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by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

COVID-19 Unmasks Global Supply Chains’ Reliance on China. Is There a Way Out?

Dubbed as the factory to the world, China is an integral part of the supply chain of a host of products and brands. From manufacturers of simple products such as toys to complex good such as automobiles, all are dependent on China for either end products or components. However, China’s ongoing trade war with the USA and the COVID pandemic have made several brands question their supply chain dependence on this country, especially in some industries such as pharmaceuticals. Moreover, aggressive investment incentives offered by countries such as India and Japan have further cajoled companies to reassess their global supply chains and reconsider their dependence on China. However, with years of investment in the supply chain ecosystem, a shift such as this seems easier said than done.

China emerged as the manufacturing hub of the world in the 1990’s and hasn’t looked back since. Owing to vast availability of land and labor, technological advancements, and overall low cost of production, China became synonymous to manufacturing. Over the past decade, increasing labor and utility costs, and growing competition from neighboring low-cost countries such as India, Vietnam, Thailand, etc., have resulted in some companies shifting out from China. However, so far this has been limited to a few low-skilled labor intensive industries such as apparel.

The year 2020 has changed this drastically. The COVID pandemic along with the ongoing trade war between the USA and China made companies realize and question their dependency on China. In the beginning of last year, COVD-19 brought China to a halt, which in turn impacted the supply chain for all companies producing in China. Moreover, several pharmaceutical companies also realized that they are highly dependent on China for few basic medicines and medical supplies and equipment, which were in a considerable shortage throughout 2020. This pushed several companies across sectors such as pharmaceuticals, automobiles, and electronic goods, to reconsider their global supply chains to ensure reduced dependence on any one region, especially China.

Currently, several companies such as Apple, Google, and Microsoft are looking to shift their production from China to other South Asian countries, such as Vietnam and Thailand.

Some of the companies looking to reduce dependence on China:

Apple

In November 2020, Apple, along with its supplier Foxconn, expressed plans to shift assembly of some iPad and MacBook to Vietnam from China. The facility is expected to come online in the first half of 2021. Moreover, Apple is also considering shifting production of some of its Air Pods to Vietnam as well. In addition, it has invested US$1 billion in setting up a plant in Tamil Nadu, India to assemble iPhones that are to be sold in India. Apple and Foxconn are consciously trying to reduce their reliance on China due to the ongoing USA-China trade war.

Samsung

In July 2020, Samsung announced plans to shift most of its computer monitor manufacturing plants from China to Vietnam. The move is its response to hedge the supply chain disruptions it faced due to factories being shut in China during the early phase of the pandemic. In addition, in December 2020, the company shared its plans to shift its mobile and IT display plants from China to India. Samsung plans to invest about US$660 million (INR 48 billion) to set up the new facility in Uttar Pradesh (India).

Hasbro

Hasbro has been moving its production out of China into Mexico, India and Vietnam over the past year. It aimed to have only 50% of its products to be coming out of China by the end of 2020 and only 33% of its production to remain in China by the end of 2023. In 2019, about 66% of its toys were produced in China, while in 2012, 90% of its toys were manufactured in the country. The key reason behind the consistent switch is the souring trade relations between the USA and China.

Hyundai

During the past year, Hyundai Motors has been looking at developing India into its global sourcing hub instead of China in order to reduce its over-reliance on the latter. It has been encouraging its vendors, such as Continental, Aptiv, and Bosch, to ramp up production in India so as to move their supply chain away from China. It plans to source its auto parts from India (instead of China) for its existing factories in India, South America, Eastern Europe as well as planned facility in Indonesia.

Google

Google is looking to manufacture its new low-cost smartphone, Pixel4A, and its flagship smartphone, Pixel5A in Vietnam instead of China. In addition, in 2020, it also planned to shift production of its smart home products to Thailand. This move has been a part of an ongoing effort to reduce reliance on China, which in fact gained momentum post supply chain disruptions faced due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Microsoft

In early 2020, Microsoft expressed plans to shift the production base of its Surface range of notebooks and desktops into Vietnam. While the initial volume being produced in Vietnam is expected to be low, the company intends to ramp it up steadily to shift volumes away from China.

Steve Madden

In 2019, Steve Madden expressed plans to shift parts of its production out of China in 2020, given growing trade-based tensions between the USA and China. However, due to the COVID pandemic, it could not make planned changes to its supply chain. In October 2020, it again expressed plans to start shifting part of its production away from China by spring 2021. It plans to procure raw materials from Mexico, Cambodia, Brazil, and Vietnam to reduce reliance on China.

