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Turning COVID-19 crisis into opportunities: Ghana’s perspective [Article]

Ghana Ghana News

Globally, every nation came to a halt; every production activity came to a halt with human movements and interactions reduced to minimal.  Even the untouchable, our religion, was more than touched and pushed to the edge as the social gathering was banned while social distancing took over the discursive space.  Health facilities of robust economies, as well as those of less robust nations, were stretched and shaken to the marrow. Incidence of price hikes as production came to a cease was just unbearable for the global economy of which Ghana is no exception.

The workforce sector was also not spared as International labour organization (ILO) on April 28, 2020, indicated that some 1.6 billion people employed in the informal economy or nearly half of the global workforce livelihoods could be destroyed due to the continuous decline in working hours. All these stiff neck happenings accompanied with numerous kneejerk reactions were as a result of a global pandemic called coronavirus. As declared on January 30, 2020, by the World Health Organization (WHO); coronavirus is a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. The virus which later gained recognition as COVID-19 is noted to have forced many countries to be inward-looking.

The economic downturn alone as a result of COVID-19 on the global supply chain economy (i.e. Imports and Exports) has trickled down to affect revenues and incomes of people and governments at large across the globe. With over three hundred thousand deaths recorded globally as at 30th May 2020; COVID-19 is regarded as health, economic, social and political crises that robbed major parts of the world.

Ghana was also not left out of the COVID-19 crisis as many businesses, borders, schools, market centres and shops were closed for weeks, with some restrictions yet to be loosened as at May 30, 2020. With several labour layoffs, the tourism and the hospitality industry whose spine is based on global travel and tour were also badly hit and the least said about them, the better.

However, despite the hidden hazards of COVID-19; it never scared young individuals like myself and other “covidpreneurs” as we became adaptable and responded to the new normal to create business opportunities.

Very soon I will be harvesting my vegetables and cereals from a partnered piece of land I’ve helped my father to cultivate at Ohawu in the Volta region of Ghana.  Over a few years now the burden of clearing farmlands for cultivation and planting of crops was solely done by my dad. This is because I moved to the city; that is the Greater Accra region for tertiary education where after vacation internship activities hardly allowed me to go back home to assist my dad.

But due to Covid-19, which resulted in temporal close down of schools, I joined my dad back home and we cultivated the farm together. Apparently my dad is weak and could not do much; however, upon my return to the village, we can boast of tracts of land full of groundnuts, maize, pepper, cassava and more waiting to be harvested.

Not only the above but there were other old food crops such as maize, beans, gari, palm oil,  that were harvested and processed for the market  over periods but could not be sold as a result of low demand and low prices in the market.  However, due to Covid-19 and its subsequent lockdown versus restrictions; prices of food and other essential products went up. Even liquid soap and hand sanitizer which were selling below 100 cedis shot up as high as 200 cedis that is 40 Dollars approximately. Prices of Vegetables as well surprised everyone as three pieces of tomatoes were selling at 5 cedis.  Shockingly, our famous gari processed from cassava that is seen as a food for the poor that was selling at 6 cedis prior to COVID-19 galloped to 20 cedis and above depending on the market and its location. All these occurred as a result of the mad rush of people who thronged various market centres to purchase products ahead of lockdown and fear of market closure.

Realizing all these price hikes and high demand for various commodities in the market, I informed my dad and I advertised our products that were processed but could not be sold earlier online at an affordable price. It went viral, caught the attention of many and they called for it. In less than two weeks, People ordered from afar especially the gari, the beans and our proper palm oil known as (zomi) which eventually got finished with many asking for more. At this period, we cashed in big time!

Again, having realized that hand sanitizers and nose masks were selling well in the market, I informed my dad about it and asked whether he could do something knowing that he is “a Jack of all trade”. Quickly he agreed to try since farming activities were over. He revisited his tailoring skills and put his creativity to work.  He stitched some pieces of cloth together hoping it will break through the market just as the produce went and we cashed in big.

The first production of my dad’s nose masks was not that attractive and could not sell because it has been long since he visited the sewing machine. This is because he is always in the farm juggling between the hoe and the cutlass. Our inability to stitch the nose masks did not slow our spirit of taking advantage of COVID-19 in Ohawu.  We re-strategized a day after and tried liquid soap and hand sanitizer with the help of a family sister. This worked perfectly and bingo I pushed it to the market through WhatsApp status and friends. Subsequently, I bowed out of the hand sanitizer trading and handed it over to my family sister; Esinam to continue after taking her through how to do digital marketing. She handled it and she still does because she is also not going back to school anytime soon.

