government spending to solve problems being created by externalities like environmental damage. The same applies when private companies and financial institutions provide better incomes and unlock opportunities that prevent environmental damage caused by low wages and limited sources of livelihood. Such interdependencies are rarely explored as most private companies and development agencies are obsessed with pursuing isolated impact.

The best thing the private sector and development agencies can do is creating a socio-economic system that enables people and communities to be resilient in the face of future shocks. Dealing with COVID19 is a good training for dealing with climate change which certainly presents a much bigger disaster because it cannot be cured with a vaccine like COVID19 to limit its impact.

Business can still much for social good
The tendency by African countries to appeal for support to the donor world runs the risk of underestimating how much business including local businesses such as SMEs can do for social good if the system is structured in the right way. While COVID19 has shown that there is a limit to what the free market can solve, when properly organized African mass food markets can solve much more than they are currently doing. As part of the private sector, agricultural markets have enabled the agriculture sector achieve more than what the development sector has done.

Using agriculture as the main catalyst, the private sector has pulled millions of Africans out of poverty and created innovations like value chain systems that have improved many people’s loves. There is no doubt that if restructured properly post-COVID19, the private sector can become a more powerful force for social good. The private sector cannot solve all problems because there are plenty of challenges that the market cannot solve by itself. For instance, disability issues cannot be fully solved through private agricultural enterprises. To a large extent, all countries class and social justice issues that the market is not able to solve by itself.

Some elements of the environmental crisis we are currently facing are not going to be solved solely by business behaving differently. Such issues ae going to require public-policy solutions. This is where the government and the not-for-profit sector like development agencies are absolutely necessary in generating collective solutions. That will ensure Samson Mundodzi and millions of disabled people in the developing world will do not continue to remain marginalized.

Charles@knowledgetransafrica.com / charles@emkambo.co.zw / info@knowledgetransafrica.com
Website: www.emkambo.co.zw / www.knowledgetransafrica.com
Mobile: 0772 137 717/ 0774 430 309/ 0712 737

Harnessing the power of needs assessments in African countries

Harnessing the power of needs assessments in African countries

Needs assessments are some of the most under-rated and underutilized resources in African countries.  Development agencies that often start some work in communities with a baseline study often do so for purposes of getting donor money as opposed to fully informing and guiding their interventions. In some cases the baseline study is conducted when donor money has already been received, which begs the question: What informed the proposal for which donor money was provided?

Basing decisions on gut feelings

If development agencies full of educated people cannot collect reliable data, what about poor farmers grappling to feed their families?  After spending decades working in the same communities, one asset development agencies should strive to build is a strong culture of collecting and using data at local level. COVID19 would have found most farmers having switched from relying on gut feelings for most decisions to using data and evidence.

Who are the audiences for government statistics in Africa?

What has also become clear is that African countries do not assess the data needs of different actors like farmers, traders, processors, transporters, agro-dealers and many others who should benefit from carefully collected, interpreted and packaged data. Failure to conduct needs assessment is one of the main reasons why data analysis ends at provincial and national level when farmers and other people at the local level are the ones who need the data most for their own decisions. For instance, unless farmers know collective volumes of commodities produced in their community, they will continue making poor production decisions. 

In most African farming communities, at one point commodities are so abundant that they are sold for a song. A few months down the road, prices of the same commodities are tenfold. Assuming some of the food gaps used to be supplemented by imports pre-Covid19, what are some of the supplements during the Covid19 era which has disrupted imports?  Such questions can only be answered using data.

A case for keeping data fluid

Ideally information and raw data generated through annual national crop and livestock assessments should be kept fluid so that people who want to re-purpose it can easily do so.   Unfortunately, most national reports are closed and converted into portable document format. One cannot make sense of the situation through a string of tables and numbers with no clear context.  By the time a crop and livestock assessment report is published, the situation on the ground will have changed. 