Iris Ohyama

The Japanese consumer goods player expressed plans to open a factory in northeastern Japan to diversify its manufacturing base, which is based primarily in China. The company made this move on the back of increasing labor cost in China, rising import tariffs to the USA, along with the supply disruptions it faced for procuring masks for the Japanese market. In 2020, it also set up a mask factory in the USA. In addition, the company plans to open additional plants in the USA and France for plastic containers and small electrical goods to cater to the local demand in these markets.

Nations using this opportunity to promote domestic production

In August 2020, about 24 electronic goods companies, including Samsung and Apple, have shown interest in moving out of China and into India. These companies together have pledged to invest about US$1.5 billion to setup mobile phone factories in the country in order to diversify their supply chains. This move is a result of the Indian government offering incentives to companies looking to shift their production facilities to India.

In April 2020, the Indian government announced a production linked incentive (PLI) scheme to attract companies looking to move out of China and set up large scale manufacturing units in the electronics space. Under the scheme, the government is offering an incentive of 4-6% on incremental sales (over base year FY 2019-20) of goods manufactured in India. The scheme, which is applicable for five years, plans to give an incentive worth US$6 billion (INR 409.51 billion) over the time frame of the scheme.

In November 2020, the Indian government subsequently expanded the scheme to other sectors such as pharma, auto, textiles, and food processing. In addition, it is expected to provide a production-linked incentive of US$950 million (INR 70 billion) to domestic drug manufacturers in order to push domestic manufacturing and reduce dependence on Chinese imports. Apart from incentives, India is developing a land pool of about 461,589 hectares to offer to companies looking to move out of China. The identified land, which is spread across Gujarat, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, and Andhra Pradesh, makes it easy for companies looking to set shop in India, as acquiring land has been one of the biggest challenges when it came to setting up production units in India.

On similar lines, the Japanese government is providing incentives to companies to shift their production lines out of China and to Japan. In May 2020, Japan announced an initiative to set up a US$2.2 billion stimulus package to encourage Japanese companies to shift production out of China. About JNY 220 billion (~US$2 billion) of the stimulus will be directed towards companies shifting production back to Japan, while JNY 23.5 billion (~US$200 million) will be given to companies seeking to move production to Vietnam, Myanmar, Thailand, and other Southeast Asian countries.

In the first round of subsidies, the Japanese government announced a list of 57 companies in July 2020, which will receive a total of US$535 million to open factories in Japan, while another 30 companies will be given subsidies to expand production in other countries such as Vietnam and Thailand. The move is a combination of Japan looking to shift manufacturing of high value-added products back to the country and the initial disruptions caused to the supply chain of Japanese automobiles and durable goods manufacturers.

Similarly, the USA, which has been at odds with China regarding trade for a couple of years now, is also encouraging its companies to limit their exposure in China and shift their production back home. In May 2020, the government proposed a US$25 billion ‘reshoring fund’ to enable manufacturers to move their production bases and complete supply chain from China preferably back to the USA and in turn reduce their reliance of China-made goods. The bill included primarily tax incentives and reshoring subsidies. However, the bill has not been passed in Congress yet and now with the leadership change in the USA, it is expected that president Biden may follow a more diplomatic strategic route with regards to China in comparison to his predecessor.

In addition to individual country efforts, in September 2020, Japan, India, and Australia together launched an initiative to achieve supply chain resilience in the Indo-Pacific region and reduce their trade dependence on China. The partnership aims at achieving regional cooperation to build a stable supply chain from the raw material to finished goods stage in 10 key sectors, namely petroleum and petrochemicals, automobiles, steel, pharmaceuticals, textiles and garments, marine products, financial services, IT services, tourism and travel services, and skill development.

Similarly, the USA is pushing to create an alliance called the ‘Economic Prosperity Network’, wherein it aims to work with Australia, India, Japan, New Zealand, Vietnam, and South Korea to restructure global supply chains to reduce dependence on China.

COVID-19 Unmasks Global Supply Chains’ Reliance on China by EOS Intelligence

Is it feasible?

While these efforts are sure to help companies move part(s) of their supply chain out of China, the extent to which it is feasible is yet to be assessed. Although the coronavirus outbreak has highlighted and exposed several supply chain vulnerabilities for companies across sectors and countries, despite government support and incentives, it will be very difficult for them to wean off their dependence on China.

Companies have spent decades building their manufacturing ecosystems, which in many cases, are highly reliant on China. These companies not only have their end products assembled or manufactured in the country, but also engage Chinese suppliers for their raw materials, who in turn use further Chinese suppliers for their inputs. Therefore, moving out of China is not a simple process and will take tremendous amount of time as well as financial resources.

