The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed the extent of Africa’s reliance on imports.

As global supply chains and the flows of manufactured goods around the world have been disrupted by lockdown restrictions, African countries have faced the prospect of mass unemployment and curtailed economic growth in a way which more self-reliant developed countries have not, as noted by the African Union in its research paper titled Impact of the Coronavirus on the African Economy.

As leaders globally consider the trade-off of permitting sectors of their economies to operate while still minimising the risk of transmission of the virus, the imperative of long-term, sustainable economic development in Africa through coordinated initiatives has never been clearer. Investment in industrialisation is a key lever to moving the economic growth needle over the long term, as demonstrated by the last few decades of economic growth trends globally.

Those countries that have industrialised and exported manufactured goods have become the most resilient and diversified economies. In the wake of global supply chain disruption, Africa faces a golden opportunity for governments to provide incentives for industrialisation and the development of local value chains. Industrialisation cannot happen in a vacuum: governments need to work hand in hand with development finance partners who can provide the funding that manufacturers and suppliers require to scale up production and manufacture appropriate goods to meet market demands.

Joel Jackson, CEO of Mobius Motors, based in Nairobi, Kenya, says during COVID-19-induced lockdown Mobius has continued to focus on testing and development of a new vehicle model which will be uniquely tailored to the African environment, but once restrictions are lifted and economic activity can resume in full, will scale up production and distribution of its vehicles to the wider African market.

“With a vehicle designed for African operating conditions and sold at an unparalleled price point, Mobius is driving down the cost of vehicle ownership; playing an important role in catalysing economic development in Africa, on two fronts. First, the pandemic and subsequent lockdown have shown how profoundly important mobility is to a fully functioning economy and healthcare system. Second, vulnerabilities of global supply chains to pandemics have highlighted the importance of localisation and self-reliance to build resilience in national and regional manufacturing ecosystems” he says.

Jackson says African economic recovery will require doubling down on industry potential and working with development funders who recognise the benefits of greater self-reliance in Africa’s future growth story.

“This kind of event fundamentally undermines global supply chains and import-dependent markets, making it even more crucial for African countries to build their long-term resilience through a stronger and more localised supplier landscape in the manufacturing sector. Governments need to expand incentives to companies and business models that have the potential for a disproportionate impact on job creation and up-skilling.”

Mobius is currently in discussions with the Kenyan government about incentives for local industrialisation and skills development. “The more we invest in industrialisation, the more we enable a self-fuelling flywheel of economic growth and consumer market development,” Jackson says.

He cites a recent research paper by McKinsey, Reopening and Reimagining Africa: How the COVID-19 crisis can catalyze change, which states that Africa cannot rely on business as usual to come back from the brink. In recovering from the crisis, Africa has the potential to create a reshaped and more resilient manufacturing sector, “provided that governments and businesses tackle long-standing barriers to industrialisation and cooperate to seize new opportunities”.

“We estimate that, for every dollar of manufactured product, Africa imports approximately 40 cents in inputs from outside the continent—higher than most other regions in the world. Over five years, a serious push to reduce reliance on global supply chains could add an initial $10-20 billion to the continent’s manufacturing output if 5 to 10 percent of imported intermediate goods can be produced within the region. In addition to supply-chain resilience, the shift could also benefit exporters in countries experiencing devaluation, if they could capture the upside of increased export attractiveness with less burden of more expensive imported inputs,” the report says.

No African car brand has been able to establish a presence in local markets at scale, and Jackson says a coordinated effort with governments and funders can overcome structural challenges to scale up local production and content. Mobius was founded in 2011 and has focused on manufacturing a multi-use transport platform that can “plug in” a range of different modules to enable a myriad of transport applications – something imported vehicle models are unable to do in meeting African challenges.

“There is a clear and significant gap in the market: durable and affordable vehicles, offering the versatility consumers want. We have donated two of our first-generation Mobius II vehicles to the Kenyan government for the COVID-19 community relief effort, and the advantages of a locally tailored vehicle platform are demonstrable. The next step is to progressively scale our next-generation Mobius 2 vehicle across the continent and drive positive and sustainable socio-economic change,” Jackson says.

When it comes to public transport, there is a responsibility both on operators and on commuters to make the required changes to their travel and commuting behaviour. This is the only way in which we can hope to keep coronavirus infection rates under control.

The comment comes from a manufacturer and distributor of cleaning products INDUSTROCLEAN, following an announcement made by President Ramaphosa on Sunday night on the regulations and limitations for long and short distance taxi journeys.

Emma Corder, Managing Director of INDUSTROCLEAN, says the reality is that public transport is a high-risk environment because of the number of people in a confined space with limited ventilation. There is also little if any access control to identify potentially sick commuters as well as a variety of common surfaces to touch such as handrails and doorknobs.

“All parties involved in public transport – taxi operators, bus companies, train operators and commuters – have to take the necessary precautions,” she says.

It starts with the wearing of a mask, explains Corder.

“This is a critical way to protect yourself and others, and it is equally important to wear it correctly. Masks block droplets from your sneezes and coughs and minimizes the likelihood of you touching your face and either spreading or coming into contact with the virus from other people.”

Eating requires removing the mask in a high-risk situation, so change habits and eat and drink before or after the ride. It will benefit others just as much as it helps you stay safe and virus free, she adds.

Secondly, it’s important that commuters sanitize their hands before and after each trip. Most transport operators provide hand sanitizers but having your own on hand is always advised. 

“Carrying your own hand sanitizer will not only keep you safe but also provide peace of mind during your commute,” commented Corder. It is important that the sanitizers contain 70% alcohol.