Volumes are expressed in metric tons which is not how quantities are expressed at grassroots where communities talk in terms of bags, baskets, buckets and other contextual measurements. One of the challenges is that statisticians are not implementers on the ground who can provide contextual nuances. They just punch numbers in a machine and generate some numbers which may easily take the information out of context.

Naked figures are meaningless without stories

African agriculture comprises many moving parts which cannot be understood through historical data only. A string of naked datasets provided by national statistical agencies without nuanced interpretation tends to be meaningless for the majority.  Interpretation is what brings out lessons which can be converted into opportunities.  Farmers may not express their experiences or knowledge in figures or percentages but their decisions are intelligent and meaningful. For instance, they may prefer selling their maize to the informal market where they earn 30% less income which comes on time than wait six months for a higher payment which comes late. If the time-lag is carefully calculated and expressed in monetary terms, it may reveal that earning less on time is better than earning more after waiting for several months. 

The quality of answers is as good as the questions asked

Just as primitive and rudimentary tools make it difficult to mine minerals like diamonds, gold and platinum, primitive information gathering tools and interpretation frameworks makes it impossible for anyone to mine knowledge bases in many African communities. That is why most reports produced by governments and development agencies end up gathering dust because no one has invested in identifying users and their needs.  The same information end up being recycled at policy level because pathways for embedding it into communities have not been created. Crop and livestock assessment reports fail to speak to local communities who are the main sources of information and can enrich the reports if kept fluid. 

Charles@knowledgetransafrica.com  / charles@emkambo.co.zw / info@knowledgetransafrica.com

Website: www.emkambo.co.zw / www.knowledgetransafrica.com

Mobile: 0772 137 717/ 0774 430 309/ 0712 737 430

The power of clear role definition in African food systems

COVID-19 has revealed the importance of understanding roles of different actors in Africa’s food systems. When roles and responsibilities are unclear, smallholder farmers are exposed to conmen.  For instance, in Zimbabwe farmers are losing produce to unregistered buyers. The situation would be better if all buyers were registered and the trading of all agricultural commodities was properly regulated.

covid mbare

Due to lack of coordination, there is so much overlap and duplication of roles.  Farmers need value added services and these can come from knowledge brokers. There should be an institution whose core business is knowledge brokering and consolidating knowledge in ways that show overlaps in service provision.

 

Role of the Reserve Bank: Farmers and other value chain actors think the reserve bank and ministry of finance in each African country should have a budget for information or knowledge gathering and processing if it is to really unlock the potential of agriculture and food systems.

Farmer unions: While their role seems clear, it is still confusing when considered in the same breath with other service providers.  Since unions are membership-driven, they should become a local hub for information dissemination to their members.  This can be their main value added service and they can be a conduit between their members and other service providers and markets.

Agricultural marketing authorities: These should regulate brokers and service providers in the market.

Agritex extension services:  Their role should shift to monitoring farmer activity at grassroots and providing generic information, mainly for new farmers or those getting into a particular commodity for the first time. For learning purposes, extension officers can ensure knowledge barriers are  lowered so that a farmer can obtain the basics before becoming an expert.  Most farmers, particularly those new into a particular commodity, may not know what they need to know.  Self-learning works where farmers have acquired enough basic knowledge to know what they need to know.

Associations: Ideally information should travel from the farmers/associations to brokers to buyers/processors/end-users.  Associations can provide vital information required by markets. Ideally commodity associations can be built in the framework of farmer unions.

Knowledge brokers: As a way of controlling costs that farmers may end up incurring, knowledge should facilitate information movement between informal markets and processors who often find it difficult to consolidate information in terms of what volumes, quality and types of commodities in the market.  Markets also find it costly to get information from the production side, especially for specific commodities. The broker can consolidate all this information and share it with all actors including marketing authorities who can use it for policy review and crafting responses to COVID-19.

Chambers of commerce:  These should have sectoral representations from farmers unions/associations, manufacturing, input suppliers, equipment manufacturers, etc.

NGOs: These should focus mainly on social enterprise so that vulnerable groups are not left out of socio- economic activities and interventions.