While companies such as Google or Microsoft are looking to shift their assembling plants out of China, they are still dependent on China for parts. This is all the more relevant in case of high-technology products, such as automobiles and telecommunication infrastructure, where companies have made significant investments in China for their supply chain and are dependent on the nation’s manufacturing capabilities for small, intricate, but technologically advanced parts and components.

Moreover, despite significant efforts and reforms from countries such as India, Vietnam, and Thailand, they still cannot match China in terms of availability of skilled labor, infrastructure, and scale, which is required by many companies especially with regards to technologically advanced products. That being said, more companies are looking at a strategy where they are maintaining their presence in China, while also developing relatively smaller operations outside the country to have a fallback and to reduce total dependency on China. This is also dubbed as the China + 1 strategy.

Another reason going in China’s favor has been its capability to bounce back from the pandemic and resume production in a short span of time. While production had been halted in January to March 2020, it ramped up April onwards and was back to normal standards within no time. This reinforced the faith of many companies on Chinese capabilities. Therefore, as some companies are already cash-strapped due to the pandemic, they are not interested in investing in modifying their supply chains when in most cases normalcy resumed in a relatively short span of time.

EOS Perspective

Companies have been looking to diversify their supply chains and reduce dependence on China for a couple of years now, however, the trend has gained momentum post the coronavirus pandemic and growing US-China trade tensions. The onset of the COVID-19 outbreak exposed several vulnerabilities in the supply chain of global manufacturers, who realized the extent of their dependence on China. Moreover, several countries realized that they relied on China for key medicines and medical supplies, which cost them heavily during the pandemic.

Given this situation, several nations such as Japan, India, and the USA – together and individually, have started giving incentives to companies to shift production from China into their own borders. While this has resulted in several companies, such as Apple, Microsoft, Sanofi, Samsung, etc., to expand their manufacturing operations out of China, it does not necessarily mean that they are moving out of China. This is primarily due to heavy investments (in terms of both time and money) that they have already made into developing their intricate supply chains as well as the inherent benefits that China provides – technologically skilled labor, sophisticated production facilities, and quick revamping of production after a calamity.

That being said, it has come into the conscience of companies to reduce their over-reliance on China and while it may not impact the scale and extent of operations in the country in the short run, it is quite likely that companies will phase out their presence (at least part of it) in China over the coming decade.

A lot depends on the level of incentives and facilities provided by other nations. While countries such as India, Vietnam, and Thailand can offer low cost production with regards to labor and utilities, they currently do not have the technological sophistication possessed and developed by China. Alternatively, while Japan and the USA are technologically advanced, without recurring incentives and tax breaks, cost of production would be much higher than that in China. Thus, until there is a worthy alternative, most companies will follow the China +1 strategy. However, with growing trade tensions between China and other nations, and ongoing efforts by other nations to encourage and support domestic production, China may risk losing its positioning as the ‘factory of the world’ in the long run.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Agritech in Africa: How Blockchain Can Help Revolutionize Agriculture

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In the first part of our series on agritech in Africa, we took a look into how IT and other technology investments are helping small farmers in Africa. In the second part, we are exploring the impact that potential application of advanced technologies such as blockchain can have on the African agriculture sector.

Blockchain, or distributed ledger technology, is already finding utility across several business sectors including financial, banking, retail, automotive, and aviation industries (click here to read our previous Perspectives on blockchain technology). The technology is finding its way in agriculture too, and has the potential to revolutionize the way farming is done.


This article is the second part of a two-piece coverage focusing on technological advancements in agriculture across the African continent.

Read part one here: Agritech in Africa: Cultivating Opportunities for ICT in Agriculture


State of blockchain implementation in agriculture in Africa

Agricultural sector in Africa has already witnessed the onset of blockchain based solutions being introduced in the market. Existing tech players and emerging start-ups have developed blockchain solutions, such as eMarketplaces, agricultural credit/financing platforms, and crop insurance services. Companies, globally as well as within Africa, are harnessing applications of blockchain to develop innovative solutions targeted at key stakeholders across the food value chain.

Blockchain to promote transparency across agriculture sector

The most common application of blockchain in any industry sector (and not only agriculture) is creating an immutable record of transactions or events, which is particularly helpful in creating a trusted record of land ownership for farmers, who are traditionally dependent on senior village officials to prove their ownership of land.

Since 2017, a Kenyan start-up, Land LayBy has been using an Ethereum-based shared ledger to keep records of land transactions. This offers farmers a trusted and transparent medium to establish land ownership, which can then further be used to obtain credit from banks or alternative financing companies. BanQu and BitLand are other examples of blockchain being used as a proof of land ownership.

