Addressing Informality

The report “Women and Men in the Informal Economy” by the International Labour Organization (ILO) states that informal employment is the main source of employment in Africa, accounting for 85.8 percent of all employment, or 71.9 percent, excluding agriculture. Further, their research points out that 92.4 percent of all economic units in Africa are informal. An even more staggering statistic from the report is that 97.9 percent of the agricultural sector on the continent is informal.

(Image source: https://www.redpepper.org.uk)

The growth in the size of the informal economy should send a signal to policy makers that therein lies an untapped opportunity in as far as reaping mutual economic benefits. By this, I mean that due to the fact that in Kenya this sector of the economy contributes about 83% of employment demographic outside agriculture and yet only accounts for about 30% of the country’s GDP. This indicates that there is a gap that could be exploited. Some of the factors that inform this scenario revolve around issues such as the low levels of productivity as well as profitability in the sector. On the other hand, there has been an increased push to try and unlock issues that the sector grapples with such as access to finance, which has been a key factor that inhibits them from scaling their operations.

In an effort to make informal businesses profitable entities that can increasingly feed into formal business value chains as well as reduce their high-risk profile to financial institutions that they approach for credit, there are a couple of points that need to be taken into mind. The first and foremost is that of ensuring that small businesses develop the internal structures that can be used to measure their operations. These include proper financial records through book keeping which involves maintaining well structured and up to date records of accounts and financial transactions. This will enable them to not only be in a better position when applying for credit, but also ensure that they absorb these funds for purposes that will help them to scale up.

On the issue of productivity, beyond access to finance are factors such as the level of skills and access to markets. In most cases, businesses in the sector are set up not as a first option but as a last resort and a means of survival. A good example is that of businesses that are set by people who cannot access the shrinking formal employment opportunities and thus pursue the option of setting up a business in an attempt to cater for their expenses. Such entrepreneurs usually do not posses the skills required to venture into the various business fields that they find themselves in. It is not surprising that most of these entities close shop within two to three years of operation.

Access to markets is a hindrance to the productivity of some informal businesses in the sense that it limits the output of their goods in instances where ready markets are not available. In the case of small scale farmers, a lack of markets for their produce makes them scale back on their production due to their inability to absorb the shock that comes from losses from wasted produce. Most opt to take the route of subsistence farming. Linked to this is the fact that most have to grapple with inadequate storage facilities that could mitigate such losses.

It is therefore prudent and timely for policy makers to implement a strategy that addresses the issue of informality as a priority. This will not only enable governments to comfortably widen their revenue source while, but also improve the livelihoods of people who are struggling to make a living.

litualex@gmail.com

Informal Economy Analyst.

Advertisements

The relationship between poverty and the informal economy

The number of people who are engaged in informal employment has been on a steady rise over the past decade, a phenomenon that is increasingly prevalent in developing and third world countries. A deeper delve into this issue reveals an intricate relationship between the level of informality in various regions of the world and the link to social inequality. That being said, it is interesting to note that regions with large informal economies also have a big percentage of the population living in poverty. This is not to say that all of those that are engaged in informal businesses are poor, but that poverty is a cardinal driver that accentuates informality.

(Image source: http://www.oecd.org)

Given the diminishing opportunities of formal employment opportunities in these parts of the world, populations have been forced to look for alternative creative means to fend for themselves. This scenario has largely led to the growth of informality whereby businesses are haphazardly set up without prior planning or experience. Often, the jobs in this sector of an economy are of poor quality, meaning that they do not offer any social protection or terminal benefits. Business that are established this way often have internal operational systems that are a hindrance to their growth in the long-term. It is this sort of enterprises that have difficulty accessing potential financial investors due to the perceived high-risk nature of their operations.

The World Employment and Social Outlook 2018 is a report by the International Labour Organization (ILO) that focuses on the trends in job quality, paying particular attention to working poverty and vulnerable employment. A point that comes out strongly is the fact that in 2018 and 2019, unemployment in developing countries is expected to rise by half a million people per year. As alluded to earlier, the report points out the fact that the main challenges that developing countries continue to face include persistent poor-quality employment and working poverty. Two demographic groups that continue to be adversely affected by labour market inequalities are women and the youth.