Responding to a dynamic environment

All the above categories of institutions are targeting the farmer. However, if a farmer is to belong to an association, farmer union or chamber, what services does a farmer get from an association which s/he cannot get from a chamber of commerce?  There should be levels of membership and service access.  An association should provide well defined services different from what can be obtained from a chamber or marketing authority. If these roles are not neatly defined, farmers will continue losing through membership fees.

Given than the benefits of belonging to one category are not clear, farmers end up trying to belong to all and thus ending up belonging fully to none. Farmers who used to produce major staples like maize had no reason to worry about market information because prices were set by the government for the entire season. In addition to new farming dynamics associated with horticulture and other high value commodities, farmers have to keep monitoring prices and other changes.  This is where ICTs like mobile phones have potential to provide solutions beyond just calling, short message service and Whatsapp groups, some of which are leading to information overload due to lack of fresh content.

 

charles@knowledgetransafrica.com  / charles@emkambo.co.zw / info@knowledgetransafrica.com

Website: www.emkambo.co.zw / www.knowledgetransafrica.com

Mobile: 0772 137 717/ 0774 430 309/ 0712 737 430

Reimagining a new socio-economic fabric for African informal economies

Lockdowns as a major method for containing COVID-19 has undoubtedly destroyed social fabrics that sustain most low income economies. While governments have tried to soften the pandemic’s blow by providing cushioning allowances and other social safety nets to vulnerable members of society including vendors,  Mukando or Stokvel and other forms of voluntary and savings clubs will no longer be the same. Vendors and other low income earners who live from hand to mouth are wondering how they are going to repay loans they had taken before the pandemic arrived.

Capture covid

Social safety nets will not be able to cover ordinary people’s coping mechanisms. Where economies were functioning normally, many farmers, traders and other entrepreneurs were busy servicing loans taken from banks and Micro Finance Institutions. What is going to happen?

Importance of careful business profiling

The biggest challenge for policy makers is navigating difficult trade-offs between promoting public health and stimulating socio-economic revival while competing for limited resources. Widespread informality and information asymmetry in most African countries makes it easier for government to mistakenly subside what is in abundance and miss sectors that need critical help.  For instance food distribution remains an unsustainable option when it is better to provide resources to communities so that they can produce their own food in gardens, wetlands and production zones.

Teasing out all these issues requires careful profiling of people, communities and available resources. A biggest headache for countries like Kenya and Zimbabwe where the informal economy employs more than 80% of the population is how this economy can be re-opening during the lockdown and post-COVID19. The importance of careful profiling of economic actors in the informal economy cannot be over-emphasized. The following is how a detailed and meaningful profile will look like for each actor:

