© Helvetas/Oumar Coulibaly

How Small Business Ventures in Burkina Faso Survive – and Hope to Prosper – During COVID-19

FROM: Kruthikaa Lakshmanan – 14. September 2020
© Helvetas/Oumar Coulibaly

The coronavirus has severely affected the lives of people who survive on hand to mouth all over the world, especially in countries where entire communities live this way.  In Burkina Faso, agricultural and livestock traders have found new ways to cope and make a living during this time – here’s how.

This spring Burkina Faso, home to 19.8 million, was suddenly subject to the restrictions shared by the rest of the world. With the average age being only 18, one would assume that being young will give you a fair advantage over the virus, but individuals lack proper meals, nutrition and even clean water. 

The country also faces extreme weather events and attacks by extremist groups. This has led to a massive displacement of almost one million people. Mandatory social distancing, restricted travel, curfews and the threat of contracting the virus without proper medical support have added to this list of woes.

The country is the most “rural” of all West Africa: about 80% of the population depends on agriculture and livestock rearing as a source of income and to feed their families. Anti-COVID measures hit the sector particularly hard. Because of delicate supply chains, the disruption of one activity leads to the downfall of the others.

The lack of transport for poultry feeders

Monique M’Bayé, manager of the Dash in Glory company, oversees the production of poultry feed in Ouagadougou. She gets her supplies from partners in France, who weren’t able to deliver on time due to travel restrictions. Once arrived, the last leg to the consumer also took too long. The drop in turnover has threatened the jobs of her employees. While talking to us, she said, "I had ordered two containers (fifty tons) from France but I did not receive my goods on time. In the process, I was not able to deliver to my customers."

Producers, processors and exporters like Monique have curbed travel - an essential part of their labor. Difficulties such as insufficient places to sell poultry feed; lack of funding, lack of adequate production equipment have only escalated with quarantine measures. As in the case of the poultry trade, the market for meat has vanished overnight. 

© Helvetas/Rose Congo
«I had ordered two containers (fifty tons) from France but I did not receive my goods on time. In the process, I was not able to deliver to my customers.»

Monique M’Bayé, Burkina Faso. Manager of the Dash in Glory company

The impossible storage of perishable poultry

Daniel Isaac Dahourou lost his largest customers, restaurants. The owner of a farm located outside the city of Bobo-Dioulasso would sell 60 chickens and 10 guinea fowl per day before the quarantine. Their biggest clients were in the city of Ouagadougou. The prices for their produce fell and the costs of making ends meet increased. The market for the fowl also fell steeply; this led to a loss of life of the animals and the livelihood of its owners. Seydou Keita, chicken seller in Bobo Dioulasso and president of the poultry traders summarized by saying: "Our biggest customers, the hotels, closed and the brokers could no longer operate. There was no longer a market. In addition, we suffered enormous losses due to the high mortality of chickens. If they don't come out, there are diseases that attack them, and they die."

The businesses incurred costs of vaccines and feed for the poultry, the upkeep of the farm and salary for the employers. This is a setback that cannot be recovered without additional help; they’re hoping banks would provide them with enough credit to keep them on their feet. The agricultural sector shared similar tragedies in its production value.

© Helvetas/Oumar Coulibaly
«Our biggest customers, the hotels, closed and the brokers could no longer operate. There was no longer a market. In addition, we suffered enormous losses due to the high mortality of chickens. If they don't come out, there are diseases that attack them, and they die.»

Seydou Keita, chicken seller in Bobo Dioulasso and president of the poultry traders summarized by saying

The loss of honey due to strict curfews

Thérèse Kientega’s story is one of many in the beekeeping community of Soaw. The bees of the region, oblivious to complications such as night curfews, continued their aggressive behavior during the day which prevented the harvest of honey. The producers who would ideally wait till the night to safely approach the hives to extract the honey had nothing to sell this year. The bees themselves consumed a majority of the honey produced, and the cash crops didn’t really hit the markets for sale. 

© Helvetas/Aïda Koné
«We had almost nothing left to eat. This year I had estimated to produce 30 kilograms of honey, but I found myself with just half. I took the hives on credit, so I had to give the seller 50% of my production to pay off my debt. I only have 7 kilograms of honey left to sell to feed and clothe my children. My husband is a trader and with the closing of the markets he could not bring anything home. It has been a very complicated period.»

