There is no denying that informal sector players in Malawi are subjected to all sorts of misery and suffering.
Since time immemorial, informal sector players have grappled to make ends meet and survive in the prevailing tough economic environment, characterized by the skyrocketing high cost of living triggered by the implementation of monetary reforms such as the 49 devaluation of the kwacha and the subsequent floatation of the currency-which has seen the kwacha steadfastly ceding to all major international currencies.
In a nutshell, it is a fact that to-date several external and internal challenges continue to confront the informal economy in Malawi and even government is pretty aware of this.
A study conducted by the Malawi Congress of Trade Unions (MCTU) in 2011 on Malawi’s informal sector also revealed serious challenges that workers in the sector are facing that range from lack of social security and harassment by public officials.
For instance, though informal sector players regularly pay market fees, markets do not have amenities such as free public toilets, adequate water supply, drainage and regular solid waste collection.
Most workers in the informal economy are also subjected to harassment by town or city council officials, according to the study.
In Malawi, it is well documented that the majority of people plying their trade are in the informal sector.
Some found themselves in this sector because of retrenchments or downsizing and others are school-leavers or widows seeking to make a living; and some are entrepreneurs who have built up their own businesses.
It is against this background that one prominent institution, the Technical, Entrepreneurial and Vocational Education and Training Authority (Teveta) is leaving no stone unturned to mend gaps in the country’s informal sector by empowering and uplifting players in the sector.
Teveta defines informal sector as all small and medium enterprises operating in rural or urban areas consisting of a range of informal enterprises and informal jobs.
Teveta information specialist Lewis Msasa said in an interview on Thursday that the informal sector in Malawi is like a nursery of formal sector and is a silent engine of growing economies, hence their involvement to alleviate miseries in the sector.
Teveta, according to Msasa, has several programmes targeting various players in the informal sector such as the Small Enterprise Development (SED) programme, the Skills Development Initiative (SDI) and the On the Job Training (OJT) programme.
The Sed programme is offering support to small businesses by facilitating business management courses and recommending the appropriate technology that could boost production or goods and services while the SDI is targeting both micro entrepreneurs who would like to upgrade their skills as well as youths who would like to learn a particular occupation.
On one hand, the OJT programme is taking advantage of community development programmes, especially in construction.
But as Msasa observes, all training curricula at Teveta used in the informal sector are developed by quality assurance section which also monitors training sessions before any certificates are given to participants.
He said Teveta also makes sure that only competent and qualified facilitators are identified to facilitate training programs.
“Given the opportunity and the resources, the informal sector is well placed to contribute to the value addition of products in this country. For example, most of the fresh foods are marketed in the informal sector.
This suggests that if the sector was given the right resources and training, there would be a lot of value addition going on in the informal sector, thus increasing the export base of the country,” said Msasa.
Msasa emphasised that the best way to organise the informal sector is through formation of sector associations so that they are able to organise and speak with one unified voice and fight for their rights.
He said Teveta is currently in the process of forming and consolidating a National Informal Sector Association which he hoped will culminate into the formation of the same at grass root level.
On challenges facing the sector, Msasa said major challenges include lack of capital to boost businesses, a lack of training, lack of shelter and lack of organisation.
Government, through the Ministry of Industry and Trade is also pretty aware of the booming informal sector and says it acknowledges efforts that Teveta is doing to help ameliorate informal sector challenges.