Other tips include:

  • First a good deep cleaning and disinfection with a hospital grade disinfectant is advised. It is important that all vehicles be cleaned both in and outside. They need to be wiped down on the inside after both the morning and afternoon peak-hour periods, on a daily basis.
  • Regularly deep clean all seats, rails and windowpanes in public service vehicles washing down surfaces with soap and water and disinfect them with a hospital grade disinfectant.
  • For normal cleaning, using the spray and wipe method is effective and disinfectants should be freshly prepared and National Regulator for Compulsory Specifications(NRCS) registered.
  • Hand washing facilities and alcohol-based sanitizers should be placed at strategic points such as security check points, as well as entrances of public transport interchanges and public toilets.
  • Review the stock and availability of essential protection and cleaning equipment and supplies and plan their distribution and refill beforehand.

During travel: 

  • All individuals accessing a taxi, bus or train must undergo temperature screening.
  • Make sure all commuters sanitize their hands before boarding.
  • All commuters must wear a mask at all times.
  • Provide adequate waste management facilities (waste bins and bin-liners).
  • Avoid overcrowding and body contact. Keep a distance from each other. Owners and operators of public transport vehicles are advised to find more innovative ways to avoid overcrowding.
  • Ensure good ventilation and respiratory hygiene in all public transport vehicles.
  • AVOID handshakes at all times.

“We all have to remain vigilant as the number of coronavirus infections continue to rise. By following these simple daily guidelines we can all work together to keep the infection number as low as possible,” says Corder.

First, we tried the antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine. Then we tested the antiviral drug remdesivir. But new UK research gives the strongest indication yet we may have found a useful treatment for COVID-19.

This time it’s an old anti-inflammatory drug, dexamethasone, which has been described as cheap, old and boring.

Preliminary results from a clinical trial just released indicate the drug seems to reduce your chance of dying from COVID-19 if you’re in hospital and need oxygen or a machine to help you breathe.

The results were significant enough for the UK to recommend its use for severe COVID-19.

Before we roll it out in Australia, we need to balance the drug’s risks with its benefits after peer-review of the full trial data.

What is dexamethasone?

Dexamethasone has been used since the late 1950s, so doctors are familiar with it. It’s also inexpensive, with a packet of 30 tablets costing around A$22 (for general patients) under Australia’s Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.

So if it does work for COVID-19, this cheap and boring drug, already available in Australia with a prescription, would be easy to add to current treatments.

Dexamethasone belongs to a class of drugs known as corticosteroids and is used to treat a range of conditions related to inflammation. These include severe allergies, some types of nausea and vomiting, arthritis, swelling of the brain and spinal cord, severe asthma, and for breathing difficulties in newborn babies.

And it’s dexamethasone’s application to those latter two respiratory conditions that prompted doctors to think it may also help patients severely affected by COVID-19.

What did the trial find?

The recently reported results come from the Randomised Evaluation of COVID-19 Therapy, or RECOVERY, trial.

The researchers put patients into one of three groups: those needing ventilation (a machine that helps them breath); those who just needed oxygen therapy; and those who needed no treatment to help them breathe.

Patients in each of those groups were given dexamethasone (6mg once a day, either as a tablet or via intravenous injection), for ten days. A fourth group (a control group) was not given the drug.

Dexamethasone was most useful for the ventilated patients; deaths for this group dropped by about one-third with drug treatment. In contrast, deaths only dropped by one-fifth for those patients who were only receiving oxygen therapy. There was no benefit to patients who could breathe normally.

Results of the dexamethasone trial have just been released.

The researchers calculated that giving dexamethasone to eight ventilated patients would prevent one from dying, on average. And giving it to around 25 patients needing oxygen alone would 

How might dexamethasone work for COVID-19?

When a patient has severe COVID-19, their immune system ramps up to catch and control the virus in the lungs.

In doing this, their body produces more infection-fighting white blood cells. This results in inflammation and pressure on their lungs, making it very difficult for them to breath.

It’s therefore likely dexamethasone reduces this inflammation, and so reduces pressure on the lungs.

 

What are the downsides?

There are potential complications with using dexamethasone.

First, dexamethasone also suppresses the immune system when it reduces inflammation. So, it’s not usually recommended for people who are sick, or could be sick, from other infections. So doctors will need to make sure patients have no other infections before they are prescribed the drug.

If the results of this trial are correct though, the drug doesn’t appear to compromise the patient’s ability to fight COVID-19; it might just affect their ability to fight off other diseases.

Second, the drug is only useful for patients with difficulty breathing and needing some assistance either through ventilation in a hospital or from oxygen therapy.

There appears to be no benefit for patients who don’t need help breathing. So we shouldn’t be giving it to everyone who tests positive to the virus.

 

Third, like all drugs, dexamethasone has side effects that need to be monitored. Serious, but rare ones include: severe stomach or intestinal pain, sudden changes with vision, fits, significant psychiatric or personality changes, severe dizziness, fainting, weakness and chest pain or irregular heartbeat, and swelling of the face, lips, mouth, tongue or throat, which may cause difficulty in swallowing or breathing.

What happens next?

The results of the clinical trial are preliminary. So we need to wait for the full study data and scientific peer-review before we can make a definitive decision as to whether dexamethasone treatment is a worthwhile, and safe, addition to COVID-19 therapy in Australia.

 

 

Nial Wheate, Associate Professor | Program Director, Undergraduate Pharmacy, University of Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

African hotel development had returned to growth at the start of 2020, with more than 78,000 rooms in 408 hotels in the pipeline, according to the 12th annual survey by W Hospitality Group, acknowledged as the industry’s most authoritative source. However, the COVID-19 outbreak is now shattering the dreams of Africa’s hotel industry.

W Hospitality Group’s Managing Director, Trevor Ward, said: “The growth of the chains’ presence in Africa has been a very positive story since we started this analysis in 2009. It is quite clear from the numbers that the chains, the developers, the investors – and all of us at W Hospitality Group! – continue to believe in the opportunities that Africa presents in the hotel and tourism industry. However, our industry has been devastated by the impact of COVID-19, possibly more so than most other economic sectors, mainly because of the almost total shutdown of borders and of the aviation sector – no flights means no guests.”

