lockdown fuels food shortages in Africa

Business: As lockdown fuels food shortages, Africa goes online for groceries

In between her shifts, Zimbabwean nurse Sinothando Mpofu used to go to Bulawayo’s open-air markets to buy tomatoes and cabbages for her family – until the country’s coronavirus lockdown closed all stalls.

Mpofu worried about where she would get fresh food, until she saw a message in her local church WhatsApp group about Fresh in a Box – one of rising numbers of African tech companies getting fresh food to people under lockdown.

Now she puts in an order online and gets a box of produce delivered to her home every week. The fruits and vegetables are better quality than the food she used to buy at the supermarket, she said, at about a third of the cost.

“Buying vegetables at a local supermarket is very expensive, but now I get a variety of vegetables and I eat balanced meals all the time,” Mpofu, 37, said, adding that she will keep using the site even after lockdown ends.

In Nigeria, entrepreneur Luther Lawoyin realised that bulk purchases could save consumers from overspending on food.

He launched PricePally – described as a digital food cooperative – in November 2019, as a way of letting people buy food online in bulk from farmers and wholesalers and split the cost with other site users.

“When the coronavirus (outbreak) was really picking up in Nigeria, we noticed a spike in our traffic and sales, so we figured that people need help to get their food items and, especially, to avoid the market,” said Lawoyin.

The site’s customers save at least 15% on the food they buy, he added.

PricePally had about 320 paying users before the virus hit – that number shot up to more than 1,000 after the country’s lockdown kicked in on March 30, Lawoyin said.