Thérèse Kientega, beekeeper in the community of Soaw

The fall of employment in the mango sector

Mango processing association PAOLINE usually employs more than 130 women for the season, but this year it employed only 50 of them. With a lot of hesitation, they resumed activities, says Sarah Bostal, the president of the PAOLINE association based in Bobo Dioulasso. Again, with a 40% decrease in the production of dry mango they were not able to meet their quotas with customers. Increased prices for packaging materials and the difficulties in transport have only added to their woes. While there is more expenditure it is also imperative that the safety of the employees is met. Ramata Konkobo, a seasonal employee at the PAOLINE association spoke to us and said,

"I used to sell the condiments at the market. Because of the coronavirus, the markets were closed. And after they reopened, we have less but we have to feed our children and pay for their schooling. If there is no work, it becomes complicated."

© Helvetas/Oumar Coulibaly
«I used to sell the condiments at the market. Because of the coronavirus, the markets were closed. And after they reopened, we have less but we have to feed our children and pay for their schooling. If there is no work, it becomes complicated.»

Ramata Konkobo, seasonal employee at the PAOLINE association

Community based solutions for all sectors

You have read the stories of some of the people whose lives have changed for the worse. Desperate times call for clever ideas. It was necessary to urgently help the agricultural enterprises.

A program of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), implemented by Helvetas and SNV, organized a dialogue between the players of each sector to come up with solutions. Only the players in the chain understand the unique situation of each sector in their specific region. Tailor made solutions with thought out investments enable them to find sustainable and effective measures instead of a short term one. The solutions came in three groups:

  1. Investing in COVID protection measures.
  2. Investing in new ways of maintaining and even improving agribusiness.
  3. “Investing” in cooperation instead of competition to increase resilience and turn the crisis into an opportunity.

Better Infrastructure

The program mentioned above, the Support Program for the Promotion of Agricultural Entrepreneurship (Programme d’Appui à la Promotion de l’Entrepreneuriat Agricole, or PAPEA) co-invested with Monique M’Bayé to buy an equipment line so that the poultry feed business could produce on its own instead of depending on imports from France. The total cost of this acquisition is estimated at 47,775,000 FCFA (~87 thousand USD) including 3,275,000 FCFA (~6 thousand USD) in a personal contribution by Monique, 30 million (~54 thousand USD) in a microfinance credit, and 14.5 million (~26 thousand USD) in a subsidy from PAPEA. 

Thanks to the new equipment, Monique can increase the production capacity and reduce the ramifications in quality and quantity. She can create permanent jobs.

Bridging the gaps

To support the poultry producers and avert the COVID crisis, the project set up emergency investment plans. A monitoring unit is studying the evolution of prices, stocks of inputs (animal feed and vaccines) and products (chickens and other birds), and shares the information with the producers. Defining the most vulnerable parts helps identify and remove the blockages in the supply chains. To dissipate fears that chickens “may be infected with COVID” and to inform consumers where to buy meat when markets are closed, a marketing campaign will run in consumption points in Bobo-Dioulasso, on the radio and on social networks. 

Retaining quality produce

Six new honey mills in towns with high potential for honey harvests can revive the apiculture industry in the COVID times. The mills will serve as a point of aggregation where producers can carry out their first treatment to obtain filtered honey. Increasing the quality and storage time, the new mills can help achieve an income of nearly 200 million FCFA (about 350 thousand USD).

Increased Safety

While the mango season was still in full swing in June and July, as an anti-COVID measure, processing units and producers received sanitary kits, thermo flashes to take temperature, and awareness posters. 

To further support the players in the mango sector, in a similar way to the poultry activities, the PAPEA has developed an emergency investment plan. A business intelligence unit is monitoring the negative effects and economic risks, in order to speed up the analysis of the situation and a rapid and collective reaction within the business cluster.

To counter problems created by COVID, it is important to help players of each sector find solutions that work best for them. We encourage entrepreneurial ventures that build a community of people working together, in particular, young men and women. The new and revamped business clusters and agricultural businesses increase the income and generate jobs. With some support, the most hit sectors during the virus - mango, poultry, eggs and milk - can still work their way around in these dire times.

© Helvetas / Simon B. Opladen

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