THE year began with the proclamation of the Covid-19 lockdown which started January 5, 2021. Informal Traders have been worried about what is in store as they have recollections of last year when the initial two-week lockdown turned into six months where they were forced to be away from marketplaces.
The return of strict Covid-19 measures in 2021 has seen the informal sector which constitutes over 70 % being condemned to poverty. This is coming at a time when the government has also ordered the increase in tariffs and fees from line ministries while also significantly increasing presumptive taxes for the informal sector.
“Not much progress was made last year and staying alive in the face of both hunger and Covid-19 was an achievement in itself,” Samuel Wadzai, Executive Director at Vendors Initiative for Social and Economic Transformation (VISET) said.
However, all hope is not lost as the Informal Sector is trying to be innovative in order to adapt to the challenges posed by Covid-19 pandemic and has begun to develop prototypes of digital marketplaces.
Marketplaces connect producers of value with consumers of value and collect a fee for facilitating the interaction. It’s possible to set up a marketplace in under 48 hours with commercially available consumer technology.
“As an organisation, VISET has taken a lead role in this regard and looks forward to unrolling the application in this month so as to link traders to their customers virtually,” Wadzai said.
“Virtual trading will be the greatest opportunity for the informal sector and developing digital catalogues and skills training will be initiatives that VISET aggressively pushes.
“Linking traders with manufacturers is another form of innovation for traders, where they can be mobile agents for manufacturer products, much like the grocery delivery services.”
Wadzai added that the operating environment is likely to remain challenging for the first quarter of the year owing to the rise in death cases from Covid-19, hence coping mechanisms will need to be adopted in order to overcome.
Bulawayo Vendors and Traders Association (BVTA) information officer Kwanele Moyo also concurred that it is now a matter of innovativeness and creativity in order to survive.
“Informal traders have to adopt use of ICTs. They have to market and sell their wares through social media platforms such as Facebook and WhatsApp as well,” she said.
Digital marketplaces and mobile trading platforms are just but some of the ways to try and overcome challenges, however skills impartation for majority of street vendors as well as introducing new ways to do business may present obstacles.
It is hoped that the government will be able to disburse social Grant’s in order to assist informal traders and the vulnerable.