“With that background, we see a slowdown in pipeline growth in 2020, as we all get to grips with the new reality. With so many of the players locked down, fewer deals will be signed, and it is inevitable that some of the planned openings in 2020 will be delayed, due to closed or slower-paced construction sites, restrictions on funding and a lack of market demand. According to our latest data, there are 90 hotels with 17,000 rooms scheduled to open in 2020, but we estimate that at least half of these will be delayed, bringing the actualisation rate down to no more than 40%.”

This year’s African Hotel Chain Development Pipeline survey covers 35 international and regional hotel contributors across the 54 countries in north and sub-Saharan Africa, and in the Indian Ocean islands. It reveals a 3.6% increase on the 2019 pipeline. Most encouraging was a record 68 chain hotels opening last year, fully 75% of those which were scheduled to open, with 11,000 rooms. That performance was substantially up from the 39% of those scheduled to open in 2018 actually doing so. Accor performed particularly well; it opened 18 hotels last year with almost 3,500 rooms in its various brands, ranging from Ibis to Fairmont.

The findings of the 2020 Pipeline report, together with a mid-year update, will be discussed in depth at Bench Events’ new virtual conference, to be held on 21st July. This event is complementary to the Africa Hotel Investment Forum (AHIF), the leading hospitality investment conference in Africa, which has in previous years connected business leaders to serious investors, driving funds into tourism projects, infrastructure and hotel development across the continent.

Marriott, the world’s largest hotel chain, has the largest pipeline in Africa, 22 per cent more hotels and 6 per cent more rooms than second-placed Accor, but Accor has been catching up fast, signing 25 new deals last year, compared to Marriott’s 17 new projects.

Hotel Chain Development Pipelines in Africa 2020

Top 10 Chains by Number of Planned Rooms

   

Hotels

Rooms

Change on 2019

Average Size

 

1

Marriott International

90

17,902

5.9%

199

 

2

Accor

74

16,868

24.6%

228

 

3

Hilton Hotels & Resorts

53

10,093

-10.0%

190

 

4

Radisson Hotel Group

38

7,385

-17.7%

194

 

5

InterContinental Hotel Group

13

2,642

38.8%

203

 

6

Barceló Hotels & Resorts

8

2,488

-

311

 

7

Meliá Hotels & Resorts

6

1,954

-15.7%

326

 

8

Hyatt International

11

1,859

23.4%

169

 

9

Mangalis Hotel Group

13

1,522

-14.5%

117

 

10

Deutsche Hospitality

4

1,503

32.0%

376

 

If Accor can open its hotels in 2020 at the same rate that it did in 2019, it is likely the company will overtake Marriott and position itself as the largest operator in Africa. 

Table 9: Hotel Chain Development Pipelines in Africa 2020

Top 10 Chains: Pipeline vs Existing Hotels in Africa

   

Pipeline

Existing

Pipeline vs Existing (Rooms)

   

Hotels

Rooms

Hotels

Rooms

 

1

Marriott International

90

17,902

139

24,567

73%

2

Accor

74

16,868

155

25,688

66%

3

Hilton Hotels & Resorts

53

10,093

48

13,344

76%

4

Radisson Hotel Group

38

7,385

41

8,254

89%

5

InterContinental Hotels Group

13

2,642

27

6,329

42%

6

Barceló Hotels & Resorts

8

2,488

14

3,203

78%

7

Meliá Hotels & Resorts

6

1,954

12

3,084

63%

8

Hyatt International

11

1,859

8

1,838

101%

9

Mangalis Hotel Group

13

1,522

4

572

266%

10

Deutsche Hospitality

4

1,503

15

4,888

31%

TOTAL

 

310

64,216

463

91,767

70%

 

Trevor Ward said: “We have to wait and see what will happen in the second half of 2020, and in 2021, as we emerge from lockdown and other restrictions. Tourism is such an important industry in Africa, because of the direct and indirect jobs that it creates and sustains, as well as its strong foreign currency earnings. We are anxious to see hotels reopen and get back to contributing to the African growth story.”

Matthew Weihs, Managing Director of Bench Events, which is staging Africa Tomorrow, said: “Right now, we are facing the biggest recession in history. For those seeking to operate hotels, it is a dreadful time. However, for the savvy investors, this is actually a moment of opportunity because hotels are a long-term investment and one of the secrets of success is to spend money during the bottom of the economic cycle in order to capitalise on the upturn as soon as it comes. That’s one reason why I expect the networking sessions at Africa Tomorrow will be very busy and fruitful.”

The unfolding US-China power rivalry bears a striking resemblance to the tensions between the US and the Soviet bloc during the Cold War years. Back then, African countries were positioned like pawns on a grand chessboard.

Their social and economic progress was hampered because they expended energy aligning themselves with either of the superpowers in the battle for world supremacy between communism and capitalism.

With notable exceptions, African states generally failed to exercise positive agency for their own development. They also eroded the institutional and governance foundations vital for economic success.

In the current context of rising geopolitical tensions between the US and China, African countries may find themselves repeating the same mistakes unless they proactively shape their own destinies.

The tensions between the two great powers, characterised by a vicious trade war, are deepening at a time when the world economy is under enormous strain due to COVID-19. At the same time African countries are facing their worst economic crises since independence.

Africa is institutionally under-prepared to weather the combined effects of the health pandemic and severe economic recession. Its leaders will need to consciously design strategies of engagement that will help them to manage the ongoing superpower tensions to their advantage. They should do so without taking sides. This requires that they deal with each of these great powers based on pragmatic – rather than ideological – choices.

Despite their institutional under-preparedness, African countries can – and indeed must – be highly strategic and tactical in how they respond to the US-China tensions. Failure to do so will inevitably mean sacrificing their own interests.

There are three arenas of challenges and opportunities for the African continent in the current geopolitical climate. The first involves technological frontiers, the second is global supply chains, and the third is trade integration and economic cooperation.

