You are here:

Helping small rural businesses stay afloat in the COVID-19 era


Assy Ba is a Senegalese restaurant owner in the small town of Manda. Located in the region of Tambacounda, southeast of the capital Dakar, Manda sits at the crossroads of two major routes to southern Senegal and neighbouring Guinea-Bissau. Such a strategic location would normally ensure steady influx of customers at Assy’s restaurant.

However, since the Senegalese government introduced restrictions on movement in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak, including an inter-city travel ban, the usual footfall at her restaurant has plummeted. Assy’s business also relied on income from customers attending a local weekly market but that has since been banned. Her only current source of income is to sell food and drinks to the remaining trickle of customers resident in Manda.

Assy was amongst several rural women selected by Energy 4 Impact to participate in an economic empowerment programme. Supported by ENERGIA, it provided female entrepreneurs, involved in farming, dairy production, agriculture and retail, access to renewable energy technologies, such as solar-powered pumps, freezers, and equipment for drying, milling, and processing crops. The overall goal was to improve their livelihood, income and living standards.

In January 2020, Energy 4 Impact helped Assy acquire a solar freezer so she could refrigerate drinks and foods, increase her offer and reduce food wastage. Before the current crisis, Assy typically saw a turnover of around $400 per month with a profit of around $80 after deduction of all charges and credit repayments.

However, since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, her family has been deprived of a sufficient source of income to meet their monthly expenses. Assy is the only provider in the household because her husband is too old to work. The couple have eight children.

Energy 4 Impact studied the impact of the crisis on a sample of women entrepreneurs it supports. It found that 95% said they very worried about their financial future and how their declining income will impact access to food and health. Seventy percent of them said that their business was strongly impacted mainly by the loss of customers and the supply of raw materials. In such circumstances, they are experiencing difficulties in repaying their loans.

Micro-businesses like Assy’s restaurant need a full range of coordinated support measures in order to safeguard livelihoods, but these are not sufficiently provided by either national government or local authorities.

The government and the civil societies are looking at options but lack funds, so help from them isn’t going to come any time soon, 

explains Jean-Cesar Ndione, Energy 4 Impact’s Access to Finance Officer in Senegal.

Meanwhile, Energy 4 Impact’s staff on the ground are doing all they can to provide practical support to a range of businesswomen. “We have contacted the company that provided the freezer on credit, to make them aware of Assy’s difficulties in honouring her next repayment. The supplier is very understanding of the situation and has agreed to delay the deadline,” says Jean-Cesar. Such flexibility from lenders will at least give entrepreneurs like Assy some breathing space.

At the same time, the Senegalese Central Bank has authorised Micro Finance Institutions (MFIs) to grant companies affected by the COVID-19 restrictions an extension of deadlines for loans. Such extensions apply over a period of three months, without interest charges, fees or late penalties, with a  further option to renew once. Energy 4 Impact has supported Assy in her request for such extension.

COVID-19 has undoubtedly presented some unique challenges for these female entrepreneurs.

We believe it is crucial, more than ever before, to focus on expanding energy access to power economic activities, as this has a very tangible impact on women’s welfare and opportunities,

said Energy 4 Impact’s West Africa Director, Mathieu Dall. Therefore, Energy 4 Impact sees their current support  as part and parcel of an ongoing long-term commitment to improving energy access for women in Africa.