The Role of Informality in the Kenya Industrial Transformation Programme 

The Kenya Industrial Transformation Programme (KITP) is an effort by the government to create an industrial hub in the country through sector specific initiatives in agro processing, textiles and apparel, leather, fisheries, services and SMEs (small and medium enterprises). With the SMEs sector being the fastest growing business segment of the economy accounting for 83% of the total employment demographic, I will highlight some of the strategies that have been proposed to make it more productive.

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(Source:https://issuu.com/kamkenya/docs/kitp_short_version_20150910__1_)

Some of the challenges that the sector faces include a lack of understanding of basic business practices such as book keeping and marketing. These limit their growth when it comes to accessing finance to expand their operations for they are seen to be high risk clients by financial institutions. The recent interest rate cap has negatively affected them as fewer can access loans from banks. Their level of human capital is also low due to a lack of formal education amongst most of the workers engaged in the sector. Most SMEs also have little knowledge of other markets which puts them at a disadvantage when it comes to approaching the export market.

Proposed initiatives in KITP aimed at uplifting the sector include the setting up of a fund to provide low cost financing to SMEs. The fund is to be set up as a credit guarantee system or as an investment in private equity funds with contribution from both government and development finance institutions. It is targeted at those SMEs with promising business plans as well as those that demonstrate potential for growth. 

The strategy also plans on establishing communication and training between large companies and SMEs so as to facilitate subcontracting. This move is meant to increase the share of large corporations in the country sourcing from local SMEs to 30%, while building the capacity of SMEs to meet these needs. This will also look into ways of  improving the capacity of the large companies to identify and manage suitable SMEs.

Another intervention is that of enhancing MSE’s (Micro and Small Enterprises) competitiveness. This will be done through a competition in every county where 5 products from entrepreneurs engaged in the manufacturing and agribusiness sub sectors will be selected to have their products available on supermarket shelves. The process will involve conducting quality, packaging and branding training to get their products certified by the Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS). The winner of this competition will receive a prize of Kshs 1 million aimed at improving their operations.

Further, there are plans to establish a metal fabrication centre of excellence in Kariobangi, Nairobi, aimed at upgrading the existing Jua Kali metal fabricators by providing common user facilities, training programmes and incubation facilities. This will improve the quality and quantity of the products that these artisans produce, as well as equip them with technical skills which will include knowledge on how to operate modern machinery.

The KITP should not be one of those policy documents that are drafted, launched and eventually gather dust on the shelves of libraries and institutions. It is a noble initiative that needs to be fast tracked and implemented as it will translate to the improvement of the lives of the millions of Kenyans that are engaged in micro, small and medium sized economic activities.

litualex@gmail.com

Informal Economy Analyst

 

Developing value chains for micro enterprises

During this past week, the Ministry of Industrialisation and Enterprise Development organised an exhibition in Nairobi which was aimed at bolstering the sales of apparels that are manufactured at the Export Processing Zones (EPZ). Cabinet Secretary, Adan Mohamed announced that government had decided to avail up to 20% of goods and apparels manufactured by companies at the EPZ to the local market at affordable prices but for the same export quality. He added that some outlets will be opened around the country by small and medium sized enterprises where Kenyans can access the items after the exhibition.

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(Source:www.pension-watch.net/silo/images/blogs/11805_1323355569)

This is an interesting development considering that EPZs were set up with the initial intention of producing goods for export only. The government also intends to set up Special Economic Zones (SEZs) in key urban centres in the country whose main goal is to diversify manufacturing activities and create employment. Pilot programs for this project are currently ongoing in Mombasa, Lamu and Kisumu. As a means to fast track the establishment and growth of SEZs, the government exempted all supplies of goods and services to companies and developers in the zones from VAT and reduced the corporate tax rate for enterprises, developers and operators to 10 per cent for the first 10 years and 15 per cent for the next 10 years.

Considering the fact that sustained poverty coupled with subpar economic growth has continued to inhibit growth in the demand of locally manufactured goods, effective demand continues to shift more in favour of relatively cheaper imported manufactured items. In addition, the high cost of inputs informed by poor infrastructure which leads to high transport costs has led to high prices of locally manufactured products thereby limiting their competitiveness in the local and regional markets.

This is a move that if properly executed, will be an avenue for sustainable business growth and development for micro enterprises that operate in the agriculture, manufacturing and tourism sectors. This is the right time to look at value addition strategies that target the micro and small businesses that will be suppliers of products and services to the SEZs. In its strategy on decent work in the informal economy, the International Labour organization (ILO) suggests that one way to improve the sustainability of these informal enterprises may be to link them in cooperative structures where jointly owned input supply, credit and marketing services can be organized without compromising the autonomy of the individual entrepreneur.