New technological frontiers

There is overwhelming evidence that technological innovation is the key driver of economic growth. Therefore, access to and exploitation of new technologies such as 5G is vital to Africa’s development. Fifth generation technologies are important options for a continent like Africa where mobile technology has leap-frogged more traditional technologies.

Access to technologies like 5G offers access to universal broadband, which is critical for the continent’s advance to a digital economy.

In May last year the US government put the Chinese firm Huawei, the world’s leading supplier of 5G network infrastructure, on its list of entities deemed to pose a significant risk to national security and foreign policy interests.

Huawei was effectively banned from importing and incorporating key US technologies into its products and services. This included both hardware, such as high-tech semiconductor components, and software, like Google Mobile Services (GMS). The ban was later extended to key technologies from non-US firms. These included the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company, a major Huawei supplier.

In the month following the initial ban, the CEOs of four major South African telecommunications operators – Telkom, Vodacom, MTN and Cell C – wrote a joint letter to South African president Cyril Ramaphosa requesting his urgent intervention on the US action against Huawei. Their aim would have been to lend diplomatic weight to prevent damage to South Africa’s telecommunications sector.

In July last year Ramaphosa came out in support of the four operators as well as Huawei. He said the ban was:

an example of protectionism that will affect our own telecommunications sector, particularly the efforts to roll out the 5G network, causing a setback on other networks as well.

This was an example of pragmatism on the part of the South African government.

African policymakers should strenuously safeguard their right to choose from the widest possible range of technology options that suit their countries’ development needs. And they should insist on acquiring and developing new technologies like 5G based on pragmatism.

Global supply chains

The second theatre of struggle for African countries is in global supply chains.

The COVID-19 reality, combined with the ratcheting up of US-China tensions over trade, technology and supply chains, has opened up opportunities that African countries should exploit.

Combined, they have exposed serious problems in supply networks across various sectors. These include digital products, food, pharmaceutical and medical supply chains.

These sectors represent opportunities for African countries to develop new products, services and capabilities. They could, for example, provide answers to safeguarding Africa’s food security needs, local production of essential drugs and medicines, low-cost medical tests and equipment, and logistics.

A mural of presidents Donald Trump and Xi Jinping in Berlin. EFE-EPA/Omer Messinger

But African countries will need to work more collaboratively to develop thriving economic sectors and cross-border industrial linkages. Trade will, in our view, be a critical enabler for this.

This leads us to the third domain, namely the need for African countries to deepen trade integration and economic cooperation. This will provide a basis for diversifying from over-reliance on export markets such as China and the US, and to build internal resilience.

Intra-Africa trade

Intra-African trade accounts for just 16% of total African trade. This compares with 52% in Asia and 73% in Europe. African trade is highly concentrated on a few economic hubs: China and Europe together account for 54% of total African trade, with China being Africa’s single largest trading partner. It accounts for over 14% of total African trade.

The African Continental Free Trade Area creates the institutional and infrastructural framework for Africa to strengthen intra-African trade, diversify its trading partners and implement long-overdue trade policy reforms.

COVID-19 has induced significant delays in the implementation of this trading arrangement. It should, in fact, have magnified a sense of urgency. But instead of showing adaptability, African leaders pressed a pause button. As a result, the continent could miss an opportunity to accelerate development of cross-border value chains in medical supplies and equipment and other areas.

Imagination and courage

African countries should seize the opportunities presented by deepening tensions between China and the US to realise positive agency and chart their own future. They will need to be more proactive and adaptive under the fluid and uncertain global environment. This will require a great deal of imagination and courage.

African countries face a daunting set of challenges and constraints. But policymakers always have options.The Conversation

 

Mzukisi Qobo, Head: Wits School of Governance, University of the Witwatersrand and Mjumo Mzyece, Associate Professor of Technology and Operations Management, University of the Witwatersrand

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

South African banks and the government are looking for ways to boost take up of an up to 200 billion rand ($11.58 billion) loan scheme to help coronavirus-hit businesses, two bank executives and a source close to the discussions told Reuters.

Possible amendments being discussed include encouraging banks to ease their lending conditions, the source close to the discussions said.

"There are minor issues around the design," the source continued, including wording in the terms that has led to banks applying their standard credit procedures and rejecting more applications than anticipated.

The scheme, launched in May, was meant to encourage banks to lend more, on more favourable terms, to small businesses struggling with the effects of the pandemic.

But concerns arose that the money -- 40% of President Cyril Ramaphosa's 500 billion rand economic stimulus package -- was not being fully used after big banks approved only a few billion rand of loans in the first few weeks.

Lenders, the treasury and the central bank are in regular talks on the issue, the source said, with finance minister Tito Mboweni keen to announce changes to the scheme in his emergency budget on June 24.

Goolam Kader, business banking managing executive at Nedbank (NEDJ.J), said the lender is working closely with the Banking Association South Africa (BASA) to identify potential improvements.

He added that Nedbank did not apply credit criteria that are different from usual when assessing loan requests made under the scheme, but that various factors affected take up, including its other efforts to help customers.

Standard Bank referred Reuters to BASA, which declined to comment. FirstRand and South Africa's treasury did not provide comment by a deadline.

Jaco le Roux, chief risk officer of relationship banking at Absa's retail and business bank, said it did apply different criteria as well as imposing requirements like a bond over property less often.

Other features being discussed include raising the turnover threshold for eligible companies from 300 million rand, expanding the list of things businesses can spend the money on and the type of loans banks can extend, and lengthening the term of payment holidays, le Roux and the source said.

Take up has already accelerated to around 7 billion rand and could double within days, the source continued. There may have been a lag as businesses considered their options.

Stuart Theobald, chairman of Intellidex, which presented to government on how to design a scheme, said it did not seem to be working as intended, citing issues like the banks often requiring personal guarantees for the loans, as is standard in South Africa.

"This is not meant to be banking as usual," he said. "You want banks to behave as if they are in the best of times ... but the design of it is such that they can't actually do that."

