Pandemics often take longer to reach Africa as it is less interconnected with other regions, however we are now witnessing an increase in cases and local transmission in our countries of operation.
COVID-19 has reached the very poorest communities. Thousands of families who are living in extreme poverty are now facing this additional threat.
Zimbabwe has been on lockdown since 30th March and similar measures are expected in Zambia. The Malawian government previously announced a lockdown, however implementation has now halted. An injunction by The High Court deemed the lockdown premature highlighting more support must first be provided to guarantee national food security.
We are working with local governments, communities and financial regulators to find the best solutions to minimise the risk and impact on our beneficiaries, staff and operations.
Disbursement of loans in Zimbabwe has paused due to the lockdown. The impact of this will be devastating for our beneficiaries, and there is a great concern that restrictions on movement will create food shortages. No loans were provided in Malawi or Zambia throughout April due to the uncertainty and ever-changing circumstances surrounding the virus. However we are pleased that operations in these countries are now able to proceed and we can ensure the women receive the vital support they need throughout the crises. As smallholder farmers and caregivers, the women we support are providing services and goods that are essential for the survival of their families and communities.
Malawi has announced plans to provide emergency cash transfers to 172,000 households, with the aim of protecting people’s livelihoods. However we cannot be sure how many people these transfers will support, and how quickly they will reach families in the most rural areas. For many communities already living in poverty, the risk of starvation is as great as the risk of the coronavirus. We know that women’s livelihoods will collapse if they do not receive access to capital and support.
What is MicroLoan Foundation doing to help?
As a finance provider, MicroLoan’s services are considered essential for the wellbeing of communities. Even during lockdown we will continue delivering our important work in line with government guidelines as long as it is safe for our beneficiaries and staff. Our services are delivered through group meetings and support. We are now having to drastically change our methods to protect those we work with.
Mentoring and supporting women to help their businesses survive: We are providing additional mentoring and business support for the women, helping them restructure or diversify to ensure their businesses survive.
Writing off and rescheduling loans to reduce pressure: During this emergency we will write off and reschedule loans as we want to remove any unnecessary stress for the women at this challenging time. This means they can focus on looking after their families and communities.
Providing emergency capital to ensure they have the cash-flow to continue running their business: In times of crises we know that our women are struggling with cash-flow. Where possible we will provide emergency loans for the women who need it. Agricultural produce and food businesses are essential for the survival of communities. We need to do everything we can to support the women running these businesses and prevent a famine.
Protective equipment and digital services to reduce transmission: We are investing in technology to help us stay in contact and support the women remotely. In locations were the technology permits, we are providing emergency loans through mobile money rather than cash handling. Staff are working from home and if they do have to go out into the field, we are ensuring they have the correct equipment and hand washing facilities or hand sanitisers to keep the women and themselves safe.
The safety and well-being of our beneficiaries and staff are our greatest concerns and we are doing everything in our power to keep them safe.