Tanzania: COVID-19 forces female vendors to sell in new ways

| July 6, 2020

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Marketplaces are typically bustling and busy, but as people try to protect themselves from the coronavirus, they are avoiding crowded places. This affects female vendors, who are now trying to sell new products or sell in new ways. In Tanzania’s Moshi district, Sophia Kimaro relied on selling vegetables and fruit. But since clients are avoiding marketplaces, she has changed her business model. She now sells snacks to local buyers, receiving orders by phone. She explains that products like bananas, avocados, and oranges are available at many homes in the area, but almost every family needs mandazi and vitumbua for breakfast. Phone orders and motorcycle delivery are helping keep businesses alive, but this is a new way of operating for both vendors and customers—and it’s not without challenges.

This story was originally published June 8.

It’s raining this evening, but Sophia Kimaro is busy in her house preparing wheat and rice flour for tomorrow morning’s mandazi (African doughnuts) and vitumbua (rice pancakes). She says: “I wake up around five o’clock to make them. From seven to nine o’clock, I sell to customers by sending [the snacks] to their homes. A few people come to buy at my house while some families give their orders by phone.”

Mrs. Kimaro lives in Moshi district, in the Kilimanjaro region of northern Tanzania. She is a vendor and earns income mainly by selling produce at the market. But she has had to change her business since coronavirus disrupted the markets. People are afraid of being infected if they visit marketplaces. So now, she relies on mandazi and vitumbua for income.

She explains: “Instead of continuing to rely on selling vegetables, bananas, avocados, oranges, and potatoes, which customers want at the marketplaces, I have decided to change business. These agricultural products are available at many homes in my area, but almost every family here needs mandazi and vitumbua for breakfast.”

She adds, “Even for my new business, I don’t go to the market to do business due to COVID-19. I use my home place to sell mandazi and vitumbua.”

This switch has drastically reduced Mrs. Kimaro’s income. She explains: “At the market, I was earning between 100,000 to 130,000 Tanzania shillings ($43-$56 US) per month as profit, but now I earn a profit of 40,000 to 60,000 Tanzania shillings ($17-$26 US) per month.”

Grace John sells meat, fish, chickens, eggs, and other animal products at her butchery in Arusha city. But COVID-19 has not spared her business either. She says, “My business has collapsed due to the effects of COVID-19. The number of customers has decreased because they are fearing to be infected.”

She adds: “I still do business though, but in a different way. Instead of selling at my butchery, I now do home delivery. Customers call or send messages via cellphone for their orders. I thereafter send the ordered package by motorcycle.”

Mrs. John says that doing business by door-to-door delivery service is full of challenges, and has contributed to a loss of income. She explains: “This is a new selling system and it’s not so familiar to most people. As a result, the number of customers has decreased because not all customers can afford the cost of the delivery service.”

Jane Ngasa is a vendor who lives in Nsemlwa village, in the Mpanda district of Tanzania. COVID-19 has also affected her business. She says, “There is no market to sell goods and not enough customers to buy goods.”

Ms. Ngasa says she used to supply foods such as maize, beans, and rice to retail sellers, and also exported the commodities to other parts of Tanzania. But this has all stopped due to COVID-19.

She says, “I now don’t export to other regions at all because the business of my customers in those regions has collapsed as well. They are not ready to start buying goods from me.”

Ms. Ngasa adds: “I just sell to customers who come at my home to buy. The situation is bad and I don’t know when it is going to end. I used to earn a profit of up to 350,000 Tanzania shillings ($150 US) per month, but now I can only earn 70,000 Tanzania shillings ($30 US).”

COVID-19 has not only changed the way vendors do business, it has also changed their lifestyles. Mrs. Ngasa says, “I now don’t pay [for a] television decoder as I used to do. I have stopped buying expensive new clothes for my family.”

Despite the fact that COVID-19 has demanded that many vendors adopt a new lifestyle, Mrs. Kimaro says she will continue working hard to do business and earn money for her family, while also taking measures to protect herself. She says, “I wear a mask, wash my hands with soap, and use sanitizer to avoid COVID-19 infection.”

She adds: “Because I don’t know how long this situation will last, I plan to stabilize my new business of selling mandazi and vitumbua by calling my customers every evening requesting them to place their orders for tomorrow.”

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