By Nontobeko Mlangeni
In Jan 2020, when COVID was about to hit our shores, the UNDP Eswatini Accelerator Lab facilitated a dialogue for rural and urban Micro Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs). The objective was to understand their barriers to formal markets.
Through the collective intelligence workshop we learnt that rural MSMEs face many challenges that force them to remain in the cottage industry sector . For instance, before registration at the Ministry of Commerce Industry and Trade, they have to fulfil the requirements of operating a business on Swazi Nation Land such as getting a consent letter from the chief and spending on ‘facilitation fees’ that they could be investing in the business. We also learnt that MSMEs who are interested in agro-processing face several barriers to getting their products into formal retail markets. For example, an MSME said he has not received a quality standard certification from Eswatini Standards Authority (SWASA) because it costs about E150,000.00 ($10,000), which is unaffordable to most MSMEs.
Upon learning about these challenges, the AccLab, working with SEDCO, started a journey of finding solutions through a Buy Eswatini Campaign. The idea is to develop localized and accessible solutions that make it easier for the small agro-processors to get into mainstream markets. The objective of this campaign is to introduce policy and regulatory changes that allow the small businesses to thrive and compete with their well-established counterparts.
We are working with two groups; women and youth, from the Shiselweni Region involved in honey and cayenne pepper processing, to experiment with solutions to the barriers. The Shiselweni Women Processors, an association of 20 members processing cayenne pepper completed a training recently on setting up a quality management system for their plant. Through this process, a quality management manual for MSMEs was developed after which the association produced its first chilli sauce called Lilangabi, which is professionally branded.
We are also working with ESWADE to support a youth group, Magele Honey. Through working with the two groups, we hope to develop a model that can be adopted by other MSMEs who want to take their products to the retail outlets’ shelves. The AccLab is also working
with the Regulatory and Quality Infrastructure Department under the Ministry of Commerce Industry and Trade to explore ways to domesticate or produce a local product certification scheme that will be more accessible to MSMEs. We are working with a few retailers in this experiment to ensure that there is an increase in the number of local brands in big retail outlets. The aim is to bring about policy changes that enable better penetration of local products and a good representation of these in local retail shelves.
tapping into experiences of countries like Kenya, we’ll work with retailers to get Eswatini to a stage where many products found in retail markets are locally produced. Lilangabi and Magele Honey are just one of the ways the AccLab learns by doing and, thereby, produce actionable knowledge to programming that supports the country reduce women and youth unemployment, while contributing to UNDP’s Country Program Document (CPD) Output 1.2 – improving agricultural value chains.