By Moses Charedzera
With uncertainty over how long covid-19 will be with us before it is subdued by a vaccine or our bodies developing natural immunity to the coronavirus, living under the pandemic is now been called the ‘new normal’.
Many of us have taken longer to reflect on what has hit us and chart a way forward. Some have not even begun the process of counting their losses.
Many are still dazed and moving on in a reverie, failing to come to grips with the devastation the pandemic has caused on their livelihoods.
Countries like the USA which track mental health say there is a rise in mental ill health due to covid-19.
In Harare, across city blocks where stood bustling informal markets with traders and customers haggling over prices now stand yawning and forlorn spaces, with no evidence that these places were once the engine and drivers of the informal economy.
I will not forget a chance encounter with a woman who imports bales of second hand clothes last year. I gave her a lift on a sunny morning into town and we started a friendly chat on the way.
I wanted to find out about her business and in no time, I was told, chin up, that she was doing fine and was sending a son to a private boarding school with the proceeds of her trade.
Suddenly the bulldozer has taken down her stall and a ban on the importation of second hand clothes has taken the wind out of her sails.
Such has been the calamity facing many informal traders whoplied their trade in city spaces in Harare and other urban areas.The question is how do you respond to such a situation?
The most audacious response seems to come from vendors. They have been quicker off the blocks one could say. First, they have understood the need to harness technology and are using social media to market their goods.
If communication thinker Marshall McLuhan concluded that the medium is the message, we may as well say the technology is the business, basically arguing as the lockdown continues, businesses which are not techno savvy and unable to exploit the opportunities and possibilities presented by online technology, may find survival a very difficult proposition.
Now, in my neighourhood WhatsApp group you can literally find everything from fresh produce, kitchen utensils to hardware.
This neighborhood network has even come in handy saving travel cost and time, let alone the hustle of passing through roadblocks meant to enforce covid-19 regulations.
Instead of driving off to Mbare or to a supermarket, you can access fresh farm produce within the neighborhood by responding to adverts or posting a product inquiry.
While the neighbourhood online market has taken on steadily, with huge potential for growth, traditional vending is also adapting, reflecting the increasing number of traders using pick-ups and car boots to sell farm produce in suburbs. The list of traders has now expanded into pest control insecticides, clothes, groceries and other products.
In my neighbourhood there is even an online facility for ordering cheap groceries from South Africa. I don’t know how they come in with the South African border closed!
In the high density suburbs new market stalls have also sprung up in front of fences and gates without the ‘sophistication’ of the tuck shop. Other vendors have taken to the traditional door to door method to directly market their products. This has seen more regular and insistent calls to buy this or that product during the day.
Those with cars are now doing the rounds in each street,especially sellers of agricultural produce.
But when you look at the situation you realise that there is need for realigning and focusing technology to markets.
We have so long relied on gathering at crowded places to buy provisions. We have relied on piling up produce at one or two places and relying on crowds to come and buy.
A lot has been expended towards this warehousing system which stores and distributes products to middlemen or retailers, then to customers.
Along this value chain are mark ups which make products expensive without benefiting the primary producer and the farmer in respect to agricultural produce.
There is therefore scope for an Uber like application that allows people to purchase products near the vicinity of their location, thus saving in time and cost while enhancing convenience.
With coronavirus caseloads keeping rising in Zimbabwe and elsewhere in Africa, we need to reconfigure local markets and figure how best we can use available technology for efficient,cost effective and sustainable marketing of products.