According to the report, the outlook is particularly challenging for women as they are more likely to be in vulnerable employment and over-represented in informal non-agricultural employment. Further, this demographic group is often less eligible for social protection coverage due to their lower rates of labour force participation, higher levels of unemployment and greater likelihood of being in vulnerable forms of employment. These factors, coupled with the fact that women usually receive lower levels of remuneration, raise their risk of poverty. An interesting statistic that came across concerning youth aged 25 years and under is that their global unemployment rate of 13 percent is three times higher than the adult unemployment rate. The Northern Africa region recorded the highest rate with close to 30 percent of young people in the labour market being jobless.

Such numbers are a strong indicator as to why the informal economy continues to consistently grow. The downside to having a large informal economy is that those that are involved in micro businesses are excluded from the benefits that come with gainful employment. 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

The Significance of Investing in the Young Population

The Kenya Economic Report 2015 whose theme is ‘Empowering Youth through Decent and Productive Employment’ released by the Kenya Institute for Public Policy Research and Analysis (KIPPRA) is timely as it provides an indepth look at youth empowerment with a major focus on employment. The youth account for about 6o% of the labour force in the country, which is estimated to be growing at a rate of 2.9% per annum. According to the report, Kenya’s median age is estimated at 19 years and the proportion of the population that is below 15 years is estimated at 43%. Further, 78% of the population is aged below 35 years.

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

A big challenge facing most youth is the lack of decent and quality jobs; almost three out of every four youth are engaged in the informal economy, traditional agriculture and pastoralist activities. The share of employment in the informal sector in total employment, excluding traditional agriculture and pastoralist activities, increased from about 17.1% in 1983-1987 to 82.7% in 2013/14. This significant increase in the informalization of employment can be attributed to a shrink in formal employment opportunities over the years. As is the case in most parts of sub Saharan Africa, most entrepreneurs opt to venture into informal business as a last resort for it is often the only way they can earn a living.

With Kenya’s median population age being below 20 years of age, in order to arrest the rapidly growing rates of unemployment that have seen a spike in the growth of entrepreneurial informality, the report calls for the development and implementation of employment creation policies and strategies to that will engage this demographic group. Some of the suggestions include investment in productivity enhancement skills, and quality job creation in fast growing and labour-intensive sectors such as services, agriculture and industry, while promoting the manufacture of export goods for the regional and international markets.

Given that about 88 per cent of manufacturing sector employment is in the informal sector, potential interventions in the sector would be a good place to begin. As is the norm, jobs in the informal sector are characterized by low wages and a general lack of social security benefits. In this sense, the quality of jobs provided by the sector are of poor quality. Also, due to the reason that informality is driven by incentives to minimize tax and compliance costs as well as other external factors such as challenges to access of credit, the report suggests that in order to create quality jobs, policy making should mitigate some of the constraints limiting their transformation to formal enterprises.

It is interesting to note that the report also indicates that Kenyan micro, small and medium sized enterprises (MSMEs) in manufacturing represent over 60% of establishments and account for 29% of those employed in manufacturing. The breakdown of MSMEs involved in manufacturing according to the 2016 MSME Report by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) is 95% as micro, 3.8% as small and 1.2% as medium sized enterprises. The sector was ranked as the highest contributor accounting for 24.3% of MSMEs gross value added. At publication of this report, this figure stood at 11.7% of gross value added. This represents a 12.6% increase over a two-year period. The significance of ingraining a value addition angle into the manufacturing processes of MSMEs cannot be overstated as it will ensure that manufacturers in this sector of the economy not only reap the benefits of fetching higher market prices for their products, but also enhance the growth of robust value chains that are essential to the successful implementation of national industrialization plans. As is the case with most informal enterprises, firms grapple with issues that include limited access to technology as well as limited research and development activity.

It is clear that tackling the challenges posed by informality is a key to providing a sustainable solution to youth unemployment in the country. Focusing on aspects that improve their productivity such as upskilling, increased access to technology as well as investing in research and development processes will enable those that are engaged in manufacturing to venture into value addition for their products. The trickle-down benefits of implementing policies that are centred around overcoming the aforementioned challenges will be an investment in this country’s future.

litualex@gmail.com

Informal Economy Analyst.

 

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.

 

 

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

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.

(Source: https://cdn.mg.co.za/crop/content/images)

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.

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