The Role of Informality in Urbanization and Industrialization

The Economic Report on Africa 2017 was released by The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa(UNECA). This year’s report looked into ways in which the continent can harness industrialization to better structure the fast pace at which urbanization is taking place. Given that Africa is the fastest urbanization region after Asia, the report puts emphasis on the fact that only under the right policy frameworks can this momentum be leveraged so as to accelerate industrialization.

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(Source: http://www.uneca.org)

Some of the proposed measures point to ways in which informal businesses can be made a part of this process. One such measure was to bank on the links between informal and formal sectors, for these are mutually beneficial and dependent. Those involved in industrial land use planning should consider the needs of informal enterprises, given their importance for job absorption and the challenges they often face in finding adequate premises for work.

One option is to try to meet industrial firms’ location-specific needs through Special Economic Zones (SEZs) and industrial zones. These will bring the most benefits if they are well connected to the urban economy, including the informal sector firms that can provide low cost inputs and use linkages as a path to growth and formalization. SEZs present opportunities for co-investment by formal firms and the public sector in infrastructure and technical and vocational education and training, which can broaden participation in economic growth and provide avenues for inclusion of critical workforce groups such as women and youth. These links to markets and skilled labour are critical.

The report further states that studies suggest that informal operators benefit from clustering through the various sectors in which they operate, and that they generally have a positive impact on their formal sector counterparts. It is with this in mind that agglomeration economies should be considered in the context of locational policies related to the informal sector and a path to formalization. Agglomeration economies can benefit the informal sector particularly through proximity to suppliers and purchasers.

Also, low-tech, labour-intensive infrastructure projects accessible to SMEs are a major opportunity for urban job creation. Lower-skilled labour-intensive technologies have high potential in some public investment sectors, including roads. A good example is that of Ethiopia whereby between 2005 and 2008 through a cobblestone roads and pavement programme, more than 90,000 jobs for young people were created. This led to the establishment of 2,000 small and medium enterprises. The project included backward linkages to domestic inputs—cobblestones—and labour-intensive skills in quarrying, chiselling, transporting and paving. The programme, implemented in 140 towns and villages, built around 350 km of road.

In terms of access to finance, Sudan has taken steps to improve this for industrial firms, including SMEs. Policy efforts in 2013 simplified the regulatory framework for financial access and new bank branches, and the central bank made preparations for mobile banking. These reforms targeted small enterprises, which make up 93 per cent of manufacturing firms, by requiring that commercial banks set aside 12 per cent of resources for microfinance. It is with this spirit that African countries must leverage the force of urbanization to drive and enable industrial development for a prosperous and equitable future.

litualex@gmail.com

Informal Economy Analyst

 

Capacity Building for Informal Business

Efforts directed towards capacity building of micro, small and medium enterprises are yet to be well structured in a manner that ensures their sustainable growth. With their contribution to new jobs in Kenya standing at 90% and accounting for 35% of the country’s GDP, there is a gap that needs to be filled which will enhance their productivity. Most businesses in the informal sector continue facing steep hurdles that undermine their performance.

(Source: http://www.corporate-digest.com/images/news/)

The European Commission’s Guide for Training in SMEs puts forward actions that will enhance the performance of businesses in the sector. Some of the interventions consist of factors that ensure the success of a business from which valuable lessons can be drawn. These include anticipation of skills, assessment, adoption of a collective approach, exploitation of opportunities as well as providing guidance and support.

The anticipation of skills and competence related to the needs of the market is crucial in order for a business to remain relevant and up to date in a rapidly changing economy. A good example is that of businesses having the skills necessary to work with new technologies that will increase their output and make them more productive. This factor enhances the longevity of a business in a way that it constantly adapts to the needs of clients.

In the area of assessment, it is important for businesses to constantly carry out a needs assessment. This will put them in a better position when it comes to assessing their requirements, and thus assist in the setting of objectives that facilitate the planning of their operations. More importantly, the evaluation and modification of the results regarding the chosen objectives is a crucial element of developing a permanent culture of assessment. This process enables them to become dynamic in the markets in which they operate.

A collective approach is important when engaging with the informal sector. Public institutions in the field of training, professional bodies as well as social partners such as development finance institutions need to be actively involved in the development and execution of strategies that are aimed at strengthening the sector. This collective investment will provide a solid foundation for building and qualitatively growing this sector of the economy.

The collaborative effort mentioned above should be governed by the principle of guidance and accompaniment. This approach points towards the mentoring of informal businesses in a way that helps them to overcome the obstacles that they face. This can be done by assisting them to put in place and strengthen internal organisational structures such as having detailed and updated financial records. Businesses in this sector of the economy can also learn a lot from each other by sharing practices that make them more productive.

Last but not least is that informal businesses need to be facilitated in a way that will enable them to maximise the opportunities within their field of operation. In the light of this, the right information such as local and regional market opportunities need to be availed to them. This has to be coupled with policies that facilitate their access to these opportunities. When correctly equipped and facilitated, informal businesses will grow due to these new economic and social opportunities.