 

Reuters

When Khimbini Hlongwane spent most of his small safari tour company’s savings on the deposit for a new minibus in February, it seemed like a safe bet.

His revenues had doubled in the previous year. And bookings by American, British, and Brazilian tourists hoping to catch a glimpse of elephants, giraffes and lions at South Africa’s famous Kruger National Park were up.

Now, with borders closed and airlines grounded due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Africa’s multi-billion-dollar safari industry is unravelling and he can no longer afford the payments on the new 21-seater, which sits collecting dust in the parking lot.

“It hasn’t moved since the day we bought it,” said Hlongwane, who has been forced to stop paying the salaries of his five employees. “We could’ve been using that money to survive right now.”

From Kenya’s Masai Mara to the Okavango Delta in Botswana, rural communities that depend on safaris for income are seeing their livelihoods and dreams shattered. Hundreds of thousands of people rely on the sector, not to mention their dependents.

A slump in tourist dollars has hit conservation projects hard. And even as countries around the world loosen lockdowns, game parks, lodges and travel agencies face a grim future.

The safari industry generates some $12.4 billion in annual revenues for South Africa, Botswana, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania Uganda and Zambia - Africa’s top wildlife tourist destinations - according to an estimate by SafariBookings.

But a survey of over 300 tour operators conducted by the online safari travel platform this month showed that almost 93 percent reported a drop in bookings of at least 75 percent due to the pandemic. Cancellations have also spiked, the majority of them said.

‘HOW LONG CAN WE CARRY ON?’

Leon Plutsick’s Distinctly Africa lodge on the Manyeleti private game reserve bordering the Kruger National Park had been full in March.

Today, his employees are sitting at home and baboons have ransacked his unstaffed kitchen.

“We’re getting to a point where we have to ask ourselves how long do we carry on?” he said. “A lot of us are living on reserves just to survive.”

Plutsick is not alone.

A survey of close to 500 businesses in the Kruger Lowveld district - South Africa’s safari heartland - conducted by the local tourism agency last month, found 90 percent believed they would not survive even if international borders opened immediately.

Over two-thirds of them have laid off employees.

The lack of tourist dollars is forcing wildlife projects across Africa to make cuts, and beyond the human cost, conservationists worry that growing desperation in rural communities hit by Covid-19 could fuel a wave of poaching.

Three popular game parks in South Africa recently dehorned dozens of rhinos as a preventative measure, hoping that it would make them less attractive targets for poachers.

In Mabarhule, a community on the edge of Kruger National Park, roughly half of residents were already jobless before the pandemic.

Freelance workers like Sipho Nkosi - a tour guide and father of four who typically makes around 550 rand ($33) per tour - have found themselves without a safety net.

“We’d saved some money. But its running out, so we’ll start starving,” said Nkosi, standing outside a half-completed community hall that was being built using tourist donations.

‘A BIGGER HOLE?’

The Madilika Craft Centre sits so close to the boundary of the Kruger National Park that lions can sometimes be heard roaring in the distance.

A layer of dust now coats the pink walls of the women’s cooperative, which shut when the private game lodges where it sold its traditional Xitsonga beaded jewellery closed down in March.

Now, with her income gone, co-founder Jane Mashele is hoping the sweet potatoes and spinach in her garden will be enough to feed her four orphaned grandchildren.

“We started the centre because we were tired of sitting at home with no jobs,” she said. “This is terrible.”

In South Africa, which has recorded the most Covid-19 cases of any African nation, Tourism Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane warned parliament last month that up to 600,000 jobs were at risk if the sector remained shut until September.

Governments’ relief initiatives - like South Africa’s offer of 50,000 rand ($3,000) one-time grants to small tourism businesses - will do little to staunch the losses, some operators said.

In the face of looming financial calamity, the Tourism Business Council of South Africa - the industry’s lobby group - is pushing for international tourism to resume as early as September.

With the pandemic’s peak on most of the continent still predicted to be months away, that appears unlikely.

South Africa’s government has instead said regional and international tourism are only expected to resume next year.

Kenya, Namibia and Rwanda also remain closed to international visitors, while in Zambia tourists are permitted but face a two-week quarantine upon arrival. Tanzania has dropped quarantine requirements and is welcoming foreign guests.

One East African tour operator said even if restrictions were eased, international travellers could be discouraged by the possibility of quarantines when they return home.

In the meantime, South Africa, for one, hopes domestic visitors can drive the first phase of a recovery. South African national parks are now opening for self-driving safaris.

But overnight visits and travel across provincial borders remain banned under current restrictions. Even when permitted, some operators worry that local visitors will not be enough to save their businesses.

“To open for two or four or six people, is it actually worth it?” asked lodge owner Plutsick. “I’ll just be digging myself a bigger hole.”

 

(Reuters)

Insights from International Data Corporation (IDC) reveal that the COVID-19 pandemic has led to one of the largest quarterly dips in Africa's smartphone market since 2015.

The global technology research and consulting firm's latest Worldwide Mobile Phone Tracker shows that Africa's smartphone market saw shipments decline 17.8% quarter on quarter (QoQ) in Q1 2020 to total 20.1 million units.

The overall mobile phone market totaled 46.8 million units, down 20.5% QoQ, with feature phones accounting for 57.1% share of total units versus smartphones at 42.9%.

COVID-19 had a two-stage negative impact on smartphone shipments in Q1 2020. The pandemic initially restricted the supply of shipments into the region in February as manufacturers in China closed their doors. Then in March, the situation worsened as consumer demand was hit by local measures and lockdowns to combat the spread of the disease.

The pandemic adversely impacted all African countries, particularly the continent's three major markets of South Africa, Nigeria, and Egypt, which suffered declines of 22.9%, 13.6%, and 6.3%, respectively.  

