In January, Ugandan COLEACP member Jakana Foods Ltd, along with 14 other small and home-based women’s businesses, had started a weekly farmers’ market in Kampala, and were still building their market share when they recognised that a possible lockdown was coming. To act quickly in order to keep their businesses alive, Meg Jaquay, the Market Chairwoman and MD of Jakana Foods, quickly mobilised the 15 businesses to put their over 300 products on a Google Sheets spreadsheet for customers in Jinja, Mukono, Kampala and Entebbe to download and order the food they need each week. It immediately became popular, delivering up to over 20 deliveries per day. In March they had reached over 150 customers, delivering to over 70 families per week. All the businesses send their fresh items daily to a collection point in the centre of town, a packer puts together the order and then sends each order out via a professional delivery service. This resilient response is enabling home-based entrepreneurs, including women who are pregnant and who are separated from their partners due to the pandemic, to maintain their source of income.
In Côte d’Ivoire, a fruit and vegetable exporter specialising in mangoes and coconuts is facing the pandemic during its busiest mango export season, from March to May. Before the crisis, the company had been considering investments in 2020 to increase its packaging capacity and markets. Now more than ever, support measures from the Ivorian government will be welcome. Currently, 90% of the country’s COVID-19 cases are in Abidjan, making the economic capital the epicentre of the pandemic. Demand for the coconuts that the company processes and packs in Abidjan has halved in the space of a month, leading to staff reductions. The closure of small distributors, restaurants and schools in European markets (Spain, Italy, Germany, France) has led to a reduction in orders. But the company also works with a mango importer based in France, who redistributes mangoes throughout Europe (UK, Spain, France, Netherlands, etc.), and is still somehow able to supply supermarkets, so this business continues.
Airports have closed passenger and cargo flights, but the company is seeing a small recovery in cargo flights and is managing to export a small part of its volumes by air. However, there are a lot of restrictions and some cancellations, which leads to some instability: products may stay longer on the dock and quality may be affected.
As far as mangoes are concerned, curfew and social distancing measures have had an immediate impact on the hourly working volume, which has fallen from 16 to 13 hours a day, reducing capacity to 70 tonnes a day, whereas the target was 100 tonnes. Most of the labour losses recorded so far have affected seasonal workers exclusively. Many of these workers (about 60% of whom are women) use mango revenues as working capital for other income-generating activities. More vulnerable groups are therefore affected.
The Ivorian government has deferred the payment of some taxes, which at least allows people to breathe today while waiting to pay tomorrow. The government has set up a fund to support the food and fruit and vegetable sectors: the mango sector inter-professional association has quantified the impacts of COVID-19 and is waiting to find out what funds will be granted. In particular, government measures exempting the sector from travel restrictions and allowing goods to move from the north of the country to the port and airports of Abidjan, and technical staff to work there despite the curfew, allow trade to continue.
The company had planned to make investments in 2020, but is now on hold, waiting to see how the year unfolds. Thinking will have to be highly strategic, and the company will need a variety of support from both the state and the private sector in order to grow. Future development plans will have to take into account the additional space required by remoteness and barrier measures: the company plans to develop a modular station capable of growth, and not rigid as is currently the case.
“Our company’s operating system is based on hygiene. As a result, we are familiar with many of the hygiene measures recommended and to be implemented. But at the same time the current situation makes us think more efficiently than effectively. In other words, how to arrive in difficult situations with a lot of restrictions and to keep our production capacity intact? At some point, the question arises of how to reinvent ourselves. And we are in an activity that allows us to develop in several sub-sectors. So rather than complaining, it’s really a question of reacting by looking at how to bounce back, because there are opportunities.”
A producer, processor and exporter in Ghana reports that production activities, as well as supply from outgrowers, are ongoing: the company has instituted the required measures for stopping the spread of the pandemic on farm, leading to unbudgeted expenditure. Export markets have also been affected: since lockdown, export activities stalled until clarity was received on guidelines implemented by the Ghana Export Promotion Authority (GEPA). The company was able to limit the impact by starting with supplies to domestic buyers – although prices offered are on average 18% less than the prices in the export market – until export activities were able to resume in May. Although marketing efforts were diverted to the local market for the period, it was necessary to hold enough inventory for customers in the export market, leading to higher storage costs. The company expects a 25% decrease in budgeted revenue as a result of the pandemic, with a 115% decrease in cashflow for every month focusing on the domestic market. There have also been impacts of exchange losses as a result of the Cedi’s appreciation against major trading currencies.
A leading Kenyan exporter of premium and prepared vegetables and cut flowers has reported that flowers have been the most affected, but that small shipments have begun again since last week. However, weekly volumes of cut flowers are equivalent to what the company used to do in one day. For vegetables, there are quality challenges due to longer logistical routes caused by the high cost and limited availability of cargo capacity. Within the country there are higher transaction costs due to road blocks and check points. Current rains and flooding are affecting vegetable production. However, the company is coping, organising digital meetings and even virtual crop walks.
Kenyan COLEACP member Equatorial Hortifresh sources passion fruit from outgrowers in Eldoret region in Kenya to sell on the domestic market, and on the regional market in Uganda (wholesalers and for fresh juice). One of the company’s outgrowers was recently interviewed by Kenyan TV about the negative effects they are experiencing due to distancing measures on their farms, logistics, and lower market demand for their produce. Although the border between Kenya and Uganda is partially open, there are major difficulties in facilitating the movement of goods to Uganda, and numbers of consumers in Uganda are down due to the lockdown in that country.
Wandie Kazeem (11 May) interviews Affiong Williams, CEO of Reel Fruit, the largest dried fruit company in Nigeria. The company distributes to over 350 retail locations in Nigeria, including schools, airlines, airports, pharmacies and hotels. They also export to Belgium, Switzerland and the United States through Amazon. Affiong discusses how COVID-19 has affected their business demands and logistics, and how government can assist agribusinesses and other SMEs to get back into operation. With the easing of the lockdown, the company is taking the necessary steps to gradually re-open using the government guidelines that have been set out to stay safe.