Anti-COVID-19 measures and the case study groups

Homeless persons, persons with disabilities, institutionalised persons such as prisoners and children in orphanages, migrant workers, particularly the female head porters in southern Ghana marketplaces, workers in rural and urban informal employment and women are particularly vulnerable to the shocks associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. Our case study groups—market traders and contract farmers—are represented in this list of vulnerable persons, and while the impacts of the pandemic will be differentiated, it is becoming clear that informal employment will be a significant marker of vulnerability. For persons in agriculture and related rural livelihood activities, the risk of infection may be low since majority of confirmed cases are concentrated in the main cities and towns of Ghana. However, as the opportunities to earn incomes depend on trade with wholesalers and retailers from urban areas, there is likely to be a major disruption in rural livelihoods and wellbeing. There is as yet no information about how the pandemic has affected agricultural development programmes. However, the disruption in trade could affect farmers’ access to inputs. The Minister of Agriculture has also noted that some of the countries from which Ghana imports food had imposed restrictions on food exports, and this has, without a doubt, contributed to the rise in staple food prices.

The disruption in trade on the local and international markets is very likely to adversely affect demand for the products of Blue Skies Ghana Limited and Serendipalm Company Limited— two of our four contract-fanning cases, who export most of their products to Europe and the United States. According to Blue Skies, they are adapting to changes in the global environment by relying on the use of cargo planes. However, casualisation of employment ensures that businesses are able to respond to COVID-19 by closing operations as the demand for products tumble. Blue Skies recniits up to 4,000 seasonal workers in June, and the majority are women, and B-BOVID also employs many women as casual labour between January and July. These recruitments are likely to suffer if demand upstream reduces, and this would affect contract farmers as well. As contract farming depends on household and hired labour, many more workers will be adversely impacted by a downturn.

For women traders, who are mostly small retailers of foodstuffs and non-food consumer goods, and cooked food vendors, the lack of registration will be an obstacle to their access to state support and their recovery. Although the CAPBuSS programme lists agro-businesses—food and beverages, and commerce/ trade among the sectors being targeted, and encourages women and persons with disability to apply, many cannot meet the requirements for qualification, which include a Business Registration Certificate from the Registrar-General’s Department, NBSSI Certificate, Tax Identification Number from GRA and Annual Sales Information. Enterprises are even required to show evidence of how they have been impacted by the pandemic. While it remains to be seen who actually benefits from CAPBuSS, it is fair to assume that many market and itinerant traders and cooked meals vendors, who are mostly women, will be excluded.

Market traders are at high risk of infection because the poor infrastructure and the lack of water and sanitation make social distancing and handwashing difficult to comply with. However, as they do not enjoy fixed incomes, they have no other choice than to work. In Accra and the Ashanti region, a total of 352 markets were closed for fumigation on 23 March and 27 March, respectively. There was some distribution of face masks and hand sanitisers to market women. However, instead of recognising the structural challenges with implementing COVID-19 prevention measures in the markets, market traders are being severely criticised by the President, state officials and commentators for non-compliance as a result of recalcitrance and greed. This is in sharp contrast with the enthusiastic praise received by private businesses operating in malls for putting in place preventive and protective measures. Across the country, local authorities have temporarily closed some markets for the reason that the social distancing measures were not being observed, and the Minister of Local Government and Rural Development has expressed a willingness to resort to market closures to ensure compliance with regulations.

If we have learned anything, it is that the informal character of the economy and the realities of unplanned settlements and shared facilities were ignored in the design of responses. This has made it much more difficult to support the majority of working people whose livelihoods have been disrupted by the efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19. It has also created conditions for draconian policing instead of national mobilisation. Granted that it is easier to plan responses in contexts where all economic activities and households are registered and vital information about them known, the starting point of responses should be where things are, and not where we wish they were. As the disruptions created by COVID-19 are not likely to be short term, they require that the Ghanaian state address the data deficits that ensure that its responses at all times do not exclude the poorest of the poor, whether or not registered, and whether or not in possession of water and electricity meters. In the medium term, Ghana needs to use its resources to catalyse a process of economic and social reform that restructures its economy, and settlement patterns to make all its citizens visible and legible and able to both contribute towards national development and enjoy the full benefits of citizenship.

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