Transsion brands (Tecno, Infinix, and Itel) continued to lead the smartphone space in Q1 2020, with a combined unit share of 36.7%, followed by Samsung and Huawei with respective shares of 18.8% and 11.1%. "COVID-19 severely disrupted the industry in Q1 2020, while consumer demand also showed signs of a mild decline," says Taher Abdel-Hameed, a senior research analyst at IDC. "In such an environment, consumers are moving towards more affordable entry-level and mid-range devices. Xiaomi benefited from this trend and was able to drive growth over the quarter while most of the other popular brands reported declines."

Looking ahead, IDC expects Africa's smartphone market to decline 9.1% year on year in unit terms for 2020 as a whole. "A significant portion of mobile phone channels are closed in the region and economies have slowed down quite significantly during Q2 2020, which will lead to a weaker Q2 performance," says Ramazan Yavuz, a senior research manager at IDC. "While we expect to see a recovery in the second half of the year through normalization efforts undertaken by governments, the heavy impact of the pandemic on the economies will be felt on the overall 2020 smartphone market."

The COVID-19 crisis has clearly demonstrated the vulnerability of the livelihoods of many South Africans, and highlighted food insecurity as one key aspect. Many now argue that reducing the vulnerability of the livelihoods of the poor, and associated food insecurity, must become a key focus of policy.

Some assert that structural reform, tackling these problems at their root, is required more urgently than before. Land reform has this potential. It is, in any case, a political necessity. If successful, it could play a significant role in reducing the vulnerability and food insecurity of the rural population, who are one third of the population, as well as some urban residents. Enhancing employment and thus incomes is one key thrust of pro-poor land reform.

Land reform is necessary in post-apartheid South Africa to help address inherited historical injustices, especially those resulting from land dispossession of the black majority. It involves the restitution of land to individuals and communities who lost their homes and land due to forced removals. It also creates secure rights to land held by the black majority. In addition, the process aims to create a more equitable pattern of land ownership.

Land reform since the end of apartheid in 1994 has encountered many difficulties, and progress has been slow. One problem is that elites have captured many of the benefits. Another is the limited impact thus far on poverty and unemployment.

A recent study commissioned by the government and funded by the European Union, and conducted by experts from different institutions, with me as the leader, focused on the potential contribution of redistributive land reform to employment creation.

The key questions addressed in the study were: can land redistribution be undertaken in a manner that creates jobs? If so, through which commodity mix and and what kinds of farming systems, operating at what scales? And what is the potential of small-scale farming in particular?


Read more: Urban spread is turning the lives of Ghanaian farmers upside down


Despite its many limitations – such as the lack of a quantitative survey due to time constraints – the study breaks new ground by investigating the potential for employment creation in specific locations, focused on specific commodities and building on local knowledge.

The study revealed a considerable, unmet demand for land by both smallholders and small-scale commercial farmers.

Findings

The study found that land reform can assist in creating more employment-intensive farming systems by:

  • reducing the size of farming units, while increasing their total numbers;

  • changing the mix and scale of farm commodities produced; and

  • changing farming systems so that they become more employment-intensive.

A number of assumptions informed the study. “Employment” included both employment by others and self-employment. Potential gains are calculated in terms of net jobs – the total new jobs created after deducting the number of jobs “displaced” through redistribution of the land on which existing farms are located. These are estimated as “full time equivalents” – a job was assumed to involve working a 40 hour week.


Read more: Small-scale farmers should be at the centre of land reform in South Africa


In estimating net job gains, the study assumes that 50% of the land under large-scale farming at present will be redistributed to small-scale black farmers. This illustrates the order of magnitude of potential impacts on employment. Costs to the state involve both land acquisition (at market prices) and set-up costs.

In the four municipalities in which the study took place, net job creation amounted to the equivalent of 23 691 permanent jobs. The commodities which land redistribution beneficiaries could begin to farm included subtropical fruit and nuts in Limpopo, grapes and lucerne in the Western Cape, maize and wool in the Eastern Cape, and extensive livestock (goats and cattle) in KwaZulu-Natal. Vegetables with high levels of labour intensity are key in all four municipalities.

The cost per net job varies from R325 425 in KwaZulu-Natal to R685 311 in the Western Cape.

The findings have major implications for the targeting and selection of beneficiaries, commodities and farming systems.

It shows that that extensive livestock production, including wool, offers key opportunities. The bulk of the land surface of South Africa is not suitable for cropping, and livestock production is likely be the dominant land use on redistributed farms. Net gains in its employment intensity are thus significant at the national scale, if modest at farm level. This can be enhanced if new and more employment-intensive value chains are created (as shown clearly in the KwaZulu-Natal case).

Small scale farmers struggle to find markets for their products. EFE-EPA/Halden Krog

Given expanding market demand for fresh vegetables, these crops offer important opportunities for small-scale black producers. Their potential for employment creation is particularly significant.

Challenges and recommendations

Key challenges for land reform projects include improved access to irrigation water, formal and informal markets, and effective extension and advisory services. High-value subtropical fruit, nuts and grapes by small-scale producers have great potential, but this must be balanced against their high capital and running costs, and technically demanding character.

A key consideration is how to enhance access to markets and value chains (including agro-processing). Climate change is also likely to have highly negative impacts on all scales and forms of agriculture, even though its precise nature and timing remain uncertain.

The study also considers a number of policy issues, such as the allocation of farm production units of appropriate sizes, land tenure options, and the design of effective support services.

It recommends the decentralised implementation of land reform and discusses the need for complementary policies in relation to support for informal agricultural markets, water allocation reform, environmental management and climate change, state procurement, and improved data collection.

Trade-offs

Land policy always involves difficult trade-offs, in this case between capital intensity and employment intensity, and between creating more jobs and paying decent wages. These have to be carefully weighed up and steered in a practical manner.

Clearly, finding the funds for land reform will not be easy. But if significant reductions in unemployment through land reform focused on small-scale farming are indeed feasible, as argued in this study, then it might well be worth the effort to find the requisite funds.

