Informality In Sub-Saharan Saharan Africa

The latest Regional Economic Outlook: Sub-Saharan Africa is a survey conducted and released twice a year by the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The latest was made public in April 2017 and highlights the importance of the informal economy as being a key component of most economies in Sub-Saharan Africa, contributing between 25 and 65 percent of GDP and accounting for up to 90% of jobs outside agriculture. This includes household enterprises that are not formally registered.

(Source: https://www.imf.org/~/media/Websites)

Estimation of the size of the informal economy is done by looking at indicators such as the tax burden, institutional development and unemployment rates amongst other factors. According to the paper, a larger tax burden is likely to encourage more economic activity to remain in the informal economy. The level of institutional development is another indicator whereby the lack of respect for the law encourages informal activity. Higher unemployment rates are an indicator of poorly functioning labour markets with labour not being absorbed into the formal sector.

The IMF indicates that the average share of informality in Sub-Saharan Africa reached almost 38% of GDP during 2010 – 2014. This is surpassed only by Latin America and the Caribbean at 40% of GDP and compares with 34% of GDP in South Asia, and 23% of GDP in Europe. In member countries of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the informal sector is estimated to account for 17% of GDP. Their findings suggest that informality seems to fall with the level of income, likely reflecting higher government capacity and better incentives towards formality in higher income economies.

In terms of the experience of its populations as entrepreneurs, Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest rate of early stage entrepreneurial activity. However, about a third of the new entrepreneurs in the region report that they chose to be entrepreneurs out of necessity. Despite this, the region has the most positive attitude towards entrepreneurship. The policy change proposed in this regard is to create an environment in which small firms in both formal and informal sectors can thrive and grow, one that is supportive of SMEs.

As far as informality and productivity is concerned, high levels of informality in the informal sector have significant implications on productivity. This in turn negatively impacts economic performance. The paper draws certain conclusions from World Bank Enterprise Surveys which indicate that the productivity levels of informal firms are significantly lower than those of formal firms. On average, the productivity of informal firms is only 25% of small formal firms and 19% of medium sized formal firms, based on real output per employee. This reflects a lower level of physical capital and skill levels of informal workers.

In regard to tax policy, the document proposes that relatively high VAT thresholds are recommended for developing countries, with licences and fees for businesses below the VAT threshold. Such a move would reduce the number of small businesses that are discouraged from registering with the tax administration. As a result, the increased growth and transition into formality would allow small enterprises to grow to a size above the tax threshold, generating higher fiscal revenue. The benefit for formalisation would be better access to finance and public services, which would exceed the tax cost.

Moving forward, countries in the region need to focus on developing strategies that will not only foster and support the positive growth of informal sector activities, but also go further to incentivise their graduation into the formal sector. The importance of capacity building initiatives in the areas of technical, financial and management skills as well as those that are centred around technology adoption as a means to increasing their productivity cannot be overlooked if this is to achieved.

litualex@gmail.com

Informal Economy Analyst.

 

 

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Lessons from Hernando De Soto on the Informal Economy

Hernando De Soto’s Theory on the informal economy looks at the reason as to why capitalism is a system that cannot work in developing countries. The theory explains why capitalism has succeeded in particular western countries and failed in other parts of the world. As he aptly puts it, the major stumbling block that keeps the rest of the world from benefiting from capitalism is its inability to produce capital.

(Source: https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com)

He further adds that in these areas where poverty is prevalent, most of the poor possess the necessary assets to produce capital. The problem in place is that these resources are held in defective forms in terms of a lack of proper documentation, a lack of property rights and basically no form of formal representation hence the reason why they cannot be turned into capital. In this sense, these assets can only be traded in informal circles.

Further, seeing as the broader definition of the informal economy encompasses unregulated economic activities in an environment in which similar ones are regulated, businesses in the informal economy often feel comfortable operating outside the official government regulatory framework. This makes them susceptible to a myriad of risks from which they cannot gain legal protection.

According to De Soto, a country with any proportion of informal economy will never have reliable macroeconomic figures. This is due to the fact that informal economy systems lead to a strong preference of using cash while carrying out transactions. It gives birth to a situation whereby the influence of informal activities on an economy can only be measured by indirect means with a long information delay. This is true in as far as getting data on the informal economy goes. A good example is that of the Micro Small and Medium Sized Enterprises 2016 Survey by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics which is an estimated projection of the informal economic space in the country. It was compiled using official data that was available on the sector, leaving out a lot of small and micro businesses in their analysis.

