Video conference of the participants of the Study Trips to Africa

May 7, 2020

„Please fasten your seatbelts and turn off your microphones. “

For the second time, the Global Bridges motto “We go there” was transformed into “We zoom there”. After the first video conference with participants of our previous Study Trips to Africa was a great success, all of the participants met online to zoom into an exciting discussion. This time, the destination was Accra, Ghana.

The discussion was complemented by personal reports from Samuel Boakye Opoku, Project Manager of the Delegation of German Industry  and Commerce in Ghana (AHK), and Mubarak Sumaila, CEO and Co-Founder of BezoMoney, who informed about their current work in the economic sector in Ghana.

Claudia Winterstein opened the discussion with the current Corona figures from May 7, 2020 in Ghana. For this day, the number of people infected with Covid-19 is estimated to be 3091. About 303 persons have regenerated and 18 deaths are reported. According to Opoku, however, the estimated number of people infected with Covid-19 is significantly higher. The number of people suffering from Covid-19 is estimated at 100,000. Opoku mentions the limited testing facilities in Ghana as a reason for the low number of confirmed cases.

He further reports that the lockdown was lifted by the Ghanaian government on April 20, 2020. However, numerous restrictions remain in place, such as bans on public events. The measures in Ghana, namely social distancing, are particularly targeted at the informal sector, which leads to difficulties in the public sector such as markets and public transports.

Since approximately 50 percent of the gross domestic product is generated via the informal economic sector, the lockdown will cause difficulties for the overall economic situation in Ghana, Opoku says. However, Ghana is receiving numerous financial and material support from investors, countries and foundations, including MasterCard and the Chinese online portal Alibaba. In addition, the World Bank provided the country with 100 million US dollars just one day after the lockdown came into effect. With this money, the government is supporting the health care system and the informal sector with funding, among other things. Nevertheless, many companies are forced to close down during the pandemic. Some even have to shut down for good. A study by the AHK shows that 77 German, French and Ghanaian companies producing in Ghana are experiencing economic losses of 75 percent. This mainly affects companies in the start-up, logistics, construction and heavy industry sectors. According to the study, the majority of the companies hope that the situation will improve from September onwards and that staff reductions can be avoided. This will require government loans; the government has promised the companies 600 million US dollars.

With regard to German-Ghanaian relations, Opoku reports that the German Federal Ministry of Economics and Development (BMZ) is currently not providing any direct money. However, it has initiated the “#Smart Development Hackathon” instrument, which is intended to link companies, start-ups and entrepreneurs to develop innovative ideas and solutions on the subject of Covid-19 and Ghana. Exact figures are expected to be announced on May 14 and 15.

BezoMoney: Save up, Save together

The start-up BezoMoney has developed a helpful approach for the informal sector. A digital saving platform has been created that supports individuals and groups to save money and take out loans based on their savings. The CEO and Co-Founder, Mubarak Sumaila, explains that Ghanaians have developed an informal system for saving money. Many of the people in Ghana cannot participate in the conventional banking system and therefore collect their money in groups. However, this principle poses the problem that the system is not transparent and no official information on personal savings is available. Without information about any assets, however, it is not possible to borrow from banks or other institutions, which leaves only the informal sector as a source of supply. BezoMoney works together with financial institutions, mobile money providers and payment processors and provides official savings opportunities for groups and individuals, helping people to achieve financial and social advancement.

Bittersweet Chocolate

On the occasion of a recent study by the University of Chicago, the conversation was concluded with a discussion about cocoa cultivation in Ghana. Cocoa production is one of the largest agricultural sectors in Ghana. However, this production is discredited for allowing dangerous child labor and exposing children to the use of toxic agrochemicals and tools that are not appropriate for children.

