The COVID-19 pandemic is having a big impact on nations, communities, families, and businesses. Most economies have responded with large measures not only for the health sector but for the economy as a whole. Several African countries are assessing the impact of the crisis and designing emergency stimulus packages to support businesses get back on track.
Out of the equation
Unfortunately, many small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are missing in these big numbers equations. In many emerging countries like Ghana, reducing the impact of COVID-19 and charting the path to a regenerative economy during and after the pandemic may not lie in big financial stimulus packages for all types of businesses in general. A targeted and tailored support for eco-inclusive SMEs that are more concerned about social and environmental issues is essential.
SMEs are the backbone of our economies. According to the Ghana Statistical Service, MSMEs engage roughly 70% of the total workforce in Ghana. At SEED, we focus on more impactful SME actors (i.e. green, inclusive and locally-led SMEs) which we call eco-inclusive enterprises. They contribute significantly to local job creation efforts, economic growth, and sustainable management of natural resources. They are a growing community of enterprises providing practical solutions to social and environmental problems that favours underprivileged people, including economically active women and unemployed youth at the bottom of the pyramid through provision of renewable energy; waste management solutions and the production low-cost durable products from recycled materials.
AMAATI Company Limited is a SEED award winner that produces a cereal called DIM Fonio. It is an eco-inclusive SME based in Tamale. They process and market high quality indigenous gluten free fonio-based cereal containing proteins, vitamins, and iron. AMAATI does not only provide employment opportunities for landless women but also restores large acres of infertile lands through Fonio (this is a type of millet native to West Africa) cultivation, which has soil nutrient regenerative capacity.
No return to take, make and dispose paradigm
As we battle the Covid-19 crisis together by rethinking business models and pathways for rebooting economies, it would be a missed opportunity not to target such small but impactful enterprises. We can’t afford a return to the business-as-usual and the pre-COVID-19 economic paradigm of take, make and dispose; a situation that has adversely affected our rainforests and rich biodiversity.
As we put post-COVID economic programmes in place, why don’t we seize the opportunity to support these actors, big and small that can help us reboot but also ‘green’ our future? Why not offer targeted support so they can create and capture a virtuous cycle of employment, provide stable profits, and preserve our natural environment for improved well-being?
Targeted support, post-COVID
What does targeted support for SMEs mean? It is about deliberately identifying, training, funding and rewarding productive and environmentally-conscious SMEs. It also means connecting such SMEs with a promising future to market opportunities that allow them to expand and tap into national as well as international value chains. Such support packages are rare, but are always needed especially after emergency programmes or funding runs out.
Consider another agriculture-related enterprise which is also a SEED award finalist called AgriCentric Ventures; a start-up which promotes climate-smart agriculture by buying agricultural waste and using low-cost technology to process them into very high value agro-products such as bio-fertilizers, bio-pesticides and dietary supplements for livestock and fish rearing. The company seeks to reduce the cost involved in food production and overreliance on synthetic chemicals.
From bigness to preciseness
These SEED Award winning enterprises and several others operating in Ghana are making conscious efforts to balance the scales of economic opportunity with social inclusion and environmental preservation. It is such eco-inclusive SMEs that we must intentionally support to grow and help scale up during and after COVID-19 to transition Ghana’s economy to a more circular one.
COVID-19 is dangerous and its impact on lives and businesses is no small matter, so we need to look beyond bigness to preciseness in SME support to build a progressive and an inclusive future.
Ebenezer Kumi is SEED Ghana Coordinator and Jonas Restle-Steinert is SEED’s Head of Acceleration Programmes