COVID-19 in Madagascar: Balance between threat and opportunity

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Life in Madagascar takes place out on the streets. Social distancing is an enormous challenge, staying and working from home is not easily implemented.

The new virus does not make halt before boarders and poses a global threat — everyone is affected. While the news in Switzerland are full of articles about Corona, covering the newest research insights, latest statistics, what it does to people’s loneliness, to a society, to our social, health and education systems…we read little about the situation in African countries. While cases are confirmed everywhere, the actual extent of the spreading is unknown. The virus poses an even greater threat for countries with underdeveloped markets, fragile health systems and where citizens do not receive transparent information.

This is the situation we face in Madagascar, where we witness the closest insights to the Covid-19 development. While the situation poses a challenge and the fact that further developments and long-term impacts are hard to predict is worrisome, what we have experienced so far, particularly in relation to our nemaco team, also encourages us.

Thankfully, Madagascar acted quickly and took measures early. Airports and harbors are closed since the end of March and at least for 30 days. Schools are closed countrywide; the capital is in full lockdown. To date, there are around 1’000 confirmed cases and no fatalities. In Tulear, where nemaco is based, there are three cases according to our team. The local hospital is said to have testing equipment and anyone coming in from outside needs to self-isolate. Tourists are gone, bars, restaurants, hotels are all closed. We remain hopeful that the island manages to avoid any broad spreading of the virus. Albeit the difficulty to receive accurate information, our team is well-informed and regularly briefed by Vola, our Directrice, about the impact of the virus and the importance of hygiene.

The threat of the virus has united our local team. They suggested to work for only half salary in April, which will help to bridge this difficult time from a liquidity standpoint. The goal is to ensure the liquidity of nemaco during these difficult months while protecting the health of our employees and keeping the team together. Our lowest paid employees in the field still receive their normal salary. We are constantly in touch with our local team and are taking decisions together. Careful hygiene measures are implemented to ensure that the virus is not carried into the field. Working from home is a very limited option as the households do not have any internet connection. The employees at the office work in rotation.

Creative ideas have emerged out of the challenging situation, which has forced us to strongly reduce our fish operations for the moment. We cannot sell a large quantity of the fresh products as restaurants & hotels in Tulear and the capital are closed. High-quality seafood is currently no one’s priority. The team quickly started to evaluate options to continue the fish business, such as online sales with a partner, drying and smoking the fish to store it longer, promoting it as an important source of a healthy diet, looking into a quicker export, etc. For the coastal communities, where fish is their only source of income, it is pivotal that they can still sell their catch. While all competitors have stopped collecting, nemaco remains present in the region as a loyal partner. Further initiatives are keeping the field team busy. We have turned around our supply chain and are transporting necessities to the fishing villages, using our NEXUS Centers as storage and sales points. The Centers are being cleaned, flowers are being planted, we are using the time to improve the cold chain with trainings for the employees.

It is hard to say, what the future will bring. We remain positive and hopeful that we can continue with our activities. As we continuously assess the situation it seems that our planning and goals will be delayed by up to three months. We are proud of our local team, which is pulling together, mobilizing forces and ideas to get through the crisis together. A quote I read in an article from a protest in Algier just before these were forbidden due to the virus said: «The virus doesn’t scare us; we grew up in misery.» This resembles the mood we experience in Madagascar. The people are used to hardship, they keep calm and carry on the best they can.

Source: nexus ch

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