Profile element Justification (why it is important)
Personal details  
Name and sex Name is about identity. Who are we dealing with?  In the final analysis, sex reveals the extent to which the informal sector is dominated by women, for instance.
Age This has economic implication for business. What has been the impact of closing businesses on youth in response to COVID-19? What is the impact on the elderly pensioners?  How many young people have become unemployed due to the lockdown?
Marital Status COVID-19 has had a different impact on the married, unemployed single mothers and widows.
Household Size Household size has an influence on the pace at which small enterprises can recover from the pandemic. For most SMEs, more than 90% of the business income is more of a salary for the household.
Level of Education This has a bearing on the introduction of financial literacy and provision of technical skills.  How many graduates and school drop outs are in the informal sector?
Home Address (Location) Where do informal traders and SMEs stay? If staying in Epworth, why do they prefer selling to Mbare? What are the business factors for staying in Epworth and doing business in Mbare? This is a description of the ecosystem.  While policy makers may want to be directed by availability of land and by-laws in allocating work spaces, traders and SMEs know what should be considered in setting up a business.  They know the behavior of their customers and target market.
Mobile Number This is becoming a key unique identifier.
Business Information
Business Name and Location Where is the business operating from?  This assists in mapping and revealing the concentration of SMEs.
Is the premise a. rented from i. private property ii. Council property. owned c. home This will assist in assessing risks. If one is renting at a private property, does the by-laws allow or property owners are just taking advantage of desperate SMEs. In most countries private property owners have become more of tax collectors. What plans can be put in place to bring commodities closer to consumers and de-congest Mbare? How can some premises be combined into industrial parks that accommodate street vendors and those operating from home? If you chase street vendors you are saying where they bought is also illegal.
Year business started This provides landscape in terms of experience as shown by years.  Are SMEs growing? What is dominating in terms of years?  What is the age of the business? How old is the SMEs?  If an SME has been running for 20 years but policy makers still do not recognize it, there is something wrong with government policy not with the SME. One cannot continue to be called informal merely because s/he has not been given works space or there is no supportive legislation. For instance what company registration is needed for brick molding? Youth enterprises should not be called projects but enterprises.
Average monthly sales How much is a SME contributing to the economy? Such information will provide a basis for clustering. It will also lays the foundation for creating a growth path. If someone has been in business for 20 years but sales are going down, it could signal lack of adaptation or existing knowledge has reached a limit.
Number of employees: a. full time b. part time This is a key component of economic growth.  By closing SMEs, how many families have been affected?  Any support required may not just be for the business but enhancing employment creation.  Job losses need to be accounted for as SMEs may not be able to sustain full-time employees post-COVID19.
List of assets and estimated value This shows production capacity and contribution of the SMEs to national economic growth.
Do you have any running loan? If yes state amount and lender? What is going to happen to enterprises that had acquired loans pre-COVID?  Their reputation with financiers is likely to get sour?  If more than 60% had loans, how are they going to be repaid?
What kind of support does your business currently need? Provide details This is critical. Most countries do not have fluid needs assessment management systems for the SMEs sector. In most cases there is an assumption that SMEs need loans when they probably need knowledge and skills.  Some have their own knowledge and should not be locked in five day training courses. Others are always learning from each other and can produce items without having gone to college.
Equipment As technical people, SMEs know what equipment is lacking.  In clustering SMEs, policy should be informed by existing type of equipment or come up with special grants that can enable SMEs to import appropriate equipment. A supply chain for equipment can anchor rural industrialization with no need for every aspiring entrepreneur to visit the capital city for everything.

Clustering as a success factor
The above profile is critical for clustering business according to services and products. The SME sector should work hard to classify commodities towards clustering. Profiling is important for systematic formalization. The informal sector is already in motion and most SMEs in urban centers are now very dynamic. If government policy says passports can be applied online from today, everybody will apply. Likewise, SMEs should be able to take advantage of ICTs by filling in their profiles online and send completed forms digitally without travelling to towns and cities for such simple processes.

Charles@knowledgetransafrica.com  / charles@emkambo.co.zw / info@knowledgetransafrica.com

Website: www.emkambo.co.zw / www.knowledgetransafrica.com

Mobile: 0772 137 717/ 0774 430 309/ 0712 737 430

Africa Day should now be more about knowledge than politics

Without belittling the importance of celebrating independence, African countries should now be using 25 May (Africa Day) to take stock of knowledge-based achievements and gaps. If all African countries had created a university education model relevant to their development needs and aspirations, African Day would be ideal for celebrating home-grown science around indigenous food systems. By consuming imported food during special days like African Day, African countries limit the capacity of indigenous food to participate in socio-economic development. Indigenous hotels should lead by example through serving indigenous food as a unique selling proposition for each country.

charles dhewa covid

Recognizing intrinsic knowledge and indigenous science

African leaders should use African Day to reflect on why imported science that continues to control formal education systems in Africa is still failing to produce graduates with relevant skills, knowledge and dispositions for generating solutions. For instance, much of the indigenous food systems are driven by intrinsic knowledge and indigenous science especially in relation to food preparation. Where imported knowledge systems emphasize boiling for 20 – 30 minutes, African food preparation systems and skills are in-born. There is no measurement or scale for putting salt besides tasting.  Unfortunately, African university graduates have not been able to process indigenous science into a knowledge basket that can also be exported. Cooking sadza with mugoti and making hodzeko milk are skills that should be exported as intuitive knowledge worthy studying in higher institutions of learning.