Strategic efforts aimed at strengthening informal businesses in a way that they gradually grow from micro, small and medium enterprises into formidable formal enterprises should focus on fixing the systemic legal and policy issues that force these businesses to operate outside the legal frameworks. By doing this, we will be building a society where wealth creation is an aspect that is achieved and felt across the different levels of the socio-economic demographic.

In an interview with McKinsey & Company, a management consulting firm, De Soto demonstrates the relationship between the informal economy and poverty in the following words, “It is very simple if you are poor in a Third World country. If you don’t make an income in the first month, you are dead in the second month. So, it is very hard to be unemployed in a Third World country, because life takes place on another level. The sign of progress that I would like to see is that the body politic basically recognizes that the poor are an enterprising poor. They are not the problem, but the solution”

litualex@gmail.com

Informal Economy Analyst

Leveraging Informal Business

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. With the view of looking towards ways in which this trend can be turned around to benefit locally manufactured products, certain aspects need to be taken into consideration.

(Source:http://ddt5juiq7j39k.cloudfront.net/wp-content)

Working through the informal sector is one of the avenues that presents a huge opportunity when it comes to penetrating the local and regional markets. The sector has market networks that are vastly untapped. Formal firms need to venture further into fostering links with informal firms in a way that is mutually beneficial. In this sense, there are different ways in which this can be achieved.

The first and foremost aspect that formal firms should look into in order to get the right partners to work with in the informal sector is that of the business structure that is present in the informal business that they intend to partner with. The importance of ensuring that they establish this aspect is, among other factors to assist them in better understanding the client profiles of the clients serviced by informal firms.  Informal businesses have an access to clients that would not be readily available to formal businesses. Customers to their businesses often purchase goods and services that are at a lower price point. Tapping into the economies of scale from this angle will be a huge plus for any formal business that can avail their products and services that meet the needs of these customers. Unpacking this dynamic will assist in coming up with tailor made marketing structures around which they can upscale the production of their products and services.

Another thing to consider that is of importance in as far as fostering beneficial relationships relates to the different levels of  capacity present in the informal firms. These include, but are not limited to technical and financial skills. Most informal firms primarily under perform due the low levels of the above mentioned. Formal firms can work to improve the level of these skill sets which will go a long way in improving the quality of goods and services that they produce. Mentoring informal firms in this way will enhance their capability to deliver goods and services that are of a higher quality as well as enhance their systems of operation. This will further improve and strengthen the various aspects that are related to the operational systems of formal firms such as their chains of distribution.

An area that would be worth exploring for formal firms as they seek to establish formidable links with informal businesses is that of targeting businesses that are part of an association, be they in the form of Sacco’s or cooperatives.  Micro, small and medium sized businesses that are members of associations within their realms of operation tend to be more focused and better organized. This is due to the fact that they draw valuable lessons from each other on best industry practices. These sorts of associations provide a unity of purpose and act as a pillar of stability for informal businesses for it is through them that they can better interact with other bodies such as government bodies in cases of conflict resolution or even financial institutions whenever they require to access loans. Associations in this sense, offer security to the individual entrepreneurs, for it is through these that they can access loans to grow their businesses as well as better market their products.

Businesses in the manufacturing sector should look into value addition strategies that target the micro and small businesses that they intend to be suppliers of raw materials for their finished products. This is especially important for those that rely on agricultural raw materials. Partnering with small scale farmers for example, with a view of improving the quality of their yields, is a worthwhile investment. Promoting a culture of interacting with these farmers on best practices in crop and animal husbandry is a long-term investment that will ensure a long term consistent availability of good quality raw materials, as well as improve the incomes on both sides of the coin.

By looking into the above factors, formal firms can have a better understanding of informal businesses when trying to create partnership opportunities that grow their businesses. Working with the associations that informal businesses are a part of will enhance the capability of formal firms to choose credible businesses through which they can further harness their growth agenda as well as build the capacity of informal businesses.

litualex@gmail.com

Informal Economy Analyst

An Overview of the Informal Sector

The informal economy is characterised as micro and small businesses whose main reason for being established is that they offer an escape route from the tough economic conditions under which the entrepreneurs live. During the past decade, the sector’s growth has mainly been propelled by the shrinking availability of formal employment opportunities. This limited access to formal employment causes most of them to venture into alternative forms of self-employment as a means to making ends meet. As a result, there has been a change in the way people perceive the informal as being traditionally one that was the preserve of those who had attained a basic level of education. There has been a gradual shift in its perception whereby it was fondly referred to as the ‘Jua Kali’ sector, towards one which presents itself as an option for those locked out of formal employment opportunities.

