Vanessa Combary and Dieudonné Edouard Sango | May 25, 2020
In many places, governments have restricted gatherings and even closed public spaces in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19. But these precautionary measures have also slowed business for many agrifood factories in Burkina Faso. Agrodeogracias is located in Saaba, just outside Ouagadougou. This factory processes local fruits into natural juices, but has had to send workers home for several weeks. Many of their clients have closed their shops, which means that demand for juice has fallen. But the company’s founder, Esther Diendéré. is not sitting idle. She says, “For sales, we are prospecting by phone, by WhatsApp. If someone wants it, we will deliver for free. We are working social media.”
It’s a morning in late April and workers, most of them women, have left the factory. But there is none of the ringing laughter or rumbling of motorbikes that usually fills the driveway as the workers deliver goods to Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso.
The factory is called Agrodeogracias and it’s located in Saaba, a rural community just outside of Ouagadougou. It processes local fruits into natural juices. But the juices have not been selling as well since many public spaces were closed to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Esther Diendéré is a microbiologist and the founder of the food processing company. The 60-year-old explains that because her main clients have closed their shops and no one is buying their products, her factory has been forced to halt production. For many weeks now, the machines have not been operating. Before the pandemic, the factory produced 900 bottles a day. Alone in her office, Mrs. Diendéré takes care of paperwork. She says with a smile: “Before the start of COVID-19, we already produced a large quantity of juice that we couldn’t seem to sell. We can no longer produce more because we have stock that is there and those funds are locked in.”
As a result, employees have been sent home without a salary. She explains, “We suspended work. If the business is not working, there is nothing to pay employees. They have no other choice but to stay home. It’s the sad reality.” Only the marketing and sales departments are working at the moment. When there is a delivery, the delivery person is called to come to the factory.
But the manager and her marketing team are not sitting idly by. Mrs. Diendéré says they’re increasing their promotional efforts. “For sales, we are prospecting by phone, by WhatsApp. If someone wants it, we will deliver for free. We are working social media.” They are also offering a 5% discount on all purchases.
The business has also strengthened its hygiene practices. Mrs. Diendéré explains: “We have put in place hygiene measures such as handwashing using alcohol-based gel, and masks, [and] respecting physical distancing of one metre between employees and delivery people. We are following the rules that were developed by the health authorities.”
Such sanitary measures are not new at agrifood processing businesses. She says, “”We already had our own rules regarding good hygiene and manufacturing practices. So [these new steps] only strengthen us compared to what we were already doing.”
The situation is a bit more promising at another food processing company, SODEPAL, based in Zogona, a neighbourhood in the heart of Ouagadougou. The factory produces flour for consumption, and considers it a point of honour to scrupulously respect sanitary instructions issued by the Ministry of Health. Caution is being advised to all workers. Some staff have been sent home.
Sylvie Zoundi is the founder of SODEPAL. She explains, “We have put some of the packing service staff on holiday. There are maybe two or three people who are here to work permanently, respecting physical distancing rules.”
In this crisis linked to COVID-19, the business is taking pains to ensure that it can deliver its products beyond the capital city. Mrs. Zoundi explains, “The main difficulty that we have is access to zones where we have to supply products.”
In Loumbila, a town 20 kilometres from Ouagadougou, the windmills of a maize processing factory called ALEPA stopped turning several weeks ago. The main reason is that the factory’s usual clients have cancelled their orders.
Euloge Tapsoba, the founder, explains that the temporary halt in production is in response to restrictions put in place by the government to slow the spread of coronavirus. He says, “It’s been a while since we stopped production because we mainly work with breweries.”
The factory is making do with small sales while waiting for a return to normal, but the sales are not covering their costs. Mr. Tapsoba says, “We have permanent employees and we need to pay them each month. There are also social security charges that must be honoured.”
Meanwhile, the unemployed workers are waiting. They are hoping for an improvement in the current situation that will allow activities to resume and their income to return.
This resource is undertaken with the financial support of the Government of Canada provided through Global Affairs Canada.