When South Africa eventually emerges from the fog of the COVID-19 crisis, structural reform, including land reform, will be high on the political agenda as never before. A key question is: will policy makers be ready to grasp the nettle of farm scale, and promote the large-scale redistribution of land to small-scale producers?The Conversation

 

Ben Cousins, Emeritus Professor, Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies, University of the Western Cape

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

On the eve of May Day 2020, in full coronavirus pandemic, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) released some hair raising statistics. About 1.6 billion workers from the informal sector are in dire straits because of the lockdowns governments have imposed to stop the spread of the virus.

According to the ILO, some 60% of the world’s workers are in the informal economy, working without contracts, safety nets or savings. [1] Depending on the country, women represent a higher or lower share of the informal workforce, but either way they are paid less than men. [2

Now, because of quarantines and confinement, stoppages and curfews, there is no work. No work means no income. No income, no food. Without alternative income sources, the ILO warned, “these workers and their families will have no means to survive”. [3]

If workers in the informal sector are not able to feed themselves, they are also unable to continue feeding millions, if not billions more. Informal labour is what keeps food systems functioning in most of the world: it accounts for 94% of on-farm labour globally, and a big part of the workforce in food trade, retail, preparation and delivery in many parts of the world. [4]

The coronavirus crisis has laid bare our dependence not only on well functioning health and food systems, but the gross injustices inflicted on those working in these essential sectors in the “best” of times: low wages, no access to health care, no child care, no safety protection at work, often no legal status and no representation in negotiating work conditions. This is true in both the informal and the formal sectors of the global food system. Indeed, the contrast between the wealth at the top of the largest food companies and the plight of their frontline workers is extreme. Nestlé, for instance, the world’s number one food company, awarded its shareholders US$8 billion in dividends at the end of April 2020, an amount that surpasses the annual budget of the UN World Food Programme (WFP). [5]

The only question that matters now is how to ensure everyone has access to food while keeping people safe and healthy at every step from farm to consumer. Unfortunately, this has not been the priority that has shaped food systems over the past decades. But getting there is not as complicated as it may appear.

Shutdown leading to hunger

The shutdown of much of the world economy since March 2020 has meant that many people are confined to their homes or their communities and cannot work. Factories have stopped, construction projects halted, eateries and transportation closed, offices shut. In many countries, migrant workers and students immediately tried to go home, where they have family to lean on, but many got blocked for lack of transport or border closures.

These measures seem to have been implemented without much thought about the actual workings of food systems. Farmers have been mostly able (not always) to continue working on their farms, but they lack labour – precisely when it’s harvest or birthing time in many parts of the world – and the means to move produce and livestock off the farm to cooperatives, collection points, slaughterhouses, traders or markets. Closures of schools, offices and restaurants have choked the system, leading to enormous waste. As a consequence, milk is being dumped, animals are being euthanised and crops are being ploughed into the soil. Similarly, fisherfolk who fish at night in place likes Uganda have been grounded because of curfews. [6]

In the cities, violence, abuse and corruption have accompanied these shutdowns in incomprehensible ways. In East Africa, as in parts of Asia, street vendors caught out in the streets have been met with whips and rubber bullets. [7] Riots have arisen in urban and peri-urban communities when scarce food aid arrived. [8] In Lebanon, one person was even killed in such riots. [9] And in eSwatini, formerly Swaziland, the government has simply decided that it will not feed the cities, only focus on the rural areas. [10]

Meanwhile food companies have been granted lockdown exemptions that have greatly exacerbated the health crisis, without necessarily keeping people fed. Some of the world’s worst outbreaks of Covid-19 have been at meat processing plants owned by multinational corporations in Brazil, Canada, Spain, Germany and the US. Although these plants mostly produce meat for export, they were deemed an “essential service” and allowed to operate at full capacity, knowingly putting their workers and the surrounding communities at grave risk of infection. 

[11] In the US, as of 6 May 2020, 12,000 meat plant workers have fallen ill and 48 have died. [12] Seafood processing plants are hotspots too, such as in Ghana, where an outbreak at a tuna canning plant owned by Thai Union is responsible for 11% of the Covid-19 cases in the entire country. 

[13] Supermarket workers and ecommerce platform employees have also been facing the huge difficulty of staying safe while keeping open for the purpose of rendering so-called “essential services”, exempt from the lockdowns. Oil palm plantations have mostly kept operational — to serve the production of much-needed soaps to fight the pandemic, their owners claim – but some have defied local ordinances or not provided the necessary protections for workers. [14]

The cure is at risk of becoming worse than the disease. People who have no work or wages since the pandemic broke – most of the informal sector, but also workers from the formal sector – are now facing the growing reality of hunger. The WFP says that the risk is highest right now in about ten countries, most of them engulfed in armed conflict, such as Somalia or South Sudan. But the lack of access to food due to Covid-19 work closures, and the resulting global recession that we are told will last for months, is now threatening many other countries. In India, 50% of rural people are eating less due to the lockdown. [15] Worldwide, the number of people suffering acute hunger could double from 135 million today to 265 million by the end of the year, WFP says. [16]

Already, those hardest hit have been feeling the pain. The saying “I would rather die of coronavirus than hunger” is commonly heard in Haiti, Angola, Lebanon, Democratic Republic of Congo, Mayotte, India and Latin America, according to news reports. [17] In Belgium, it’s “Either we die of hunger or of coronavirus. We have to choose.” [18] In West Africa, the saying is “Hunger will kill us before corona does”.

What’s clear is that if this spreading hunger does reach the scale of a global crisis, it will not be for lack of production or even because of hoarding. There is plenty of supply. It’s the distribution system that has shown its incapacity to feed us safely – especially the highly concentrated and globalised part that cannot respond to the crisis.