It will be interesting to see the extent to which informal enterprises will benefit from SEZs. Deliberate thinking on how to link informal manufacturers with the SEZ initiatives is important. Strategies need to be developed to enhance the capacity of informal manufacturers to better service the formal enterprises that will be operating from the industrial parks. Such measures should include, but not limited to training, business mentoring and organizational development projects to better position the informal sector and their ability to meet orders by the established formal organisations. Doing so would improve their capacity to deliver quality products and thus better integrate them into the value chain.

litualex@gmail.com

Informal Economy Analyst

 

 

 

The importance of ICT in Informal Business

We live in an age where access to information is at its highest level. With the onslaught of digital technology, the internet has become a vital source of unlimited information. This has been hastened by the increased availability of smartphones, which have made it possible for people to get onto the internet from wherever they are through these mobile devices. This technological advancement has transformed the lives of many people by making it easier for people to access various services from the comfort of their palm.

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(Source: https://www.howwemadeitinafrica.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/Tala-600×300.jpeg  )

The effects of this advancement in technology has changed the way business is conducted by the introduction of new and innovative ways of reaching out to clientele. Micro-businesses have embraced the use of mobile payment technology in their operations. They view this mode of conducting business as an easier form of cash delivery to their suppliers and business partners and accessing loans as it is a system which is relatively affordable, personal and can be used anywhere and at any time. These factors have fast tracked its growth.

A study conducted by Internet World Stats indicates that Africa accounts for 16.6% of the global population and has an internet penetration rate of 26.9%. In comparison, the penetration rate in Latin America and the Caribbean is 59.4%, 56.5% in the Middle East, 76.7% in Europe and 88.1% in North America.  On the African continent, Nigeria leads with an internet penetration rate of 47.9%, which is 27.4% of the continent’s total internet usage. Kenya is ranked third with a penetration rate of 66%, contributing to 9.5% of internet usage. Population size was a major variable that was considered when conducting the study.

The penetration rate on the continent presents an opportunity that can be exploited as a means for businesses to reach a wider audience. The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics latest survey of Micro Small and Medium Enterprises indicates that 43.1% of MSMEs do not use Information and Communication Technology (ICT) because they don’t think that it is vital to their operations. 14.3% thought that it was too costly while 4.5% cited a lack of access to electricity as the reason. There is a need to educate MSMEs on the importance of ICT as a means to growing their businesses.

The survey also looked at the type of ICT equipment available in licensed businesses. 40.7% of the MSMEs had a mobile phone, 15.0% had a radio while 10.5% of the respondents reported not having any ICT gadget. Availability of the fax machine, tablet, digital / video cameras was reported by less than 5% of the respondents. This is a clear indication of the importance of mobile phones as a gateway to interacting with small businesses. A lot more can be done to facilitate business transactions in the informal economy considering that only 49.3% of the businesses surveyed use mobile money platforms. It is a platform that is yet to be fully exploited as it is often underrated as an avenue to develop business capacity.

litualex@gmail.com

Informal Economy Analyst 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lessons from informal business

Formal employment opportunities have been on a steady decline. Over the past two years, a number of institutions in Kenya have laid off staff as a cost cutting measure. This coupled with a constantly increasing level of unemployment, especially among the youth, has resulted in the mushrooming of small businesses that enable those that are caught up in such circumstances to make a living in the tough economic times. Most have opted to start-up small businesses which are predominantly informal in their mode of operation that enable them to provide for their families.

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(Source:http://www.the-star.co.ke/news/2016/11/10/msmes-need-facilitation-not-regulation_c1452719)

Despite the fact that a vast majority of informal businesses are perceived in a negative light due to reasons such as a good number of them not paying taxes, inadequate social security structures as well as poor internal financial infrastructures, there are lessons that one can learn from their operations.

Unity of purpose is one of the ways in which informal businesses have managed to grow and stay afloat. Given the scarcity of resources that they have to contend with, be it financial or technical, majority of them pool resources so as to achieve their goals. A good example can be found in instances where such businesses come together to form associations through which they tackle problems that they face. These range from interacting with government authorities and financial institutions to sharing skills and equipment. Interacting with government authorities and financial institutions in this manner puts them in a stronger bargaining position when it comes to negotiating for better terms of engagement.