When you ask formally educated Africans why they are not solving simple problems the main answer is lack of money. Yet not everything needs money because there will never be sufficient money for solving problems.  That is why people acquire knowledge so that they do not associate every advancement with money but knowledge. Indigenous science is different from imported science which takes learning as memorization and reproduction of facts, figures and rules. It is not only about using available resources to solve problems but also includes building the capacity of young people to interrogate their attitudes, beliefs and mentalities as part of formulating solutions.

Need to domesticate imported science

If imported science was easy to domesticate, African medical doctors trained through the Western university education system would by now have used their knowledge to develop local drugs combining western science and indigenous science. After spending more than five years studying medicine and thereafter practicing as a medical doctor for more than 10 years, an African medical doctor still cannot generate new knowledge in the form of drugs or new ways of treating diseases. Although some diseases and ailments are contextual, African western trained doctors continue to merely administer medicines and cures developed by other people in the West.

Medical professionals around the world are failing to find cure for COVID-19 because they are using borrowed knowledge developed by a few individuals. By now African doctors should have been able to contextualize imported knowledge and created unique medicines using local herbs. If medical doctors were paid by results, what would be the results of African doctors who continue to use imported science?

After spending 7 years studying veterinary science and practicing as veterinary doctors for decades, African veterinary doctors can only administer imported veterinary products while millions of farmers continue to lose millions of cattle from Therleriosis (January disease), Antrax as well as Foot and Mount Disease (FMD) among others.

As they celebrate Africa Day on 25th May 2020, African leaders should be worried that imported curricula remains a barrier to innovative solutions using local plant materials and indigenous science passed from one generation to the other. The more an African absorbed western education, the more s/he is alienated from local science and indigenous knowledge systems.

 

charles@knowledgetransafrica.com  / charles@emkambo.co.zw / info@knowledgetransafrica.com

Website: www.emkambo.co.zw / www.knowledgetransafrica.com

Mobile: 0772 137 717/ 0774 430 309/ 0712 737 430

Rediscovering the value of indigenous knowledge through COVID-19

By restricting movement between rural and urban areas, there is no doubt that lockdowns in African countries have weakened domestic trade and social fabrics that sustain most low income economies. Contrary to views from policy makers, African economies are not sustained by international trade but domestic commerce and social capital. COVID19-induced lockdowns have made it difficult for urban dwellers to get bags of Nzungu, Nyimo and Mumhare from parents in rural areas as long distance buses have been stopped from operating. Neither can they taste favorite indigenous fruits like tsvubvu or herbs like Zumbani and others famous for fighting flue which is common in winter.  However, that is where the bad news ends.

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Going back to the roots

Failure to transport perishable commodities to cities is beginning to inspire a new sense of self-reliance among farmers and rural people. So important has become traditional ways of preserving food that most farmers are wondering why they were always rushing to sell their valuable commodities for a song when they can wait and add more value. On the other hand, urban consumers who have previously over-depended on imported food systems to the point of associating mufushwa with poverty are beginning to look for it to fill gaps created by absence of fresh vegetables from rural areas. Those in the fresh meat and fish industries are dusting their knowledge on drying beef into chimukuyu which after all is said to be superior because it does not cause gout. Pre-COVID-19, the promotion of indigenous food was labelled informal food vending – of Mutakura, Mahewu, road runners and Mazondo.

Drawing lessons from COVID-19, if African policy makers had promoted a very strong culture of food preservation, the impact of the pandemic would be softened.  More than 90% of our major staples in Africa are rain-fed which means they are seasonal. The same applies to indigenous vegetables like nyevhe as well as fruits like mawuyu, nyii, tsvubvu and masawu which come in abundance leading communities to suffer economic losses.

