Eco-Inclusive Enterprises in Developing Countries Innovating to Fight COVID-19

Sewing at Kibebe - SEED

The pandemic is impacting businesses: disruptions in supply chains, financial losses, layoffs. But sometimes crisis breeds positivity as well. Some enterprises in developing and emerging countries are finding solutions to keep themselves afloat and solving problems their communities are facing.


To stop the spread of COVID-19, countries across the world have asked people to stay home and shut down transport, businesses and services with the exception of those that are deemed essential. The pandemic is impacting businesses in unprecedented ways, especially Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) in developing countries and emerging economies that have just started out, or that have limited financial buffers.

Impacts of COVID-19 on SMEs in developing countries

In some countries, the stringent restrictions on movement, the lack of transport, labour shortages and market shutdowns are causing serious disruptions across supply chains. Fresh produce accumulating at farms, leading to food waste and financial losses for farmers who are unable to sell their produce, or disruptions in the supply and maintenance of clean tech material (such as solar photovoltaic panels) are just a few examples.

Lack of information and awareness on COVID-19 also causes issues; the spread of misinformation, unproven prevention measures and useless ‘cures’ which make people more vulnerable to the virus. Other effects caused by COVID-19 include layoffs and reduced incomes, which significantly impact the livelihoods of families and their ability to survive this pandemic.

SEED-supported enterprises are finding solutions to problems caused by COVID-19 crisis

SEED is a global partnership for supporting sustainable development and the green economy worldwide. Since 2002 SEED is supporting eco-inclusive enterprises. In the case of some SEED-supported enterprises, we’re seeing widespread resilience, with enterprises finding new solutions to transport limitations, focusing on new product lines, markets and partnerships. In this context, a few innovative eco-inclusive enterprises are coming up with resourceful ways to not only keep themselves afloat but also to solve the problems their communities are facing due to the COVID-19 crisis.

Examples of innovative responses to the current crisis

Here are some examples of SEED supported eco-inclusive enterprises and their innovative response to the current crisis:

Spreading vital information about COVID-19 to farmers

Normally, Farmerline uses its mobile-based platform to share best practices and weather forecasts with farmers, but during the current crisis, the platform is also being used to deliver vital World Health Organisation information about COVID-19 to farmers across Ghana. The messages explain what the virus is, how it spreads, the symptoms to look out for and protective measures farmers can implement to stop the virus from spreading. Through mobile voice and text messages, they spread vital tips and advice in local languages. So far, 43,732 minutes of COVID-19 tips in Twi have been sent out to 7,844 farmers. They are also currently enlisting volunteers through social media to record voice messages in 13 additional local languages.

Stepping in to overcome shortages of face masks and other protective equipment

During the crisis, Ecoplastile had to stop their operations in Uganda which focused on processing plastic waste into material used for construction. They noticed the environmental and health problems of using single-use face masks on their community and have started producing multi-use and biodegradable face masks in partnership with an Australian-based impact investment venture, EarthTech. Ecoplastile is currently looking to work with marginalised youth and women with skills in tailoring and design to increase the production of face masks and help people in Uganda fight the virus.

In Zimbabwe, two SEED enterprises  – Tonderai Nhura, founder of Biogenesis Organic Sweet Potatoes, and his wife Doreen Nhura, founder of Solar Bags Zimbabwe – are collaborating to make face masks. They are considering sewing face masks from recycled materials to distribute to hospitals, prisons, and farmers’ market in their area. They have a prototype and are only waiting for certification, which has been delayed due to the current lockdown in Zimbabwe.

In Malawi, Kibebe was also affected by COVID-19. Their main business selling accessories from upcycled waste products has “completely vanished”. The critical health situation in Malawi made them realise that they can redirect their trained artisan staff into producing face masks to help slow the spread of the virus. They were able to acquire 20 sewing machines from closed tailoring schools and 40 through a donor grant for producing face masks. They have temporarily hired new staff and volunteers to increase production capacity and meet the high demand for face masks. They also recently announced that they are attempting to make protective personal equipment for hospital staff.  

These eco-inclusive enterprises are taking advantage of new business opportunities while solving the pressing needs of their communities. This goes to show the importance of investing in SMEs like these, so that they can continue to solve our future social, environmental and economic problems as well.

About SEED

SEED is a global partnership for supporting sustainable development and the green economy worldwide. It was launched in 2002 within the framework of the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg. Founding partners are the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature). Its current supporters are the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety and the Government of Flanders. Since 2006, adelphi has been supporting SEED as an implementing partner and has been responsible for carrying out multiple programme components. In 2013, adelphi took on the project sponsorship and carries out all activities within the SEED programme.

More information on SEED can be found here.

Contact: Linde Wolters