This feature of blockchain also enables creation of a transparent environment where companies can trace the production and journey of agricultural products across their supply chain. Transparency across the supply chain helps create trust between farmers and buyers, and the improved visibility of prices further down the value chain also enables farmers to get better value for their produce.

In 2017, US-based Bext360 started a pilot project with US-based Coda Coffee and its Uganda-based coffee export partner, ​​Great​ ​Lakes​ ​Coffee. The company developed a machine to grade and weigh coffee beans deposited to Great Lakes by individual farmers in East Uganda. The device uploads the data on a blockchain-based SaaS solution, which enables users to trace the coffee from its origin to end consumer. The blockchain solution is also used to make payments to the farmers based on the grade of their produce in form of tokens.

In 2017, Amsterdam-based Moyee Coffee also partnered with KrypC, a global blockchain, to create a fully blockchain-traceable coffee. The coffee beans are sourced from individual farmers in Ethiopia, and then roasted within the country, before being exported to the Netherlands.

This transparency can help food companies to isolate the cause of any disease outbreak impacting the food value chain. This also allows consumers can be aware of the source of the ingredients used in their food products.

Agritech in Africa: How Blockchain Can Help Revolutionize Agriculture by EOS Intelligence

Blockchain-based platforms to improve farmer and buyer collaboration

Blockchain can also act as a platform to connect farmers with vendors, food processing, and packaging companies, providing a secure and trusted environment to both buyers and suppliers to transact without the need of a middleman. This also results in elimination of margins that need to be paid to these intermediaries, and helps improve the margins for buyers.

Farmshine, a Kenyan start-up, created a blockchain-based platform to auger trade collaboration among farmers, buyers, and service providers in Kenya. In January 2020, the company also raised USD$250,000 from Gray Matters Capital, to finance its planned future expansion to Malawi.

These blockchain platforms can also be used to connect farmers to other farmers, for activities such as asset or land sharing, resulting in more efficiency in economical farming operations. Blockchain platform can also enable small farmers to lease idle farms from their peers, thereby providing them with access to additional revenue sources, which they would not be able to do traditionally.

AgUnity, an Australian-start-up established in 2016, developed a mobile application which enables farmers to record their produce and transactions over a distributed ledger, offering a trusted and transparent platform to work with co-operatives and third-party buyers. The platform also enables farmers to share farming equipment as per a set schedule to improve overall operational and cost efficiency. In Africa, AgUnity has launched pilot projects in Kenya and Ethiopia, targeted at helping farmers achieve better income for their produce.

A Nigerian start-up, Hello Tractor uses IBM’s blockchain technology to help small farmers in Nigeria, which cannot afford tractors on their own, to lease idle tractors from owners and contractors at affordable prices through a mobile application.

Smart contracts to transform agriculture finance and insurance

Less than 3% of small farmers in sub-Saharan Africa have adequate access to agricultural insurance coverage, which leaves them vulnerable to adverse climatic situations such as droughts.

Smart contracts based on blockchain can also be used to provide crop-insurance, which can be triggered given certain set conditions are met, enabling farmers to secure their farms and family livelihood in case of extreme climatic events such as floods or droughts.

SmartCrop, an Android-based mobile platform, provides affordable crop insurance to more than 20,000 small farms in Ghana, Kenya, and Uganda through blockchain-based smart contracts, which are triggered based on intelligent weather predictions.

Netherlands-based ICS, parent company of Agrics East Africa (which provides farm inputs on credit to small farmers in Kenya and Tanzania) is also exploring a blockchain-wallet based saving product, “drought coins”, which can be encashed by farmers depending on the weather conditions and forecasts.

Tracking of assets (such as land registries) and transactions on the blockchain can also be used to verify the farmers’ history, which can be used by alternative financing companies to offer loans or credits to farmers – e.g. in cases when farmers are not able to get such financing from traditional banks – transforming the banking and financial services available to farmers.

Several African start-ups such as Twiga Foods and Cellulant have tried to explore the use of blockchain technology to offer agriculture financing solutions to small farmers in Africa.

In late 2018, Africa’s leading mobile wallet company, Cellulant, launched Agrikore, a blockchain-based digital-payment, contracting, and marketplace system that connects small farmers with large commercial customers. The company started its operations in Nigeria and is exploring expansion of its business to Kenya.

In 2018, Kenya-based Twiga Foods (that connects farmers to urban retailers in an informal market) partnered with IBM to launch a blockchain-based lending platform which offered loans to small retailers in Kenya to purchase food products from suppliers listed on Twiga platform.