I shifted my attention and joined another family sister; “Sister Redeemer” who is a seamstress and was producing nose masks. As a result of my skills in social media marketing and advertising, I approached her to allow me to market her products online for a token. She agreed and we started.  I got a few wholesalers and retailers after a few weeks of advertisement who came in to purchase the product at various quantities. This one too went well and brought pressure of high demand and as such Sister, Redeemer had to hire four extra hands to aid production.

I couldn’t watch my dad’s motorbike lying idle while we needed to deliver our products and other items to the next village and towns. As a result, I called Newton, my cousin, who could ride a motorbike to step in and support. Newton assisted in delivering all products that were made to hard-to-reach areas. Anytime there was no order to deliver from our end, we rendered a delivery service to sister Ablavi who operated a mini restaurant at a nearby village. We delivered her food packages to intended customers at a fee. Newton was idle at home earning nothing. However, by the close of day at the time I called him, he could boast of some cash in his mobile money account. This is because he is always paid each day after service delivery.

Aside from the revenues, we generated from transacting these businesses, it also dawned on me that the distribution service sector in Ohawu has been underexplored. In view of this, I am considering to venture into the use of motorbikes for the distribution of goods and services after national service. This is because, arguably, the use of motorbikes for delivery is fast as it is able to ply deplorable roads which are common in this village and visit places where vehicles cannot access. This is envisaged to be an opportunity and source of employment to the young ones in Ohawu.

We couldn’t have discovered all these brilliant ideas, made all these grand sales and more without Covid-19 which forced us to go back home.

Not only the above but, I’ve always known the relevance of hard skills like web design, computer programing and the likes. However, during this Covid-19 time, I’ve noticed just how valuable soft skills are too. Mawuse and Mawufemor both females and cousins of mine will forever remember the awful experiences they had in the first two weeks they visited Ohawu. As many people ran to the village during the lockdown period, Mawuse and Mawufemor were among the lot. Having stayed in the city all their lives, they never learned to speak our local dialect -Ewe. Life in the serene atmosphere of Ohawu became unbearable for my cousins as they could neither speak nor comprehend whatever happened upon their visit. It’s not that they’re persons born as such but rather, it was as a result of the language barrier.

In fact, they struggled to navigate their ways through town. Going to shop in town became a nightmare as they could not even pronounce the items in Ewe.  Any form of communication from the rural folks to my cousins was just a ‘no go’ area for them as the village folks could not communicate in any other language than Ewe. These happenings marred Mawuse and Mawufemor’s beautiful experience they anticipated before visiting the village.  I couldn’t see them go through such trauma every day where they don’t understand or talk to anyone; not even their grandma apart from themselves. With my knowledge in communication, I decided to sit them down for one-hour every evening after dinner and taught them the basics of Ewe such as the pronunciation of items, greetings, questions and answers. It was hard, required effort and commitment but in the end, it was successful. Although not fluent, Mawuse and Mawufemor can now boast of Speaking Ewe today. Their everyday experience turned into joy since they can now freely interact with the locals. They no longer get lost in town or get cheated in the market.  Together we enjoyed the latter fun moments with grandma as we sat by the fireside each night to listen to nuggets of wisdom and folklores about our town in Ewe.

It was during these moments that she taught us about culture and tradition (things we couldn’t find in the books during our years of study). My grandma later reckoned that it is good we all learn how to dance Agbadza, an indigenous dance of the Ewe clan. She said we may lose our identity if we failed to exhibit our culture especially the dance. In fact, I had the rare opportunity of learning how to dance Agbadza, Together with my cousins, we never resisted as we agreed that she took us through. We gave it a try and it was all fun and joy every Friday night.  I may say the lockdown in most ways impacted many negatively; nonetheless, one cannot overemphasize the other positive moments it brought. But for the lockdown, these events of learning would not have seen the light of day.

Because farming activities were over and I was left with nothing except zoom lectures which were available twice a week, I took the opportunity to revisit my volunteer work with radio angelus, an online radio station after placing a call to my supervisor Mr Andy Manormey. We organized and recorded our shows via phone ahead of Monday and Thursday’s where we discussed social and business issues.  At Radio Angelus, I shared my knowledge on the current crisis-COVID-19 and how it impacts the business community in Ghana and beyond.

