DRC: E-commerce develops because of COVID-19 crisis

| January 18, 2021

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In Goma, a city in eastern DRC, Chris Ayale’s agricultural business is growing rapidly during the COVID-19 lockdown. In 2018, Mr. Ayale launched Kivu Green, an online platform for buying and selling agricultural products. Producers can use their phones to post their products and receive orders. Buyers can look at what is available online, at prices, and place an order. This is particularly useful when restrictions limit the ability of formal and informal vendors to travel from cities to rural areas. While not all farmers have access to a phone to take advantage of this digital platform, Sivirwa Baseme, a representative of formal and informal traders, says the traders’ co-operative has joined the platform to trade on behalf of its members.

It is 5:30 a.m. in Goma, in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, or DRC. Chris Ayale is a young entrepreneur who has lived here for the past few years. Phone in hand, he is trying to contact his regular customers, a sort of daily check. He explains, “Our goal is to put in place technological solutions particularly focusing on facilitating, connecting, optimizing, and promoting … agriculture, fishing, and breeding in the DRC.”

This is why Mr. Ayale created his business, Kivu Green, in 2018. Kivu Green is an online platform that uses SMS to enable producers to sell their harvests on-site, thanks to mobile phones. Kivu Green has had a positive impact on Congolese youth, creating many jobs. The business has not been affected by the COVID-19 crisis because the work is digital. In fact, Mr. Ayale says the business has grown. He explains, “With the onset of COVID-19, we saw a rapid 30% sales increase during lockdown. Every day, there is at least one customer who contacts me about selling or buying online.”

Because of the coronavirus, formal and informal vendors in cities have had trouble travelling to collect fruits, vegetables, and other goods from rural areas. They had to turn to new information technologies to place orders at a distance, using e-commerce tools like call centres, SMS, and WhatsApp.

When placing an order on the Kivu Green platform, a buyer can consult what is available and the price. Once an order is placed, delivery is made to the home free of charge via Kivu Green’s transport. These arrangements brought relief to local producers who no longer knew how to sell their goods.

Mr. Ayale collaborates with producers, co-operatives, vendors, public markets, hotels, restaurants, businesses, and NGOs in many places in the country, including Kinshasa, Masisi, Goma, Bukavu, Beni, and more. He says his business makes money on the platform through commissions and subscriptions.

Sifa Bulambo is a young woman who lives in Goma, a tourist town in DRC. She says that, since the lockdown, she has been using Kivu Green. She learned about the platform from her entrepreneur friends. Mrs. Bulambo says: “To make an online order, I just need the link to the Kivu Green app, which directs me to the option to display each product and its price in local currency. After choosing the product, I can easily place my order via telephone networks—using Airtel money or funds from other cellular networks.”

For Mrs. Bulambo, although the Kivu Green platform is easy and innovative, the public market retains an appeal. She explains: “With the app, the price remains fixed. I don’t have the opportunity to haggle as I usually do when I’m at the Virunga market, for example. I suggest that we make this sales app in the Congolese style by adding, if possible, the option to haggle.”

Jean Basabose Hakimana is a young entrepreneur living in Masisi, North Kivu, about 80 km from Goma. He learned about Kivu Green at a conference for young entrepreneurs in Goma. Since then, he has been selling his produce on the platform without difficulty. He says: “To become a collaborator, I had to open an account in the Kivu Green app to get information on different transactions on the market. For each order, the company contacts us by phone and makes arrangements for us to send our products to them, which in turn makes the delivery.”

Sivirwa Baseme is a representative of formal and informal traders. He finds this online practice innovative, but says some of his members have trouble using the new app because it relies on new technology that not everyone has access to. He explains: “The world is changing, but we notice that not everyone in Congo has an Android phone. Many live from hand to mouth and fail to meet their needs. This is why we have joined this initiative to sign a contract on behalf of the buyers’ co-operative to allow our members, who have trouble selling their products in public markets, to come and try their luck thanks to this Kivu Green application.”

E-commerce is new in North Kivu and many people didn’t know how to use it. But thanks to the strategy of holding small training sessions with various Kivu Green partners, things are starting to improve. Some people no longer travel to purchase products, avoiding the risk of being infected with COVID-19. Yet internet connectivity—and cost—remains a hurdle for buyers and sellers.

This resource is undertaken with the financial support of the Government of Canada provided through Global Affairs Canada.