Read our previous Perspective Africa’s Fintech Market Striding into New Product Segments to find out more about innovative fintech products for agriculture and other sectors financing in Africa


And last, but not the least, blockchain or cryptocurrencies can simply be used as a mode of payment with a much lower transaction fee offered by traditional banking institutions.

Improving mobile internet access to boost blockchain implementation

While blockchain has shown potential to transform agriculture in Africa, its implementation is limited by the lack of mobile/internet access and technical know-how among small farmers. As of 2018, mobile internet had penetrated only 23% of the total population in Sub-Saharan Africa.

However, the GSM Association predicts mobile internet penetration to improve significantly over the next five years, to ~39% by 2025. Improved access to internet services is expected to boost the farmers’ ability to interact with the blockchain solutions, thereby increasing development and deployment of more blockchain-based solutions for farmers.

EOS Perspective

Agritech offers an immense opportunity in Africa, and blockchain is likely to be an integral part of this opportunity. Blockchain has already started witnessing implementation in systems providing proof of ownership, platforms for farmer cooperation, and agricultural financing tools.

Unlike Asian and Latin American countries, African markets have shown a relatively positive attitude towards adoption of blockchain, a fact that promises positive environment for development of such solutions.

At the moment, most development in blockchain agritech space is concentrated in Kenya, Nigeria, Uganda, and Ghana. However, there is potential to scale up operations in other countries across Africa as well, and some start-ups have already proved this (e.g. Farmshine was able to secure the necessary financing to expand its presence in Malawi). Other companies can follow suit, however, that would only be possible with the help of further private sector investments.

Still in the nascent stages of development, blockchain solutions face an uncertain future, at least in the short term, and are dependent on external influences to pick up growth they need to impact the agriculture sector significantly. However, once such solutions achieve certain scalability, and become increasingly integrated with other technologies, such as Internet of Things and artificial intelligence, blockchain has the capability of completely transform the way farming is done in Africa.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Agritech in Africa: Cultivating Opportunities for ICT in Agriculture

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Agriculture technologies in Africa have been undergoing significant development over the years, with many tech start-ups innovating information and communications technologies to support agriculture at all levels. While some technologies have been successfully launched, some are in initial stages of becoming a success. Private sector investments have been the key driving factor supporting the development of agriculture technologies in Africa. In the first part of our series on agritech in Africa, we are examine what impact and opportunities arise from the use of these technologies in Africa.

Agriculture plays a significant role in Africa’s economy, contributing 32% to the continent’s GDP and employing 65% of the total work force (as per the World Bank estimates). Nearly 70% of the continent’s population directly depends on agribusiness. Vast majority of farmers work on small scale farms that produce nearly 90% of all agricultural output.


This article is the first part of a two-piece coverage focusing on technological advancements in agriculture across the African continent.

Read part two here: Agritech in Africa: How Blockchain Can Help Revolutionize Agriculture


Agriculture in Africa has been under the pressure of many challenges such as low productivity, lack of knowledge and exposure to new farming techniques, and lack of access to financial support, especially for the small-scale farmers. These challenges are prompting investments in newer technologies to enhance the productivity through smart agriculture techniques.

Lately, there have been an increased use of various technologies in agriculture in Africa, such as Internet of Things (IoT), Open Source Software, Cloud Computing, Artificial Intelligence, Drones/Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), and Big Data Analytics. Many tech start-ups have developed solutions targeting various aspects of agriculture, including finance, supply chain, retailing, and even delivering information related to crops and weeds. These solutions are accessible to farmers through front-end devices such as smart phones and tablets, or even SMS.

Agritech in Africa - Cultivating Opportunities for ICT in Agriculture by EOS Intelligence

Start-ups lead agritech development in Africa

Many agritech start-ups in Africa have come up with solutions that have led to a rise in productivity of the farms. Drones have been a breakthrough technology, helping farmers oversee their crops, and manage their farms effectively. Drones use highly focused cameras to capture picture of crops, soil or weeds. This, coupled with big data analytics and Artificial Intelligence (AI), provides insights to farmers, saving their time and effort, while also helping them find potential issues which could impact the productivity of their farms.

There are various agritech start-ups that are developing such drones, and providing them to farmers for rent or lease to analyse their crops and farms. A South African agritech start-up, Aerobotics, offers an end-to-end solution to help farmers manage their farms using drones, through early detection of any crop-related problems, and offering curative measures for the problems using an AI-based analytics platform. The company partners with drone manufacturing companies such as DJI and Micasense to deliver these solutions.

Acquahmeyer, another start-up based in Ghana, also provides drones to its farming customers to help them use a comprehensive approach to apply crop pest control and plant nutrition management for their farms.

