Globally women with their own businesses, dependent on tourism, are showing their resilience and adapting as far as they possibly can to the lack of a market. They have to move quickly and with determination. Otherwise all is lost and they as women with dependants, can not afford the luxury of waiting for business to resume as normal. We are already hearing of the demise of women who have lost their jobs in the formal sector or women in communities reliant on operators to bring visitors into their homes. This is a time when community and family support are critical.

Kilimanjaro, Tanzania

Women farmers working together as the Wamboma Co-operative in Tanzania to harness the market opportunities tourism and the hospitality sector offer them, have had to do a complete rethink. The whole sector has closed down and yet their crops, rescued from the ravages of climate change, are now almost ready to be harvested.

Supplying hotels with the quality, consistency and quantity of produce is what the women have been trained to do. They find this so much more fulfilling than competing against each other in the marketplace. It has been a dynamic, challenging, life-changing opportunity for them to come out of the dire, subsistence poverty that they and their families lived in. But now all the hotels are closed and they have no market for their vegetables and fruit.

Like other women the world over, they are survivors in the face of huge odds. They are resilient and thus are adaptable. They had already faced the impacts of climate change as their crops were washed away by floods or died through drought and until Cov9d-19 struck, were overcoming this challenge with new greenhouses, water tanks, pumps and drip irrigation. The project, initiated by Equality in Tourism, with critical help from supporters, raised enough money for all the infrastructure and new, replenishing seed to start them off again.

Thankfully their creative co-op manager, Grace, has already devised a new market for their produce. Wamboma Women’s Co-operative will be the first in Tanzania to advertise and supply farm boxes, fresh to customers’ doors. Grace and Stuart, the project manager, are hard at work on creating a website for orders to be placed and having recyclable, returnable woven baskets made.

Wamboma’s business plan showed that it would take three years for the project to become self-sufficient. These strong, determined women don’t want to be dependant on others for financial support, but we’re all on a learning curve as we find ways to mitigate the disasters that have befallen the project. Disasters that have affected the whole world. They’re not there yet, but with extraordinary support from others, they’ll get there. Resilience also needs its support structures. Then, when the hotels open again, the Co-op will have a far wider market than originally envisaged and they won’t be over-dependant on tourism.

Governments and businesses, in their desire to capitalise on the huge, ever growing tourism industry never learnt the hard lesson of what a vulnerable business it is. Climate change, pandemics, natural disasters, wars and conflicts have always catapulted those dependant on this industry into an abyss. We have to account for the fact that mitigating the impacts of climate change and Covid-19 come at a financial cost. Something that all governments need to respect.

Farmers showing their crops

Mozambican female entrepreneur selling food products to the hospitality sector talks about her vision for transforming COVID-19 into an opportunity for strengthening her business

Eulalia Muandula, a young wife and mother trained in agronomy, is one of the founding members of Dzimene Agribusiness, a small company distributing locally produced fruit and vegetables within the Mozambican market. A key strategy adopted in the face of strong competition was the use of attractive packaging of products to make them stand out and increase their appeal. Over the 4 years since its founding, the company has gone from strength to strength and the Dzimene brand has become associated with quality and appeal. Eulalia’s role in its success has received international recognition. In 2019, she won the “Young Entrepreneur” award in the Mozgrow Business Challenge and she was awarded first prize as the “Best Agritech/Foodtech of Mozambique” in the Southern Africa Startup Awards.

While the arrival of COVID-19 and consequent closure of restaurants and hotels has resulted in the temporary cessation of operations of Dzimene, Eulalia views this as an opportunity to rethink some aspects of the business model. Historically, Mozambique, like other countries has become reliant on foreign imports of food products, in particular from South Africa. In response to COVID-19, the doors to South African imports have been shut leading to acute domestic food shortages. The answer, according to Eulalia, is to develop sustainable food production chains in Mozambique from growing to distribution to processing. Mozambique is rich in arable land and has good agro-ecological conditions for most basic food cultures. This can not happen without government support, but the cost would be more than offset by the long term benefits in reducing the country’s dependence on food imports.

Inspired by this vision, Eulalia is in the process of re-inventing the company. When it returns post-COVID 19, it will be divided into 3 autonomous units of production: the growing and distribution of fruits and vegetables, the production of horticultural products and the commercialisation of cereals and grains. For Eulalia, despite the adverse circumstances of COVD-19, there is a lot of scope for entrepreneurs in the sector because: “there is a lot to be done and we, the young generation, need to help construct a new Mozambique”. Furthermore, in her view: “There are several opportunities for business and wealth creation. We just have to open our eyes and get stuck into it! We are going to overcome the COVID-19 pandemic and we will emerge stronger and ready to meet the challenges facing the whole country.”

Good idea!