July 28, 2021

Blog: Inclusive businesses making an impact through COVID-19

Photo – Best Tropical Fruits welcome Australia’s High Commissioner to Kenya, Luke Williams (3rd Left) and the Governor of Machakos County, Dr. Alfred Mutua, (2nd left) to the processing facility in Machakos County.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, the Business Partnerships Platform (BPP) has worked closely with our inclusive business partners to provide them with the support they need so they can continue to operate, achieve positive social or environmental impacts, and help the most vulnerable.

In March 2020 the BPP had 20 active partnerships across 13 countries. In the immediate response, our partners prioritised helping their staff, suppliers, communities and families stay safe. Once systems and policies to protect staff and enable safe working were established, they looked to the longer-term.

The first question for many was how to adapt to the ‘new normal’? For some, adaptation meant introducing new products or online services to replace face-to-face activities while the worst of the pandemic hit, but for many others – the remote delivery model is here to stay.

In this blog we highlight two inclusive businesses to learn more about the steps taken to adapt their business and how the BPP supported them.

First up, we look at Best Tropical Fruits (BTF), a fruit processor located in a remote area in Kenya. BTF has developed a new product that reduces farmers’ dependence on one crop by commercialising waste mango seeds and adapted its model to continue supporting smallholder farmers while global supply chains recover.

Developing dried fruit products from wasted fresh produce in Kenya

Staff training at Best Tropical Fruits processing facility

Food wastage is a global issue and often comes down to inefficiencies in the supply chain

In Kenya, local agribusiness Best Tropical Fruits (BTF) found even before the pandemic that more than 40% of the soft fruit grown in the county of Machakos did not make it to market. With this insight, BTF went about creating a product to make use of this waste and in turn, provide small holder farmers with an opportunity to monetise the waste.

In a BPP partnership with the Machakos County Mango Value Chain Association (MCMVCA), a farmer’s association of more than 6,000 members and the Australian Government, BTF established a processing line to develop bio-charcoal and livestock feed, from waste mango seed.

BTF had bought 7 tonnes of mango seeds from small holder farmers and was providing much needed additional income when the pandemic began. Key to the success of the new waste mango seed product was a regular supply of mango seeds. BTF had an outreach strategy to sensitise farmers to the value of mango seeds to build a consistent supply.

With outreach sessions not possible due to social distancing and restrictions on movement and European demand for fresh fruit fast dropping, BTF had to think creatively about its product offering, widening its fruit processing mix to include dried fruit.

Collecting mango seed for processing

The BPP played a supporting role, working with BTF as it developed the dried fruit concept and supported it to procure fruit drying equipment. The new dried fruit processing line provides a major income boost for the farmers who supply BTF as they are able to  expand and supply a range of fruit crops, and vegetables, throughout the year, as some of the fruits that are dried such as mango are seasonal while others such as banana and tomato are available year round.

“Dried fruit can reduce the risk of relying solely on one crop, which might fail due to drought, and increase use of our existing process plant and infrastructure,” said Pat McMullin, BTF Manager.

Crops currently being processed include Avocado, Mango, Banana, Tomato, Paw-Paw and Mango seed.

BTF is a highly valued local employer and buyer in Machakos County. The way the business has adapted due to COVID-19 has helped to assure its continuation which not only benefits the smallholder farmers that supply it but its staff: “We employ 60 local staff (many of them women) who have been able to earn a weekly wage for the first time in their life,” said Pat.

Watch this video from Best Tropical Fruits to learn more about the process for drying mango.

Seed money to assist women-run dairy enterprises in Bangladesh

1,600 women-run dairy enterprises opened bank accounts through BSCL’s Financial Inclusion Centres

When hospitality venues and sweet shops closed in Bangladesh due to COVID-19 restrictions, demand for the milk-based sweets commonly used at big family and cultural events plummeted. The big drop in sales affected dairy farmer incomes and their ability to pay for key agricultural inputs such as fodder.

At this point, a BPP partnership between the Bangladesh SME Corporation Ltd. (BSCL), a technology services company, Oxfam and the Australian Government was successfully working with women-run dairy enterprises to expand their business through access to finance and improved productivity.

As a result of the partnership, dairy enterprises had increased their income by an average of by AUD 773 in 2019-2020 (pre COVID-19 reporting). More than 1,600 women-run dairy enterprises had opened bank accounts through BSCL’s Financial Inclusion Centres and with access to bank accounts BSCL was able to facilitate AUD 584,750 in financing for women to grow their business.

Women also reported doing fewer hours of care work per week as the increase in income from their dairy business resulted in a higher value being placed on dairy activities and greater sharing of household activities.

With such promising results, the partners were keen to promote the continued growth of the dairy businesses through the challenges presented by COVID-19. With BPP support, the partners were quick to respond by establishing a revolving loan – an interest free loan in the form of cash, fodder, cattle feed and grass seed. This early intervention helped to address the fall in sales and loss of income. The partners’ existing relationship with dairy enterprises made outreach and support achievable, despite the restrictions.

Milk collection points supported dairy farmer sales

The revolving loan facility gives farmers much-needed flexibility in light of the fluctuations in the price of dairy. Dairy farmers who are involved in producing and selling fodder on commercial basis were also given input support so that they can initiate their production for the next season.

The continuation of the loans and flexibility of the terms is valued by both the business and farmer. BSCL is looking to the future and continues to innovate its finance platform, including digitalising extension services and promoting complementary financial products, such as livestock insurance.

Read this partnership summary for more on the impact and next steps for the partners in Bangladesh.

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