Advent of advanced technologies such as IoT is also helping farmers to adopt smart farm management through the use of smart sensors connected in a network. This helps every farmer to get granular details of the crops, soil, farming equipment, or livestock, enabling the farmers to devise appropriate farming approaches.

Kenya-based UjuziKilimo provides solution for analyzing soil characteristics using electronic sensor placed in the ground. This helps farmers with useful real-time insights into soil conditions. The solution further utilizes big data analytics to guide the farmers, by offering insights through SMS on their connected mobile phones or tablets.

Hello Tractor, a Kenyan start-up, provides an IoT solution, through which farmers can have access to affordable tractors which are monitored virtually through a remote asset tracking device on the tractor, sharing data over the Hello Tractor Cloud. Farmers, booking agents, dealers, and tractor owners are connected via IoT. The company is also collaborating with IBM to incorporate artificial intelligence and blockchain to their solutions.

AI has also witnessed a rapid growth in adoption across agriculture sector in Africa. Agrix Tech, based in Cameroon, has developed a mobile application that requires the farmers to capture the picture of diseased crop, which is then analyzed via AI to detect crop diseases, and helps the farmers with treatment solution to save their crops.

AI is also helping Kenyan farmers with the knowledge on planting the right crops at the right time. Tech giant, Capgemini, has teamed up with a Kenyan social enterprise in Kakamega region in Western Kenya to use artificial intelligence to analyze farming data, and then send insights about right time and technique of planting crops to the farmers’ cell phones.

There are other agritech solutions that include mobile applications which use digital platforms such as cloud computing to reach out to farmers, and provide them with apt agriculture solutions. Ghana-based CowTribe offers a mobile USSD-based subscription service which enables livestock farmers to connect with veterinarians for animal vaccines and other livestock healthcare services using cloud-based logistics management system. The company focuses on managing the schedules, and delivering the right service to the livestock farmers, to help them safeguard their animals from any health-related problems.

Several agritech investments are also impacting the financial side of agriculture. Kenya-based Apollo Agriculture provides solutions related to financing, farm inputs, advice insurance and market access through the use of agronomic machine learning, remote sensing, and mobile technology using satellite data and cloud computing.

Another Nigerian start-up Farmcrowdy has developed Nigeria’s first digital agriculture platform that provides financial support to the farmers by allowing those outside the agriculture industry to sponsor individual farms.

Several other agritech start-ups across the continent, such as Ghana-based Farmerline and AgroCenta, and Nigeria-based Kitovu have also launched data-driven mobile application for farmers. These technology solutions are proving to be a boon for agriculture sector in Africa, helping improve the overall efficiency and productivity.

Agritech in Africa - Cultivating Opportunities for ICT in Agriculture by EOS Intelligence

Agritech development is concentrated in Kenya and Nigeria

But, when it comes to first adopting the newest technologies and starting an agritech business in agriculture, Kenya and Nigeria have been leading in the adoption of new agritech solutions, accounting for a significant share of agritech start-up across Africa. Kenya has played a pioneering role in bringing agritech in Africa since 2010-2011, when the first wave of agritech start-ups began to bring new niche innovations. Currently, Kenya accounts for 25% of all the agritech start-ups in Africa, and the development is progressing rapidly, thanks to the country’s advancement in technology, high smartphone penetration, and relatively widespread internet access.

Similarly, Nigeria too has sailed the boat of success in agritech start-ups since 2015, and now it accounts for 23.2% of total agritech start-ups in Africa, with include major players such as Twiga Foods, Apollo Agriculture, Agrikore, and Tulaa. The growing inclination amongst Nigerian farmers towards using digital tools in agriculture sector has further pushed the rapid development in agritech sector in the country.

Other countries have also shown potential for agritech development, though it is still in the initial stages of becoming mainstream in their agriculture sectors. Ghana has encouraged several start-ups to launch different technology innovations for making agriculture more sustainable, while South Africa, Uganda, and Zimbabwe have also witnessed the rise in agritech start-ups over the years with newer technologies for agriculture sector.

Recent investments highlight the agritech potential

The agriculture technologies in Africa got the boost from the increased private funding. According to a report by Disrupt-Africa released in 2018, there has been a total investment of US$19 million in agritech sector since 2016. These investments have largely focused on funding agritech start-ups working on bringing innovative agriculture technologies. Also, according to the same report, the number of agritech start-ups rose by 110% from 2016 to 2018.