Unfortunately policy makers’ notion of preservation is just about storage and warehousing yet food should be warehoused when already preserved. African grandmothers made different kinds of mumhare and mufushwa to last until the next harvest. Sweet potatoes were preserved in pfimbi and ripening of fruits through kupfimbika remains a very common practice today in Zimbabwe, for instance. All that knowledge is now due for assessment and improvement although preservation technology is yet to fully embrace indigenous knowledge systems.

No need for preservatives

A major attraction for indigenously preserved food is that it does not have preservatives which are said to be causing different kinds of cancers that are claiming the lives of many eminent Africans. There is a strong emerging view that if properly done, preserved indigenous food can go through the retail supply chain involving agro-dealers who are an integral part of processed food distribution chain.  Farmers have observed that the growth of the modern food chain like fast foods is not contributing much to the growth of smallholder farmers. Recipes and spices used by fast food outlets are meant to promote producers from source countries. For instance, recipes and spices that go into pizzas and niche restaurants are not produced locally as a way of preserving global supply chain from which fast food chains originate.

Upgrading and simplifying indigenous value addition knowledge

Developing countries have not looked at appropriate technology that can simplify value addition knowledge especially traditional knowledge such as on drying mufushwa and brewing mahewu. Consequently there has not been much preservation and quality improvement of mufushwa and other indigenous foods into ready to eat products for better domestic nutrition and export. At national or regional level there has not been meaningful efforts to add value to traditional knowledge on preservation methods.

There is still overwhelming preference for imported knowledge like canning beef and beans as well as tomato sauce which process requires hitech. Africans who grew up in an agrarian society remember producing their own baobab yoghurt through mixing with cow milk while herding cattle.  It is possible that such indigenous knowledge was poached and commercialized.  Now it is not clear who is coping who in producing yoghurt. Mahewu was brewed using chimera but now some companies are producing mahewu but have kept the original sources of knowledge invisible.

For how long are African food systems going to remain locked in specific areas or regions?

This is another fundamental questions triggered in people’s minds as they grapple with the consequences of COVID – 19 on their food systems. Suddenly they realize how their food systems are still locked in specific rural areas and production zones and why they need to develop supply chains through which different production zones can enrich each other. Another telling observation is that more than 50% of the urban population lack rural knowledge. Little knowledge of what urban people are aware of is obtained through informal markets like Mbare in Harare and many others across African cities. However, Zumbani and Mufandichimuka cannot be found in supermarkets where the majority urban dwellers shop.

A lot of knowledge gaps exist between the young generation and local food systems. By not cultivating such knowledge, Africans are killing future demand for indigenous food. The young only know about pizza and Ice cream but very little about sources of food. In terms of demand it is not about young people knowing the plant but developing taste and appreciating home-grown food and associated advantages. Another mistake being corrected is packaging food in modern measurement like calories, kilograms and alcohol content, among others. “Our own knowledge systems should empower us to desist from expressing our food through medicinal properties because the food end up being associated with diseases or illnesses. We should elevate the nutritional side associated with wellness although we are aware of medicinal properties in the food”, one farmer from Mutoko district of Zimbabwe told eMKambo.

 Combination of medicine and nutrition

Farmers added that nutrition and medicinal properties are closely linked in the African sense and knowledge systems. However, many lamented the fact that when food is expressed as medicine through modern science it is taken like a drug although it has preventive elements. On the other hand traditional foods like small grains are mostly promoted from a nutritional perspective while their medicinal angle is not elevated. When food is a combination of nutrition and medicine it is consumed as a package as opposed to imported practices where Vitamin A tablets can be consumed separately.

These are some of the discussions happening between farmers and traders trying to continue trading during and after COVID-19. While the majority of African mass markets may have been closed physically, trading of knowledge and real commodities is continuing underneath as part of economic self-reliance and keeping indigenous food trading vibrant.

