COVID-19 has imposed extreme challenges for East Africa’s micro and small enterprise traders, many of which rely on ease of cross-border movement for their profits. Others depend on gathering at local marketplaces where maintaining social distance is challenging. While immediate national health policies have focused on limiting the health and human costs of COVID-19, East Africa’s traders have been forced to make dramatic changes and adapt their business and market behaviour to the new realities of the global pandemic.
In all this, understanding the economic shifts in East Africa’s small-scale trade sector – one of the most important factors for poverty alleviation and women’s economic empowerment – will be paramount to designing policy and interventions that sufficiently addresses the economic toll of COVID-19.
This report leverages the unique analytical perspective from Sauti East Africa to document traders’ changes in business behaviour in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. For this report, we present behavioural insights from our mobile-based market information platforms in two East African countries: Kenya and Rwanda. The market and trade information requested by users, joined with supplementary demographic user data, gives us unprecedented opportunities to present near real-time findings on business behaviour, such as top traded commodities and market destinations. Further, the longitudinal nature of the data allows us to identify significant shifts in business behaviour, including before and after the onset of COVID-19 in Q1 and Q2 2020.
This report presents key findings on the economic impacts of COVID-19 on traders. Most significantly, we identify a regional decline in cross-border market destinations and an increase in local market destinations, likely a reflection of national restrictions on cross-border movements.
In Kenya, we show that female traders have been hit harder by the shocks of the pandemic as compared to male traders. Additionally, while the prevalence of traders’ trading in maize cereals is down across the board, the increase in women trading in fruits suggests the presence of an economic lifeline with significant gendered considerations.
Ultimately, our objective is to shed light on this often hard-to-sample population. Moreover, we intend to highlight the differentiated impacts of COVID-19 between harder-to-sample demographics. It is these traders, most impacted by the shock of COVID-19, which will require the greatest support to recover from the effects of this global pandemic.