Also, informal businesses are often pioneers when it comes to innovation. The growth in the rate of unemployment is one factor that has led to the growth of the informal sector. This, coupled with increasing poverty levels has pushed the informal economy to become the top employment segment in sub Saharan Africa. In Kenya, it accounts for 81% of the total employment demographic. In a bid to remain relevant and competitive, those that are engaged in informal businesses develop products and services that enable them to stay in business. Given that a majority of those engaged in informal businesses tend to be the youth, they contribute new and innovative ideas and technologies to industries that have for long remained traditionally rigid.

Another aspect that can be learnt from informal businesses is their resilience. This can be seen in their widespread presence. In Nairobi for example, if you need to have your car fixed quickly, there is always a garage around the corner. Supermarkets and grocery stores have been overtaken by the numerous “Mama Mboga” shops.  In the beauty and cosmetics industry, informal salons are currently available in every neighborhood. This factor has contributed to the exponential growth of this sector.

With all this said and done, the informal economy is still largely characterised by the presence of poor quality employment opportunities. Efforts should be made to support businesses in this sector of the economy as it will be a huge step in the right direction in easing the burden of poverty.

litualex@gmail.com

Informal Economy Analyst 

 

Hawking In Nairobi

The quest for people to engage in activities that generate money in an environment where formal employment is a limited option has caused many Kenyans to pursue options in the informal economy. In a country where the cost of living is constantly rising coupled with increasing poverty levels, most are forced to conduct small scale businesses that are often not well thought out, but provide the income that is necessary to sustain their families. One of the most common fields that people from low income households venture into is that of hawking.

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(Source:https://pbs.twimg.com/media/CGLVq6sVAAImyZH.jpg)

Hawking in Nairobi has become a challenge to the Nairobi County in that not enough measures have been taken to ensure that those that are involved in the trade are provided with sufficient areas within which they can operate. It is this untamed approach that has led to an uncontrolled growth of this section of the informal economy. A huge setback that has arisen from this growth is that it poses a security risk to the city of Nairobi. There are a number of gangs that have been known to have networks within hawkers. They often use the hawking business as a front to conduct illegal activities such as drug peddling.

Another challenge that these informal traders present is that in that of contributing to the garbage accumulation within the city. Since most of them operate from temporary stations, they leave the residue from their activities such as the packaging of wares that they have sold lying on the streets.

I recently interviewed an informal trader who makes a living from selling bottled water and soft drinks in one of the parks in Nairobi. During the time I spent with him, I learned a lot on the mode of operation of businesses in this sector of the economy alongside the challenges that they face. On average, he makes Kshs 2,000 in profits from the business per day. He has to part with Kshs 500 on a daily basis to bribe officials from the county to enable him operate without disruption of his operations.

Those who do not bribe these officials often end up playing a cat and mouse game with these officials. He noted that for a person to comfortably operate the sort of business he does, it is a better option to pay the daily bribe as the fine one has to pay if arrested is Kshs 3000 which is accompanied with the confiscation of the vendor’s goods. This has fuelled this system of corruption as it is easier for the vendors to pay the bribe so as to comfortably make a living.

Sufficient measures have to be taken so as to come up with a sustainable approach to handling and accommodating this section of the informal economy. One such way would be the allocation of suitable areas within which they can conduct their businesses without harassment from the relevant authorities. This is a sector that if properly structured will be an additional avenue for revenue collection. It will also provide a sustainable source of income for those that come from low income households.

litualex@gmail.com

Informal Economy Analyst 

 

Small Scale Farming

Farming has long been the main economic activity in most rural settings. It is the backbone that provides most households with a source of livelihood. This is one of the reasons why most African communities see land as a major asset for it provides a form of stability when it comes to providing basic essentials for survival and existence. The Economic Review of Agriculture (ERA) 2015 states that the agriculture sector is the backbone of Kenya’s economy and the source of livelihood for majority of the rural population. The sector contributes about 26 percent of the country’s GDP and employs about 75 percent of the population.

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(Source:http://www.ipsnews.net/Library/2013/07/kenyafarmers.jpg)

 

Most rural small scale farmers still have to contend with unpredictable weather patterns, inadequate access to technical expertise, outdated farming tools and techniques that tends to reduce their productivity as well as the high cost of farm inputs. In the long run, this pushes their costs of production to levels that make their ventures unprofitable and unsustainable. They also have to contend with poor infrastructure networks that make it difficult for them to access the markets that they serve in instances of heavy rains that make roads practically impassable.

