Self Help Africa subsidiaries
Self Help Africa's social enterprise subsidiary TruTrade supports farmers to unlock profitable new markets where they can sell their produce. Partner Africa provides a range of consultancy, ethical auditing and business advisory services that strengthen businesses along a range of agri-business and manufacturing value chains.
the Pandemic hits African businesses
The Covid-19 pandemic had a profound and disrupting effect on business across the globe, and the African continent was no exception.
In response to the pandemic, Self Help Africa’s social enterprise subsidiary Partner Africa, in collaboration with digital insight agency &Wider, conducted an extensive study of the real impact of the pandemic for companies and their workers. In collaboration with retail and industry partners, and working with six multinational brands, suppliers in agriculture, floriculture, textiles and waste management were surveyed to produce a detailed analysis of the impact of Covid-19 on business operations and employees.
Using &Wider’s automated mobile calls service and other data sources, the report ‘The Impact of Covid-19 on Suppliers and their Workers in Africa’ sourced information from nearly 7,500 workers and close to 300 managers at businesses from Morocco, Egypt and Ethiopia to Kenya, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Ghana and South Africa between June and December 2020.
The survey found that the pandemic had put new strains on business practices and cash flows. Suppliers suffered price hikes for raw materials, experienced late payments, reduced purchases and cancelled orders. Trans port and air freight costs increased and costs rose from a host of new activities and requirements including additional transportation and social distancing - both for employees travelling to work and in the workplace.
New pressures impacted on work ers too, with a large proportion of respondents reporting that their terms of employment, salaries and holiday entitlements had changed, while late payment of wages and lay-offs also occurred across different sectors during the pandemic. Many workers said that they were working harder while household income had declined. The pandemic had created significant strain on workers both in terms of financial and food security, and in workplace pressures and workload, the report noted.
Half of all businesses reported lower production levels, both as a result of increasing costs, shortages of stock, job losses, logistical delays and inflated prices.
Most suppliers had adapted well to new hygiene requirements, however, and businesses reported relative ease in affording and securing personal protective equipment (PPE) for workers. Most of those surveyed were not forced to close their businesses due to outbreaks of Covid-19. Neither had they suffered extensive absenteeism during the pandemic.
The report noted that Covid-19 brought about rapid change in business operations, and in some instances accelerated pre-pandemic trend forecasts, including the importance of embedding human rights due diligence frameworks within new ways of working.
Businesses should ensure that their Covid-19 responses link up to existing due diligence policies and processes; including grievance mechanisms, whistle blowing channels and worker representative structures the report concluded.
Many workers said that they were working harder
while household income had declined
Using digital platforms to pay farmers meant that TruTrade was well positioned when Covid-19 restricted conventional market interactions.
While the pandemic caused widespread disruption to agri-business in both Uganda and Kenya, TruTrade’s two primary markets, its mobile trading and payment platforms still supported thousands of smallholder farmers to access new markets and earn an income from their produce during the year.
Nonetheless, it was still an extremely challenging year. Interruptions to supply chains and changing consumer spending habits, hit TruTrade’s business model, growth targets and profitability.
Talking to TruTrade’s farmers
To learn more and gain a deeper understanding of the challenges faced by farmers, an insight into impact survey was carried out late in 2020 amongst over 250 TruTrade client farmers in Kenya.
It found that while most respondents remained deeply concerned by coronavirus, farmers were still hopeful and optimistic for the immediate future. 62% of those surveyed reported being ‘very confident’ and a further 34% ‘slightly confident’ that they would fare well over the coming months.
The survey also highlighted the value of TruTrade for farmers, in providing a unique service in an under-served market. Indeed, 85% of farmers who were surveyed said that they were accessing markets through TruTrade’s digital platforms for the very first time.
40% of farmers reported that their lives had ‘very much improved’ as a result of selling with TruTrade, 45% said that there had been substantial increases to their incomes, while a further 43% said that there had been a moderate increase in what they had earned.
In the midst of the pandemic, the survey also highlighted opportunities for TruTrade to help, with farmers identifying how the service could assist in providing access to inputs, cash and access to markets, as well as information on crop buyers and prices.
In 2021, TruTrade aims to scale-up its sourcing capacity, deepen community reach, improve impact at the farm gate, and strengthen its operation to ensure its long-term commercial viability.