Some of the recent investments in the agritech sector include Kenya’s Twiga Foods, a B2B food distribution company, which raised US$30 million from investors led by Goldman Sachs in October 2019. The company aims to set-up a distribution centre in Nairobi to offer better supply chain services, while also expanding to more cities in Kenya, including Mombasa.

In December 2019, Kenya-based agritech start-up Farmshine, also raised US$25 million in funding from US-based Gray Matter’s Capital coLabs (GMC coLabs), to expand its operations in Malawi. GMC coLabs also invested US$1 million in another Kenyan B2B agritech start-up Taimba in July 2019. Taimba provides a mobile-based cashless platform connecting smallholder farmers to urban retailers. The investment was focused on strengthening Taimba’s infrastructure and increase the delivery logistics to cater to new markets.

Cellulant, a leading pan-African digital payments service provider that offers a real-time payment platform to farmers, also raised US$47.5 million from a consortium of investors in May 2018, which is the largest investment in the African tech industry till date. Cellulant also plans to channel a significant portion of funds into its Agrikore subsidiary, an agritech start-up dealing with blockchain based smart-contracting, payments, and marketplace system.

EOS Perspective

African agritech is expected to witness high growth in future. According to a CTA report on Digitalization for Agriculture (D4Ag) published in 2018, digital agriculture solutions are likely to reach 60-100 million smallholder famers, while generating annual revenues of nearly US$320- US$470 million by the end of 2020.

Adoption and use of innovative technologies such as remote sensing, diagnostics, IoT sensors for digitalization of agriculture is steadily moving from experimental stage to full-scale deployment, contributing to the data revolution in agriculture, while also unlocking new business models and opportunities.

Apart from these, blockchain is gaining prominence, and finding applications in the agriculture sector in Africa. This technology has the potential to significantly impact the agriculture sector, which we will discuss in the second part of our series on Agritech in Africa.

However, lack of affordability and knowledge to access such technologies, especially by small-scale farmers, has restricted the growth and reachability of these solutions. With the need to educate farmers and make such technology affordable and viable, it is likely that it may take at least 5-7 years before these technologies become truly mainstream in the continent.

A disparity of investments has been observed among the countries in the region. Over the years, countries such as Kenya, Nigeria, and Ghana have experienced a strong growth in terms of private investments, while other countries are left wanting. Investors have prioritized easy-to-reach markets in Africa, leaving behind the lower-income markets, resulting in agritech becoming less sustainable and scalable in these markets. However, several other African countries have shown the appetite to adopt agritech solutions, and offer significant potential.

This requires an intervention and participation from both governments and private investors, which can help improve scalability of agriculture technologies in the region. Implementation of farming digital literacy, public-private partnerships, and increased private sector investments in agritech enterprises can help the agritech industry experience a consistent and higher success rate, thus bringing the agriculture technology to a mainstream at faster pace.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Decarbonization of Steel Industry: A Rocky Road Ahead

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Continuously rising carbon dioxide (CO2) emission is a leading cause of climate change which is considered to be one of the most pressing issues the world is facing today. Being one of the biggest contributors to CO2 emission, steel industry has garnered wide-spread criticism over the years. Several alternatives to conventional steelmaking process have been developed in an effort to reduce CO2 emission, however, the question is whether the producers of this shining grey alloy are ready to face the challenges in implementation of cleaner technologies.

Steel industry strives to move towards a low-carbon future

Global crude steel production increased from 1,808.6 million tons in 2018 to 1,869.9 million tons in 2019, registering 3.4% year-on-year growth. World Steel Association indicated that, on average for 2018, for every ton of steel produced, 1.82 tons of CO2 were emitted. In the same year, steelmaking accounted for 7% of the total CO2 emissions globally.

UN Paris agreement on climate change, inked in 2015, outlines a global framework to ensure global temperatures do not rise above 2 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels. To align with the goals set out in the Paris agreement, the steel industry will be required to reduce its CO2 emissions by 65% by 2050, as compared to 2014 emission levels.

Leading steel producers along with other stakeholders in the value chain, including automotive giants, banking and financial institutions, raw materials suppliers, and environmental organizations, came together in 2016 to establish ResponsibleSteel, an initiative to develop global standards and certification program aimed at reducing carbon emission in the steelmaking process and improve sustainability. Besides ArcelorMittal, the biggest steel producer in the world and one of the founding members of the ResponsibleSteel initiative, other steel producers such as Aperam, BlueScope Steel, Outokumpu, VAMA, and Voestalpine have also joined the initiative.