Creative community responses

One of the first measures many authorities took to halt the spread of coronavirus was to shut down restaurants, cafés, food stalls and fresh markets. As a response, communities have devised many other ways to get food to where it is needed, often using social media. On Facebook and Whatsapp, groups have been formed to collectively identify where food stocks are located or to collectively procure produce from farmers. Shuttered restaurants and cantines are using their resources to access and repackage bulk food supplies like flour or grains, repackage them and sell them in small quantities. “Repurposing” has become the word of the day, as communities come together, or take form, to find and move food through creative means.

Farmers have also devised innovative ways to sell and move their produce. In Europe, they have started home sales, deliveries to hospitals and online sales, in addition to connecting with consumers directly through community-supported agriculture schemes and farmers’ markets. [19] In Asia, farmers have been going online through social media or ecommerce tools to organise alternative markets. 

[20] For example in Karnataka, India, farmers have started using Twitter to post videos of their produce and connect with buyers. Others are resuscitating traditional systems of bartering, to overcome their lack of cash and match supply with demand. 

[21] In Indonesia, a union of fisherfolk in Indramayu, West Java, has started an initiative to barter with local farmers’ groups through a collective action called “fisherfolks’ food barn”. As restaurants and markets have shut down, the fisherfolk have no buyers. So they exchange fish for rice and vegetables with farmers. This is providing food and livelihood security to the different communities. 

[22] In Latin America, rural communities are the ones least affected by the virus. Many of them are organising to give away food to the poor in the cities. In Cauca, Colombia, the Nasa people – who consider themselves longterm survivors of viruses, wars and the incursion of agribusiness – have collectively organised a “food march” and brought supplies from their harvest to impoverished neighbourhoods in the cities, defying the lockdown. [23] In Brazil, without any state support, the Landless Workers Movement has donated 600 tonnes of healthy food to hospitals, homeless people and other vulnerable communities in 24 states across the country. [24] Members are also converting urban cafés into soup kitchens and educational facilities into makeshift hospitals, where allied healthcare workers are rendering their services. [25]

Solidarity food distribution by MST in Brazil

In Zimbabwe, the lockdown has crippled the movement of agriculture produce off of large farms across the country. Small farmers, will limited support, are hustling to fill the gap, finding new ways to get vegetables and other supplies to markets. Peasant movement organisers say this shift in the food matrix shows that the country’s 1.5 million small holders are capable of feeding the nation. [26]

Local governments, private citizens and companies have also been doing their share. In Vietnam, public dispensers called “rice ATMs” have been invented to allow families to access a free daily ration of rice without physical contact or hoarding. [27] In India, the state of Kerala has launched a campaign called “Subhiksha Keralam” aimed at achieving self sufficiency in food production through subsidies, infrastructure and other support mechanisms. [28] In Thailand, mobile vegetable shops have been revived under the quarantine with support from Bangkok’s local authorities. The city wholesale market is providing small producers and traders hundreds of trucks to allow them to shift to door-to-door deliveries. [29] And in many parts of Africa, motorbike delivery services are adjusting their practices to help get food supplies to people who need them. [30]

Whether it’s through solidarity, mutual aid, volunteer work or cooperatives, and whether it’s formal or informal, this surge in community-oriented efforts to get food to where it’s needed is crucial and needs resourcing, urgently. While grassroots initiatives are not “the” solution, they certainly point in the right direction.

Shift to community-based food systems

To prevent the disaster that both ILO and WFP are warning us about, we would call for three kinds of measures.

Immediate:

1) Resource community initiatives: As a matter of urgency, we need massive recognition of and support to community efforts to feed those in need. Funds, tools and other resources should be allocated to these efforts. This can mean funding or materials for neighbourhood groups or indigenous communities who need personal protective equipment, rooms or spaces in which to organise and transport food pantries. It can mean resources for regional and local governments to do the work together with community-based organisations, cooperatives and farmers. And it should mean support from local governments themselves, whether through policy measures or infrastructure. Many are already doing this, but it needs scaling up, massively and quickly. While the World BankInternational Monetary Fund and other donors help governments face health crisis funding needs, most of it is going to big business. It would be better to allocate more to local governments so they can support community efforts.

Longer term:

2) Improve conditions for farmers and workers: We need to uplift the position of food system workers, from production or procurement all the way to retail, delivery and food service. This means things like: higher wages or a universal basic income that will pay low-income workers much better or reach people outside the wage economy; a seat at the table to redefine work and renegotiate work processes, as many unions are clamouring for; full rights to health care, hazard pay, safe working conditions and child care; and, perhaps most importantly, a better status in society. Farmers must also be supported with safe systems to get produce to markets and fair prices that provide for their livelihoods. At the same time, farm labourers must receive decent wages and healthy work conditions. The Covid-19 crisis has made it clear how important farm work, transportation, food distribution and delivery are to our well being. People working in the system are frontliners as much as the health care workers. They deserve a better place, better pay and a fairer distribution of benefits – and now is the time to make that structural change.

3) Rebuild public food systems: We need to reinvent and reinforce public, community-controlled markets in the food sphere, from the local level up. And we need to connect these markets to the produce of small scale farmers and fishers.

The coronavirus lockdown has shown us, quite starkly, how we cannot rely on global trade as a strategy and how corporate sector control over key segments of our food supply makes survival precarious. We need to put an end to public funds going to large food or agribusiness corporations, except as support for workers. We also need to address concentration in the food industry through measures like anti-trust or anti-factory farm legislation, and direct support towards small scale fisheries, abattoirs, dairies and wholesale markets. We know that more pandemics will come. Now is the chance to move forward and consolidate a public orientation to our food systems, somewhat like in the health sector where we have public medical research, public hospitals and generic medicines outside the grip of patent laws that serve corporate greed. Food is not merely a public good; it’s a social good and needs to be guaranteed, protected and provided to all like healthcare.

If one thing positive comes from this crisis, it could be that we regain and reassert public systems in our countries, after decades of privatisation and encroaching corporate control. These systems should support and build on solutions that local communities are already providing. Food, like health, is a crucial place to start.

  1. Opinions and Analysis

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