BRISTOL, United Kingdom — The first confirmed case of COVID-19 in Africa was in February 2020 and half a year later the continent reported more than 1 million cases. As with all countries worldwide, COVID-19 had a devastating effect on key industries and the local economy, threatening Africa’s food supply and pushing businesses over the limit.
The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World (SOFI) report estimates that as many as 161 million people went hungry between 2019 and 2020, bringing the global total of people experiencing food insufficiency to 811 million, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Famine in Africa
A total of 282 million individuals, or about 21% of the population of the continent of Africa, experienced malnourishment in 2020, according to a SOFI report. After the pandemic, 46 million individuals in Africa went hungry between 2019 and 2020. No other area in the world has a greater proportion of its people experiencing food insecurity.
Additionally, in Africa, families spend a sizable portion of their income on food. Food costs represent 17% of expenditures in advanced countries, according to estimates from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), but account for 40% of expenditures in sub-Saharan Africa.
The high prevalence of malnutrition in sub-Saharan Africa is an issue that has been around for decades and requires immediate action. Malnutrition could be a cause of more than one-third of all infant fatalities. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, child malnutrition was responsible for 54% of child fatalities in poor nations in 2001, accounting for more than half of all child deaths globally.
The primary cause of this illness continues to be poverty. This scenario is further worsened by an endless loop of sickness, disease and destitution. Children who do not have access to proper food from birth have poor mental development and pose a significant growth risk.
Launching a Business in a Historic Pandemic
The Borgen Project spoke with Kumbukilani Phiri, CEO of Legacy Manufacturers Limited, who saw the potential for success in producing soy- and maize-based goods for his nation’s local markets amid a food crisis. Without any prior experience in food processing, he catered a business plan that called for buying uncooked maize and soybeans from smallholder farmers, turning them into wholesome soya chunks, cornflakes and other types of corn and legume products.
The initial idea was to launch sales in 2020 but the pandemic disrupted plans and caused operational disarray. Due to tight border measures, the company struggled to import the materials it required and couldn’t buy a sufficient quantity of locally produced crops that met the company’s quality standards. Fiscal difficulties were an obvious consequence as the sister firm that Legacy was hoping to lean on financially was facing its own problems caused by the COVID-19 outbreak.
Lacking a consistent supply of crops, Legacy’s performance was dysfunctional as the company was using “just 35% of its soya processing capacity”, an issue that put profit at risk. Furthermore, the pandemic required action to minimize contact with other individuals that the company was struggling to complete.
The Visa Foundation awarded Legacy a $50,000 resilience grant to help it pay for raw materials and personal protective equipment.
Phiri also shared that the management team received training on manufacturing practices from CFAI member Partners in Food Solutions under the USAID-funded Alliance for Inclusive and Nutritious Food Processing. This aided in the development of the new company’s managerial capabilities. The accounting staff at Legacy was assisted in adopting best practices for recordkeeping by CFAI member USADF.
The financial aid and technical support helped Legacy get through its challenging start-up phase. According to Phiri, “The impact of the resiliency grant was that it enabled our business to survive, which could not have been possible under the circumstances we were operating in before the fund.”
With the help of aggregators, who bought the crops from 106 smallholder farmers, more than 50% of whom were women, Legacy was able to acquire 72 megatons of soybeans. The firm was able to enhance the capacity utilization of its soya line by 15% thanks to a consistent supply of crops.
In addition, Legacy increased the average employee salary by 10% while simultaneously adding 24 new part-time employees, 42% of whom are women and 20 new full-time employees (half of whom are women). Sales at the business increased from $150,000 in 2020 to $770,000 in 2021.
– Ralitsa Pashkuleva