 

The Food and Agriculture Organization states that the potential contribution of the agricultural sector to poverty reduction, improved livelihoods of rural households and greater food security in Sub Saharan Africa is undisputed. Yet growth in the sector remains challenged by an uncertain policy environment and poor infrastructural development that limit market access, increase post-harvest losses and raise the cost of trade. Thus food prices in the region remain high, which impacts negatively on food security, particularly given that most small scale producers are still net buyers of food products.

 

According to Juhudi Kilimo, the average smallholder farmer in Kenya owns 1 -5 acres of land and mainly produces for subsistence or sales in informal markets to earn USD 2-4 per day. They are a micro finance institution that provides loans to rural small holder farmers and small-medium agribusinesses to enable them acquire high quality agricultural assets that enhance their productivity. The CEO, Nat Robinson has pointed out that one of the major obstacles rural small holder farmers face in their quest to become productive is that they lack the collateral assets required for financing. This is due to the fact that small businesses based in agriculture are perceived as too risky by commercial and micro finance institutions as well as being simply too far away or too expensive in invest in.

He reiterates that rural small-scale farmers cannot compete with larger producers because they lack the capital to transport and market their produce to more lucrative urban markets. This limits smallholder farmers to supplying informal markets where they are often forced to sell their produce to local brokers, or in open-air markets and kiosks. In this sense, they end up being paid at rates that are below market prices for their produce.

It is thus imperative to ensure that the agricultural sector and the small scale farmers in particular get the support that will enable them to become more productive. This will in turn positively contribute to poverty eradication by creating sustainable revenue streams through the creation of quality employment avenues.

 

litualex@gmail.com

Informal Economy Analyst 

 

 

Working Poverty

During the past decade, there has been a rise in the number of people pursuing alternate means to employment as a means of raising their living standards. This can be largely be attributed to the high levels of unemployment as well as the rising number of people that are engaged in poor quality jobs. The informal sector creates poor quality jobs and is an avenue for a large percentage of the population to find an extra source of income.

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(Source:http://d34elvfuwuckt2.cloudfront.net/wp-content/uploads/sites/21/2015/08/Africa-Unemployment-South-Africa-apprenticeship-05102012-620×350.jpg)

In the light of this factor, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) has released the World Employment Social Outlook 2017 report. It focuses on trends in job quality, paying particular attention to working poverty and vulnerable employment. What come out clearly is the contrast in the growth of the regional economies over the past decade vis-à-vis the employment and poverty trends. The report states that Sub-Saharan Africa continues to report the highest rate of youth working poverty globally, at almost 70 per cent in 2016, while facing rapid growth in the number of youth in the labour force.

It further states that Sub-Saharan Africa’s unemployment rate is forecast to be 7.2 per cent in 2017, unchanged from 2016. While the unemployment rate remains stable, the number of unemployed is expected to increase from 28 million in 2016 to 29 million in 2017 due to the region’s strong labour force growth. Poor quality employment, rather than unemployment, remains the main labour market challenge in the region. With this in mind, the lack of productive opportunities for youth and adults alike meant that 247 million people were in vulnerable employment in 2016, equivalent to around 68 per cent of all those with jobs.

Statistics from the report show that an additional 12.6 million youth in the region will enter the labour force over the next four years. Due to growth in the working-age population, the number of people in vulnerable forms of employment is expected to increase by 14.6 million. Further, the outlook is particularly challenging for women, who are more likely to be in vulnerable employment, largely as contributing family workers. The share of female workers categorized as contributing family workers, at 30.6 per cent, is more than twice the rate for their male counterparts, at 14.0 per cent, with women additionally over-represented in informal non-agricultural employment.

The issue of vulnerable employment is linked to that of working poverty. The report adds that Sub-Saharan Africa continues to be characterized by elevated rates of working poverty, with 33.6 per cent of all employed people living in extreme poverty in 2016 – i.e. on less than US$1.90 per day – and an additional 30.1 per cent in moderate poverty – i.e. between US$1.90 and US$3.10 per day. This corresponds to over 230 million people in sub-Saharan Africa living in either extreme or moderate poverty.

These numbers are a strong indicator as to why the informal economy continues to consistently grow in the region. The downside to having a large informal economy is that those that are involved in the micro businesses cannot afford to access proper medical attention as well as other social welfare benefits. It would be prudent for policy and decision makers to look into and implement strategies that grow the capacity of informal businesses to enable them to become profitable entities. This will reduce the high levels of poverty by providing sustainable incomes to a vast majority of households.

litualex@gmail.com 

Informal Economy Analyst