In a series of broadcasts, I educated the general public especially the business community on how to keep in touch with their customers through corporate social responsibility (CSR), show more solidarity and come up with packages that will help their customers to survive during the pandemic.  This timely information, education and more regarding COVID-19 came at the time where people were depressed as they pondered over the fate of their businesses and jobs while on lockdown. The medium available to me which is Radio Angelus was consistently used to provide real-time information, relieve fears and myths on COVID-19 and its health safety measures to the audience.

My easy adaptability to mobile conferences via Zoom, Skype, and WhatsApp thereby connecting psychology, health, financial and business experts who were in hard to reach areas to share their expertise with audiences on Radio Angelus was just phenomenal.

In fact, had it not been this crisis, I wouldn’t have discovered the relevance of mobile applications to global communication.  The success story of all the above is that the online presence for radio angelus today has grown significantly with a larger listening community audience. In fact, the period of the lockdown and the famous “stay at home” directives proved a point to me that work is something one does and not a place they go. And since the lockdown and its aftermath, I have been doing a series of volunteering activities from home.

Prior to this crisis, time was a challenge as I struggled to juggle between academic work and other activities. However, it was the reverse of the above as I took advantage of the closure of schools to do more of these activities.

Again, within this COVID period, I had the opportunity to engage in personal growth and development. My research skills were sharpened as I spent more time at home watching tutorials and reading books on regression and correlation analysis, cross-tabulations among others via the internet.

With this new skill set, I was able to assist some students with their research projects thereby proofreading, editing, running correlational analysis and making valid inputs. In addition, as a student of communication, in turning this crisis into an opportunity while at home, I subscribed to some free online courses that are on project management, data journalism, and info-graphic creation on “Coursera” online platform, just to acquire new skills. I’ve also watched some ‘how-to-do piece’ on YouTube where I learnt video editing with filmora.  Ever since I learnt this editing skill, I’ve been assisting my lecturer and church for the compilation of short video lectures and sermons respectively.

Another opportunity I’ve discovered during this COVID-19 era is my time with children.   Apparently children have interesting stories and bigger dreams that can transform nations which they hope to achieve through higher learning. However, while schools remain suspended with no date of reopening as at 30th May 2020, the dreams of these farmers, architects, astronauts, pilots, nurses, doctors, mechanics, and computer programmers appeared to be dwindling. My fortunate contact with these kids who are in lower and upper primary respectively for the past weeks now have been revealing.  Since then, I have been teaching and inspiring these kids while we wait for school to reopen. I am glad for this initiative because I’ve been able to drum home the desire to read more and play less.

I’ve been able to revive dreams and chart a course for academic excellence and disabused minds of kids who feel family poverty could hinder their progress. My inspiration to these kids was based on the quote “seek academic excellence, but be prayerful and humble and all closed financial doors shall be opened”. Time unavailability and overload of academic work have deprived me having time with Kids although it has always been my desire to impart knowledge and inspire them. However, COVID-19 crisis though traumatizing has enabled me to meet these kids at home.

In a nutshell,   as an adage; as the bird learns to fly without perching, so the hunter also learns to shoot without missing. To it, as COVID-19 gains notoriety, so are people learning to live with it. In Ghana, for instance, most ‘Covidpreneurs’ that is; entrepreneurs that have sprung up during the COVID-19 era to develop businesses around the crisis are not relenting on their efforts.

Tailors, seamstresses, and producers of liquid soap and hand sanitizers have taken advantage of the crisis as they diversify and expand their businesses. Other manufacturers such as ventilator and veronica bucket innovators, food and beverage producers, research bodies, herbal drug producers and App developers who designed contact tracing apps were not left out of the covidpreneur equation.   The seeming diversification in the above respective fields has brought a spike in mass production of commodities ranging from personal protective equipment (PPE) such as nose masks, gloves, hand sanitizers, ventilators, hand washing devices, mobile applications among others.

The needs and demands of these items especially the PPE’s as recommended by the WHO astronomically shot up due to the pandemic, and as such has become a booming situation for production companies.

But for COVID-19 these brilliant ideas and innovations wouldn’t have been hatched.

Today, I am glad to be part of covidpreneurs!!!

The writer, Mensah Richard Adonu is a student at the Ghana Institute of Journalism,

Email: [email protected]

Source: Mensah Richard Adonu | Email: [email protected]

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