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The Micro Small and Medium sized Enterprises (MSME) Survey 2016, a report released by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics established that there were about 1.56 million licensed MSMEs and 5.85 million unlicensed businesses. The findings of the survey also show that total number of persons engaged in the sector was approximately 14.9 million Kenyans. Further, the Kenya Economic Survey 2017 indicates that the number of new jobs created in the economy was 832.9 thousand. Of these, 85.6 thousand were in the formal sector while 747.3 thousand were in the informal sector. The share of jobs in the informal sector represents a 5.9 percent growth from 83 percent in the previous year to 89.7 percent, or 13.3 million people. The problem is that employment in the informal sector is characterised by numerous low quality jobs.

Some of the challenges that informal businesses face include low capacity in as far as financial and technical skills are concerned. This makes it difficult for them to access financial collateral from financing institutions and produce materials that are not standardised. Poor and substandard physical working environments as well as inadequate protective gear means that they are less advantaged when it comes to attracting customers to their establishments and are exposed to health hazards. Limited access to market opportunities is another hurdle that those engaged in informal businesses have to contend with.

The Rockerfeller Foundation puts the number of informal workers who live in extreme poverty around the world at 700 million people, contributing to their vulnerability to poor health. Most informal workers have few resources, which makes accessing health care a challenge as it requires leaving work, which reduces their income and adds to health care expenses. As alluded to above, some of the common problems that Informal workers face include poor working conditions which puts them at a high risk of getting injuries. Most employees in informal establishments have no sick time which accentuates their job insecurity, and a majority of them do not have health or social protection.

Another important element of the informal economy is small scale farming. There needs to be a more proactive approach geared towards making it a formidable employer as opportunities for growth in this area are immense. Making farming inputs competitively cheaper, as well as capacity development through the provision of access to technical services as is in the case of agricultural extension officers will go a long way in ensuring that small scale farmers attain higher quality yields. Another area that would be worth considering is that of supporting small holder out-grower enterprises that are in a dependent, managed relationship with an exporter. These include farmers who do not own or control the land they farm or the commodity they produce as they produce relatively small volumes on relatively small plots of land. A good example in this case is that of French beans farmers who sell their produce to horticultural export companies. This move will go a long way in improving product quality that will enhance the competitiveness of Kenyan produce in the export markets thus ensuring a sustainable and equitable growth in that sector.

 

An angle that clearly presents itself as far as the rapid growth of the informal economy is concerned is that of a focus on making the sector a formidable employer by raising the quality of its employment. This can be achieved by changing the societal stereotypes whereby students who pursue vocational training are seen to do so as a second option after failing to secure university admission. The role that tertiary institutions such as polytechnics play requires a keener rethinking in as far as their significance to the provision of a strategically skilled workforce for our budding industries in the informal economy goes. Also, training in financial skills is another key factor in building up these businesses in a way that they will be well equipped to manage their growth. By developing a culture of documenting financial dealings, informal businesses will be better placed to access loans and grants from financial institutions. Further, more can be done to make it easier for informal workers to access affordable healthcare.

There is increased recognition that much of the informal economy today is linked to the formal economy and contributes to the overall economy; and that supporting the working poor in the informal economy is a key pathway to reducing poverty and inequality. To maintain sustainable growth in this sector, there needs to be flexibility in the way government operates so as to accommodate and support a hugely untapped taxable avenue. Key issues that would have to be looked into revolve around the formalization and recognition of their business operations. That being said, given the proper support and plan, the informal sector in our economy will provide an avenue to the growth and development of indigenous industries.

 

litualex@gmail.com

Informal Economy Analyst.

Supporting Economic Transformation through Informal Economy

 

Last week, the Kenya Association of Manufactures (KAM) in association with the Overseas Development Institute’s (ODI) programme, Supporting Economic Transformation (SET) launched the Ten Policy Priorities for Transforming Manufacturing and Creating Jobs in Kenya. The document is a ten-point policy plan aimed at creating 300,000 jobs and doubling manufacturing in five years. According to the document, this will be achieved through two main ways;

(Source: http://www.kam.co.ke/KAM-2016/wp-content/uploads)

  1. The formulation of effective public policies and the regulation for manufacturing competitiveness by doing the following;
  • Creating a business environment that is conducive to manufacturing investment.
  • Enforcing a fiscal regime that supports manufacturing.
  • Making land ownership more affordable and accessible.
  • Securing affordable, reliable and sustainable energy.
  • Expanding access to long-term finance for all types of manufacturing firms.
  • Creating an exports push for manufactured products.
  • Developing worker skills as well as supporting innovation for increased labour productivity.