 

Charles@knowledgetransafrica.com  / charles@emkambo.co.zw / info@knowledgetransafrica.com

Website: www.emkambo.co.zw / www.knowledgetransafrica.com

Mobile: 0772 137 717/ 0774 430 309/ 0712 737 430

COVID-19 shows symbiotic relationships between formal and informal economies

Among other revelations, COVID-19 has shown the extent to which formal and informal African economies do not work in isolation but are more like Siamese twins. African economies are structured in such a way that there are no distinct supply chains that can be locked down without affecting entire ecosystems. For instance, agriculture is tightly interwoven with the non-food informal sector which consume more than 70% of the food, constituting the key demand side for agricultural commodities.

emkambo virus

Given that less than 10% of the demand for food comes from the formal sector, opening that sector without opening the informal sector does not improve agricultural incomes.  One of the most important decisions in opening economic sector while others remain closed in order to contain the spread of COVID-19 should focus on stimulating the buying power. Suppressed buying power affects smallholder farmers more because there will be few buyers for the commodities, leading to enormous losses. That is why it is important to link the safety net system with food markets so that farmers earn income that will enable them to go back and grow more food.

The power of data and evidence

While mass African markets generate a lot of fluid data about the movement of food, African countries do not have institutions responsible for collecting and interpreting such data to inform policy decisions during pandemics like COVID-19 and other disasters. If such an institution existed it would show how much food is consumed by the transport sector, health sector and other non-food sectors. Careful analysis would reveal the implications of opening up one economic sector while keeping others closed. It would also show how opening the formal sector without opening the informal sector compromises demand because it cripples the buying power of the pro-poor majority, mostly those who depend on the informal sector that apparently drives the economy. Evidence would also show how social safety nets are not the solution on their own unless cash meant for social safety nets is plugged into the food supply chain so that poor people do not spend their little money looking for food.

Technology should be playing a more meaningful role

Most African countries still lack technologies that can help them to collect or process information and data. By now, digital technologies should be producing maps for diseases like Malaria, Cholera, Food and Mouth Disease, Fall Army worm and many other diseases that have made Africa their home. Such maps would provide wider sets of fluid data, demonstrating linkages between disasters or particular diseases with food systems. Unfortunately, African ministries of finance do not set aside specific budgets for gathering such important fluid data which remains fragmented in different government departments, local communities and development organizations.

Technology-driven data and evidence can demonstrate why progressive farmers and traders should be interested in mastering trends that contribute to their growth pathways.  If you are a potato trader, it is not enough to know only about that particular commodity and competitors. Understanding the entire ecosystem is more fundamental because fruits like oranges and Nyii can have an indirect but very serious impact on potatoes. Appreciating the role of data and understanding one’s business performance is critical. Banks are realizing that a bank statement is no longer a sufficient instrument for evaluating a business’s performance especially given that companies that have not been operating for months due to COVID-19 have not been banking or generating income but virtually in limbo.

Importance of post-harvest policies

COVID-19 has also revealed the extent to which African countries need post-harvest policies as opposed to too much focus on inputs provision, mechanization and irrigation issues at the expense of post-harvest issues. For a very long time, farmers and traders have been finding their own way around post-harvest challenges, developing their own economy with no policy guidance. Information and knowledge has remained in silos, for instance between farmers and traders who build a close relationship among themselves.

Information asymmetry, barriers to market participation and negligence of market infrastructure has remained the order of the day for decades. Policy makers have never questioned how food finds its way to urban markets from diverse farming areas.  Likewise, few people have been curious enough to find out how urban consumers get potatoes, carrots and other commodities. Very few policy makers know that to operate on full throttle, formal businesses depend on the informal economy for much-needed oxygen without which the whole formal economy cannot breathe. Most food and beverage formal companies would not be getting cash if they did not work closely with the informal sector in the form of tuck-shops and street vending of food. For instance, in Zimbabwe a big sausage making cottage industry is an extension of the informal sector on which many people are depending for food and income.

Charles@knowledgetransafrica.com  / charles@emkambo.co.zw / info@knowledgetransafrica.com

Website: www.emkambo.co.zw / www.knowledgetransafrica.com

Mobile: 0772 137 717/ 0774 430 309/ 0712 737 430