Learning from 48th DITF: SMEs must become resilient to ensure a sustainable future

THE 48th DITF exhibition this year once again echoed the record by having two Presidents inaugurate it at the Sabasaba grounds: Tanzania’s President Samia Suluhu Hassan and Mozambican counterpart Filipe Nyusi, who made a three-day state visit.

This history is distinctive and, in my opinion, keeps Tanzanian commercial promotion opportunities strong, particularly for micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) that will have a chance to showcase their products and services.

As is customary, the Dar es Salaam International Trade Fair (DITF) runs from June 28 to July 13.

After observing these exhibitions for the last eleven years, DITF continues to position itself as the most excellent international trade promotion platform in the Eastern and Central African region.

As compared to last year’s exhibition, this year’s vast array of products which is unquestionably that the participating sectors are expanding by fortifying their products, which may open up an opportunity for the MSMEs category.

Dar es Salaam port provides excellent support to the region while the fair serves as a onestop shop for nations like the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Zambia, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Botswana.

According to my analysis, participation has consistently increased from over 100 firms in the late 1980s to over 1,041 in 1999 and over 3500 this year.

The growing number of exhibitors at this exhibition allows me to reflect deeply on the country’s MSME community, particularly when considering how they can contribute to producing goods that can withstand competition.

MSME’s existence is crucial to the country’s economy. Without resilient MSMEs, the world could not accomplish the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development on the World Micro, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (MSMEs) Day.

According to a Chagga proverb interpreted in the book of Kilimanjaro and its people, authored by Dundas Charles, in my interpretation, MSMEs are today’s bush and tomorrow’s forest.

And, according to the International Council for Small Businesses, MSMEs account for over 90 per cent of all businesses worldwide, employ over 70 per cent of the workforce, and generate over 50 per cent of GDP.

Analysis and interpretation of the NBS data drawn from previous national census also indicate that MSMEs contribute a significant portion to GDP in Tanzania.

They also help to accomplish all of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Though it’s not often stated, some of the MSMEs taking part in this year’s Sabasaba fair are fostering creative solutions to challenging development issues using new technologies, such as digitalisation.

They use local resources, expertise and experience to create local solutions.

However, limited assets and a high informality make obtaining capitals to support expansion challenging. Smaller companies are, therefore, more susceptible to shocks and disasters like Covid-19.

After years of observing these MSMEs and their involvement in the trade show, I have concluded that many women, young people and those from lower-class find themselves in precarious employment due to informality.

The bulk of workers in Africa’s informal sector are women.

Nevertheless, women own just onethird of MSMEs that are properly registered. Many young women and aspiring business owners lack mentors and helpful networks. Consequently, women-owned MSMEs are more likely to have fewer employees, smaller sizes, shorter lifespans and lower sales and yearly turnover than MSMEs owned by men.

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A quicker, more equitable, and environmentally friendly recovery in Africa can be achieved by turning the tide on informality and enhancing MSMEs’ performance.

Supporting young people and women-owned enterprises must be the first step. These companies could create more jobs and innovate more if they had access to funding, top-notch business training and strategic mentoring opportunities.

As a country, we must take the initiative and carefully consider how to unlock the potential in this industry as we plan for Vision 2050. Investing in an integrated ecosystem is necessary to help MSMEs expand past the point of survival.

This could involve market research, deep analytics, and a prototype integrated ecosystem that supports MSMEs in particular districts.

Support for strategic communication is also provided, along with an easily navigable digital platform that links MSMEs to partnerships, resources and expertise.

These MSMEs can benefit significantly from working with partners in the local government, national investment, export promotion and enterprise development institutions in the private sector.

MSMEs’ awareness of and capacity for engaging in cross-border business within the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) is still low.

Tanzania’s economic environment will change with more funding and strategic alliances for resilient, eco-friendly small companies run by women and young people.

It will support realising the continent’s economic goals and hasten the inclusive and sustainable recovery from ongoing environmental, financial and social crises.

The time has come to expand multi-partner cooperative platforms that assist national priorities in fully realising the MSMEs’ huge revolutionary potential and fuelling the long-term prosperity of Tanzania.

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