 

  1. Efficient and effective implementation through;
  • Creating a fit-for-purpose public service.
  • Developing a coordinated value chain approach.
  • Building trust and reciprocity for effective coordination and partnerships.

There is a proposed plan to inclusively target Informal industry or cottage industries. According to the document, there are several manufacturing sub-sectors such as agro-processing, metal works, furniture, and leather and shoe making. Following earlier research that has been carried out on the informal manufacturing sector in Kenya by Deloitte and The World Bank, four sub sectors have been singled out as having the greatest potential for growth and performance. The first is the arts and crafts which consists of homemade artefacts that are a popular product for tourists and residents.

The other strong informal manufacturing sub sector is that of furniture. The furniture market in Kenya stood at approximately $496 million in sales in 2013, whereby East African economies purchase $1.2 billion worth of furniture annually. Jua kali represent more than a third of sales in Kenya ($160 million). The jua kali furniture industry exhibits strong growth and manufactures world class ethnic furniture for niche markets in areas such as Lamu.

The third is the metal works informal manufacturing sector which produces a range of products such as charcoal cooking stoves, buckets, pans, kitchen utensils, wheel barrows, watering cans, gates and grills, and small tools for low-income clients. Products such as industrial sculptures and artworks target higher-income clients. Additionally, a few informal manufacturers produce a limited number of spare parts such as silencers, auto upholstery, and rubber bushings.

The last one is the leather industry under which the informal sector accounts for 10,000 of the 14,000 workers. Kenya is the third-largest livestock holder in Africa, so leather represents a potential area for economic growth and employment. In 2017, the Ministry of Industry Trade and Cooperatives (MITC) committed a KSh 130 million revolving fund for SMEs in the leather industry to build workspaces in all of the country’s 47 counties.

The ten-point plan further points out that despite this potential, there are challenges that the informal sector faces which include access to finance, limited access to land, corruption and labour productivity. With the successful implementation of this document, the informal manufacturing sector stands to immensely benefit from the catalysis of manufacturing in Kenya.

litualex@gmail.com

Informal Economy Analyst

Analysis of Political Party Manifestos

 

With slightly over one month to the Kenyan elections, the two major political parties released their manifestos for public scrutiny. These are the documents that detail the priority areas as well as proposed plans of action for the country when they get elected into office. Despite the political rhetoric contained therein, I read through the two documents with a view of deciphering the angles that each had taken in relation to the informal economy. This article looks into two areas covered under the informal economy, picking out the most relevant proposals in both manifestos.

(Source: http://www.standardmedia.co.ke)

The ruling coalition has proposed to create and fully implement a robust Small and medium enterprises (SMEs) development and support programme which would formalise the large number of informal businesses and support their growth from micro to small to medium enterprises, and eventually into large firms. They believe that this would catalyse the creation of at least one million jobs and contribute to tax revenues. One of the major sub sectors of informal business that they are targeting is the Jua Kali. They are targeting at least 1 million entrepreneurs in the Jua Kali sector to have become established as formal small or large enterprises by the year 2022. The sector employs 11 million Kenyans, 50% of the country’s workforce.

 

Their counterpart in the opposition promises to unleash the potential of Jua Kali entrepreneurs by establishing at least one industrial park per ward for micro- and small enterprises. They also look to set up workshops where these entrepreneurs can lease machine time, a move that is aimed at giving these entrepreneurs access to machinery and equipment that they cannot individually afford. In order to help MSEs to develop globally competitive products, they plan to establish incubators that will help them break into export markets.

In as far as the agricultural sector is concerned, the opposition coalition has proposed that it will establish a Cooperative Enterprise Development Fund (CEDF) that will invest in agro-processing enterprises jointly with farmers organized as cooperatives as an equity partner. Once the agro-processing enterprise is successful, the CEDF will divest by selling shares to farmers through the cooperatives. On the other hand, the ruling coalition plans to establish a Food Acquisition Programme (FAP) to create demand and stable market prices for products from small-scale farmers who will be encouraged to form cooperatives in maize, wheat and potatoes. Under this programme, they plan to buy 50% of government food requirements from small holder farmers.

There is a myriad of other initiatives that both parties have put across in their manifestos that target micro, small and medium sized enterprises. My concern is that all of these promises look good on paper but will become a challenge when the time to implement them comes. This view is informed by the historical evidence of politicians wooing the voting class just before an election and turning their backs on them as soon as they are elected into office. All in all, the idea of investing in the informal economy is long overdue.

litualex@gmail.com

Informal Economy Analyst