According to Opoku, conditions for children have improved with the renewal of the education system a few years ago. Children of cocoa farmers are offered the opportunity of free school education. In addition, the organization “Farmerline” offers cocoa farmers further training in the areas of pesticides, plants and sustainability and uses an app to disseminate knowledge about the correct cultivation of cocoa plants. Furthermore, verified cocoa cultivation under the Fair-Trade label has a positive impact on the cultivation and extraction of cocoa beans. The demand for fair trade beans is increasing and some companies only cooperate with certified farmers. This has an effect on the farmers’ attitude towards cultivation and work on the cocoa plantations. So, if we want to reward ourselves with a bittersweet piece of chocolate, it pays off best if we also look at the packaging (Fair Trade label).



April 8, 2020

On April 8, the Global Bridges motto “We go there” was temporarily changed to “We zoom there”. In an almost 90-minute online video conference, 15 participants of the last two Study Trips to the African continent discussed the current situation in Ethiopia as well as approaches to support the country in this situation.

After a month of social distancing, all participants were looking forward to the virtual meeting. Dr Claudia Winterstein opened the discussion with an overview of the current Corona situation in Africa: The first positive tested Corona case occurred in Egypt on February 14. Since then the development has been rapid. As of April 8, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) counted 10,000 confirmed infections and 500 fatal courses of the disease COVID-19 on the African continent. The catalogue of measures taken by individual countries ranges from imposing a national curfew (Rwanda) to releasing 4,000 prisoners and postponing parliamentary elections (Ethiopia).

Subsequently, our member Dr. Philipp Schuller, together with his guest Stephan Willms, presented the project “10,000 ventilators for Ethiopia“, which was started by their initiative Africa Enablers. The project is intended to respond to the chronic funding shortage and inadequate equipment of the Ethiopian health system. In particular, the subordinate access to ventilators in comparison to major international powers had to be countered by local production of a clinical ventilator for oxygen supply.

About 80 percent of the components are to be produced locally, about 10-15 percent are to be manufactured with 3D printers and only a small part is to be imported via international supply chains. This is possible because the product should be adapted to medical needs and the level of training of the staff. A team of 10 engineers is currently examining the user-specific requirements and testing the availability of comparable preliminary products on the Ethiopian market.

The project has already received much approval and support from official bodies such as ministries and the Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ). For example, GIZ formed a special task force to enable decisions to be made within a few days. Nevertheless, it is still necessary to secure financing (talks are underway, i.e. with the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ)). Furthermore, in order to bypass bureaucratic hurdles, it would be an advantage to obtain the necessary certification of the product in Germany.

The fact that Ethiopia declared a national state of emergency on April 8 underlines the urgency of the situation. This means that far-reaching decisions, for example on more restrictions on public life, can be taken within 48 hours. The Ethiopian Government expects the pandemic to cause a severe economic slump, causing political unrest. The government estimates the consequences of the pandemic to be much more serious than the virus itself.

The long-term goal of the project is to help beyond the times of the Corona pandemic and to make sustainable investments in Africa. For this reason, the design of the ventilator and the production process will be made public – copying by third parties is explicitly desired. Earliest production start is at the end of May. At the same time a rollout in Mozambique, Kenya and Somalia is being considered. Expressions of interest have already been received.

Small tractors for smallholders
Global Bridges members Tobias Knoch and Elmar Stachels presented another interesting project with their initiative “Small tractors for African smallholders”. The visit to Ghana in autumn 2019 showed us that a farmer’s enthusiasm can only lead to limited success if there is a lack of mechanical equipment. An Ethiopian farmer cultivates on average between 1-3 hectares of land with the simplest tools.

There are two possible solutions: On the one hand, to provide high-quality tractors based on the model of a sharing service (such as via Hello Tractor). The disadvantage is that few tractors meet a high demand. Therefore, the second solution is considered to be more target-oriented: Equipment is produced and serviced locally and the whole thing has to be affordable for simple smallholders.

The feedback of the first video conference was very positive, so that the group of participants suggested to hold further calls in a time rhythm of about one month.