UNCTAD empowers 300 women small traders from five countries with better knowledge of trade rules, customs procedures and entrepreneurial skills.
Pauline Satau, a small business owner from the village of Kazungula in northeastern Botswana, had no intention of being an informal cross-border trader.
Like about 70% of informal cross-border traders in the Southern African region, she went into business out of necessity and a desire to feed her family.
And for many years, that’s exactly what she did, expanding her business from selling corn on the cob to raising poultry.
In 2020, she expanded her business by conducting cross-border trade with neighboring Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Then COVID-19 hit, forcing it to close and causing profound and disproportionate consequences for low-income households and small businesses.
“The pandemic has brought my hard work to a screeching halt,” she said.
Proof the revival of African small businesses
Ms. Satau was among 300 small traders who benefited from the UNCTAD training program on cross-border trade and entrepreneurship held in border towns of Botswana, Kenya, Malawi, Tanzania and Zambia between February 2021 and May 2022.
UNCTAD organized nine six-day training sessions under a multi-agency United Nations project titled “Global Initiative Towards the Post-COVID-19 Resurgence of the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME) Sector”.
The project aimed to rebuild livelihoods and mitigate the effects of the pandemic.
“The training sharpened my business skills. I learned not to stagnate, but to scale my business,” Ms. Satau said.
The training program included the dissemination of guides for traders, content on COVID-19 control measures and sessions on strategies to make businesses more resilient.
It also included opportunities for engagement between traders and border officials to dispel long-standing mistrust between them.
“Without the training, I would have continued down the path of playing small in this industry,” said Kefilwe Mogaetsho, a participant from Botswana.
Pauline Satau, a cross-border trader from Botswana.
How the training sessions helped
During a sub-regional project workshop organized by UNCTAD in June 2022, participants heard feedback reported by trainees.
More than 90% of them said they had gained the confidence to pass through official border posts thanks to their better understanding of trade and customs rules.
And 96% of them say they are ready to adopt new business models.
“Now that I know the rules, I spend less time clearing my goods,” said one trader, adding, “I’m not afraid of customs officers anymore.”
Some Tanzanian border customs officials said the number of women carrying small consignments through official border posts had increased steadily and smuggling cases had decreased after the training.
UNCTAD shared with policy makers the experiences and lessons learned from the training. This will help advance evidence-based policymaking, informed by the challenges, priority needs and expectations of small traders.
Various United Nations entities, international and regional organizations, representatives of relevant ministries of the five beneficiary countries and associations of cross-border traders took part in the workshop.
Call for more training
Participants requested more training and support from UNCTAD.
“More training will help reduce unemployment in Malawi because our best investment is in women,” said Emily Rose Mandala of the Malawi Cross Border Trade Association.
“UNCTAD stands ready to help countries help more women overcome barriers to trade and build their resilience to crises,” said Simonetta Zarrilli, who leads the organization’s trade and gender programme.