 

litualex@gmail.com

Informal Economy Analyst

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

Informal Garages Rule Kenya

There has been a steady rise in the number of informal motor vehicle garages and repair shops over the last few years. It is no wonder that the sector currently accounts for the highest number of persons engaged in the licenced MSMEs by economic activity and establishment size. According to the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises 2016 Survey released by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, those engaged in the repair of motor vehicles and motorcycles formed the majority of persons engaged in MSMEs. This demographic group represented 36.3% of the total number of small businesses in the country.

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(source:http://www.openair.org.za/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/Truck-repairers-at-Suame-Magazine.jpg)

There are two main categories in the motor vehicle repair industry. The first one constitutes of new vehicle dealers. These offer after sales services inclusive of repairs. They are however limited to a warranty that is based on a set mileage. The second category is that of independent garages and workshops. These mainly handle a majority of the second hand imported vehicles as well as some new vehicles whose warranty with the new vehicle dealers has expired. It is in the latter category where these MSMEs are located.

It is with this in mind that the importance of ensuring professional standards in this sector are adhered to. A large number of these mechanics learn their trade through apprenticeship. This was what I found out during an interview I conducted with Barak Okoth, the Secretary of the Kisumu County MSE Association. He informed me that a majority of the artisans involved in the motor vehicle repairs industry were primary school dropouts who require to up skill their technical knowledge. Most of them can visually identify spare parts but do not know the technical terms which identify them. This poses a risk to the quality of repair work and service they offer. Any minor mismatch to this end will affect the performance of motor vehicles that undergo repairs in such garages. He also noted that the equipment that they use is outdated.

The Ministry of Industrialisation tasked the Kenya Motor Repairers Association (KEMRA) and the Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS) to develop a code of practice for motor vehicle garages for repairs and services. In consultation with other stakeholders in the industry, the KNWA: 2460 was drafted and formulated. It is a standardisation code of practice for this industry that dictates that motor vehicle garages adhere to the delivery of quality service during repairs of motor vehicles. One of the aims of developing this code of practice was to reduce accidents caused by faulty repairs. During the launch of the code of practice, Benard Ngoe who is the chairman of KEMRA pointed out that only 20% of informal garages follow professional standards.

In order to minimise the carnage on Kenyan roads, it is of key importance that focus be put on developing training programs that target informal motor vehicle mechanics. Key areas of implementation should include upskilling to enable the use of modern tools and equipment that are more efficient in diagnosing and servicing motor vehicles. This will ensure that informal garages will improve the quality of services that they offer. It will also give informal garage operators an avenue to upscale their operations thus improving the livelihoods of those engaged in this critical sector of our economy.

litualex@gmail.com 

Informal Economy Analyst 

Informal Sector: Carpentry & Wood Works

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(Source: http://www.financialgazette.co.zw/power-deficit-chokes-informal-sector/)

Wood artisans have been a part of informal business for a long time. Their work forms a central component in a majority of households. These range from dining tables and chairs, sofa sets, beds, cupboards, cooking spoons, picture frames and even wood carvings that we use to give that aesthetic touch to our homes. In their quest to remain competitive and relevant, they have had to overcome a myriad of hurdles.

The first challenge is that they face stiff competition from imported products which are often perceived to be of higher quality often due to the latter’s quality of finishing. Although some local artisans use modern tools when making furniture, a majority of them are yet to adopt newer technologies. Sticking to the old models of operation that makes them have a low production capacity means that they not to be able to access clients who require mass production. This is only possible for those who are in associations and thus sub divide such orders and contracts so as to meet the demand. The problem with this is that the goods that they end up producing are not usually of the same standard.

During my visits to various small scale businesses around the country, the wood artisans I interviewed made me understand that they have had to face the reality that when they make high quality products, such as beds and wall units, these often go for long periods of time without being purchased. In this sense, such products tend to tie down capital. The option that has worked for them has been to produce cheaper products which have a higher turnover. This has been the case in peri urban parts of Nairobi and towns such as Nanyuki, Kisumu and Mombasa. Part of the problem is the level of income of the clients they serve is usually low.

Also, most small businesses face numerous challenges when trying to access support from financial institutions. Wood artisans are not an exception. Due to the size and scope of their operations, majority of those that I have interacted with see no need of book keeping for example for they believe that their mental memory is sufficient to record all their dealings and transactions. This fallacy becomes an issue when they approach financial institutions for loans. The latter requires them to produce financial historical records of their business dealings for a risk analysis that can enable them to gauge their credit worthiness. This is the point where most micro and small businesses are disqualified from the loan application process.

It is with these dynamics in mind that Bosch have partnered with Equity Bank to avail the Bosch Power Box (BPB) to Jua Kali artisans. The BPB enables artisans to hire the tools on a day to day basis and eventually purchase them through a micro financing deal that the two institutions have agreed upon. This will go a long way in enabling artisans to improve the quality of their products as well as scale up the efficiency of their operations. The artisans are given technical training on how to handle and use modern equipment and put on a plan where they can comfortably pay for the tools. This is an endeavor that needs to be replicated as it ensures that micro and small businesses in the sector up-skill and upscale their operations.

 

litualex@gmail.com

 

Informal Economy Analyst