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Bulawayo Vendors embrace virtual trade courtesy of ZRBF Sizimele

BVTA staff members marketing the ZRBF Sizimele mobile App

While the COVID-19 pandemic slowed down economic activity, particularly in the informal sector, it led to a surge in e-commerce and accelerated digital transformation. In an effort to keep up with the “new normal” of virtual trade, vendors and traders in Bulawayo have started using the ZRBF Sizimele App to market their commodities.

As part of its innovative approaches to linking suppliers and buyers of food and agricultural markets on the virtual space, ZRBF Sizimele Consortium launched its mobile application in March 2021. The consortium conducted training sessions on the use of the application in Bulawayo. Representatives of vendors from Entumbane, Nkulumane Sekusile, Emganwini, Magwegwe, Cowdray Park, Malaleni, Shasha, Pumula and Edward were trained. Those trained are expected to introduce their market colleagues to the application with the support of the ZRBF Sizimele team of Market Bailiffs.

Fred Jiyane who was part of the trainees is one of 244 sellers who were registered on the ZRBF Sizimele Application by end of March 2021. He registered on the ZRBF Sizimele App after realizing his usual way of selling his produce had become untenable. Jiyane, who trades in mushrooms in Magwegwe suburb in Bulawayo has successfully sold close to 45kgs to locals around the city in the past three months.

“I was struggling to get customers because of the travel restrictions. So, when ZRBF Sizimele introduced me to the App, I advertised my products and have successfully sold almost 45kg to people around Magwegwe and other areas in Bulawayo. I am able to interact with customers on WhatsApp to discuss prices, quantity and delivery methods,” he said.

Jiyane also shared how he had been receiving orders from outside Bulawayo. “I was contacted by one man from Insiza who expressed interest in my mushrooms, and I am negotiating transport logistics with him. I think I am getting these clients mainly because of the attractive pictures that are in my products description. I used my son’s phone which takes high quality pictures,” stated Jiyane.

The platform which is living up to its billing by bridging the distance gap between buyers and sellers has been welcomed by vendors who say it will make transacting easier.

“The ZRBF Sizimele Application has contributed immensely in providing me with an increased customer base, increased profits and created competition which has led me to improve standardisation of products,” said Lungelo Luphahla, a vendor, who sells dried vegetable and is based at Shasha market.

“The ZRBF Sizimele Application enables me to search for products that I want. Prior to being introduced to the App l would travel to Matobo to purchase cabbages and garlic. However, the App has made it easier for me to identify other farmers who supply  stuff that I need ,” said Elliot Mweembe, a fresh vegetable vendor based at Sekusile market in Bulawayo. Mweembe was also part of the cascading training that took place in Bulawayo where producers were introduced to the application. “This platform is convenient and cuts transport costs. It has also fostered strong relations with transporters who deliver at my doorstep.”

Jacqueline Ncube who registered on the application as a buyer has been exposed to a wide array of products listed on the portal. She commended the application’s ability to bring all agricultural and farming products on a single platform.

“The ZRBF Sizimele Application is very effective, I have managed to buy peanuts, tomatoes and sweet potatoes from Lupane and I have always received my goods at the agreed time,” added Nobubele Mnkandla, a dried foods informal trader at Malaleni market in Bulawayo, who is also one of the ZRBF Sizimele Application trainees.

“We currently have 159 buyers that are registered on the ZRBF Sizimele Application who are transacting with sellers. A popular feature on the portal is requesting for products by interested buyers. The requests are predominantly generic like ‘I am looking for mushrooms’ but specifications will be made to the interested sellers who respond to the requests,”  said Blessing Manyiyo the DCA IT Coordinator.

“We have since embarked on numerous campaigns on social and mainstream media to advertise the ZRBF Sizimele Application as well as its key features. ZRBF Sizimele Application Ambassadors who were part of the initial roll-out Training of Trainers have been sensitizing vendors and traders on the application, ensuring that the numbers are growing,” added Manyiyo.

The livelihoods of huge swathes of the population in Zimbabwe, particularly vendors in the city, have been devastated by the coronavirus lockdown. But for those with the right resources, online marketing and home deliveries have offered a rare lifeline.

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