As the country and the world alike continue to grapple with the COVID-19 virus, new waves, rumours of lockdown, a lot of people can only hope to stay safe, healthy all while still being able to survive the day to day economic struggles.
One said group that felt the pinch in were the local market vendors. When the lockdown and restricted movements were announced in 2020 the business flow for hundreds of market vendors was impacted. The vendors were cut off from their suppliers and unable to access their usual customers who were unable to move to the markets.
“Before the COVId-19 pandemic and lockdown, I was selling 50 bags of irish potatoes a week, but once the lockdown hit, I was lucky enough to even sell 6 bags a week.” Abeneitwe Joan, a market vendor dealing in irish potatoes & matooke (bananas) from Nakawa market said about the pandemic.
Kisakye Joyce, a fruit & vegetable vendor had similar struggles adding, “We were unable to get produce from farmers because they were unable to move to bring stock & getting fruits from outside the country like Kenya was also expensive so it was really a struggle to survive.”
With lockdown measures restricting business flow and the agricultural sector supply chain, it was important for strategic partnerships to be created to help support vendors like Joyce and Joan sustain their livelihoods.
In May 2020 at the peak of the pandemic, the United Nations Development Programme together with e-commerce platform Jumia Food partnered to launch an online platform to support the informal market sector respond to the pandemic. The partnership focused on small and medium enterprises particularly vulnerable groups such as women & the youth. The platform has so far enabled 2,000 informal vendors in seven of Kampala’s markets (Nakasero, Wandegeya, Nakawa, Naalya, Kalerwe, Bugolobi and Kibuye) to continue selling their produce online. The initiative has allowed vendors access to distribution networks, market agents, a diverse set of payment modes, and methods to ensure adequate quality assurance, monitoring and evaluation.
With this partnership the future does indeed look promising as vendors like Joyce and Joan are now seeing changes in their businesses. “ Since working with this program, I have been able to increase my sales and save more money – I encourage vendors to join the program because you earn more & the sales have increased even from before lockdown. Joyce Kisakye added.
“This initiative has been going on for a year, and we have seen a big appetite for the SME’s to participate. We have also seen a shift in the customer perception towards buying fresh produce online. The partnership has also onboarded thousands of vendors with 60% being women and youth; there was an increment in their sales, from vendors earning 35,000 UGX to now earning 120,000 UGX a day.” Naatujuna Deborah, Head of Exploration at UNDP said.
To date, this newly established online marketplace has been successful in connecting informal market vendors with consumers, connecting rural farmers with urban markets, fortifying supply chains for agricultural produce, creating employment opportunities, and promoting the growth of e-commerce in Uganda.
On where the partnership will stand in 2 or 3 years time, Timothy Mugume from Jumia Food said, “ We are optimistic & we hope to see this initiative reach new heights.The plan is to expand the program to many more regions and further increase the penetration of ecommerce to grassroot communities. However we will definitely need the support of policy makers to improve the necessary infrastructures to enable e-commerce to thrive in Uganda.”