Alternative technologies to reduce CO2 emission at every stage of steelmaking process

Steel is produced either from iron ore or scrap. Conventionally, ore-based steel is produced in blast furnace-basic oxygen furnace (BF-BOF) which is undoubtedly the most carbon-intensive steelmaking process. This is because BF-BOF route uses coking coal as reducing agent as well as source of energy. World Steel Association indicated that, in 2018, coal accounted for about 90% of a BF-BOF’s energy input, while 7% energy input came from electricity, and remaining from natural gas and other sources. Overall, for every ton of steel produced through BF-BOF route, about 2.3 tons of CO2 is emitted.

To reduce CO2 emission in BF-BOF route, it has been proposed to substitute coking coal with biofuel. Biofuel is also carbon-based but it does not contribute to greenhouse gases upon combustion. Hence, its impact on the environment is comparatively lower. By using biofuels in BF-BOF, the CO2 emissions can be almost halved.

Moreover, combining BOF route with Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) technology can also help to reduce CO2 emission

by almost 60%. CCS technology allows to capture the CO2 emissions pro­duced from the use of fossil fuels in steelmaking process, thus preventing the CO2 from entering the atmosphere. CCS technologies are quite advanced and can be retrofitted with the existing infrastructure used for BF-BOF production processes.

Direct reduced iron (DRI) is another steelmaking technology in which the metal is reduced directly from the ore in solid state without the need to melt it. DRI route generally uses natural gas as reducing agent, which reduces the carbon emission by about 50% as compared to BF-BOF route. About 5% of the global steel production is done through DRI route.

Electric Arc Furnace (EAF) is a dominant technology used to produce recycled steel from scrap. EAF are smaller and less expensive than BF-BOF. Moreover, in case of EAF route, coking coal is not consumed as a reducing agent, and thus the CO2 emission is much lower. Further, as per World Steel Association estimates, in 2018, for EAF route, electricity was the main source of energy accounting for 50% of the total energy input, followed by natural gas which accounted for 38% of energy input. In the same year, coal represented only for 11% of the total energy input for EAF route. EAF emits only about 0.4 ton of CO2 per ton of steel produced. The CO2 emission can be further reduced in the EAF route by using zero-carbon sources for electricity.

There are a few other technologies which are still in the research phase, but have the potential to provide a breakthrough in future. For instance, research is ongoing on use of hydrogen in place of coking coal, as reaction of hydrogen with the iron ore generates water vapor as a by-product instead of CO2. Several leading steel companies including SSAB, ArcelorMittal, and Thyssenkrupp Steel are exploring and conducting feasibility studies to test this new concept. Another technology being explored involves reduction of iron ore through direct electrolysis at temperatures of about 1,600 degrees Celsius. This technology is already being widely used in aluminum production, but it is still in early phase of research for steel production.

Challenges in implementation

Eco-friendly steelmaking process is technically achievable but there are several challenges in implementation at commercial scale. Thus, steel industry lacks the incentive to adopt environment-friendly low-carbon technologies in the current business environment.

Even though a number of alternatives to BF-BOF route have been developed for ore-based steel production, about 95% of the ore-based steel is still being produced through BF-BOF route. The industry has been making constant efforts to make changes and improvement in BF-BOF process with a view to reduce carbon emissions. For instance, the replacing of coking coal with biofuel in BF-BOF route is a mature technology, but feasibility to implement this on large-scale depends on availability of biofuel, which varies from region to region. Thus, countries such as Brazil that have large biofuel resources have commercial-scale biofuel-based BF-BOF steel production, but it is not feasible for countries that do not have sufficient biofuel resources.

Similarly, DRI technology uses mainly natural gas as input and as the natural gas availability varies significantly from region to region, the feasibility of implementing DRI technology depends on the location.

CCS seems to be a promising alternative but it demands a large investment in construction of infrastructure for storage and transportation of CO2. A study released by Global Carbon Capture and Storage Initiative (GCCSI) in 2017 indicated that costs for capturing CO2 from steel furnaces could be estimated around US$65-US$70 per ton of CO2. For steel producers operating on competitive margins, this is a significant cost; thus, they seek strong incentives or policy reforms from their governments to support their investment in CCS. At present, only a handful of countries including, the USA, UK, Canada, Australia, and Denmark have CCS-specific policies and these policies vary significantly from country to country. Since steel is a globally traded commodity, the difference in government policies and framework may impact the competitiveness of the steel producers. Thus, lack of global regulatory framework for CCS is a major barrier in wide-scale implementation of the technology.

Scrap-based steel produced using EAF technology accounts for over one-fourth of the total global steel production and it is less carbon-intensive than ore-based steel. Hence, in order to keep the CO2 emissions in check, it is essential to increase the contribution of scrap-based steel in fulfilling the overall steel demand. But the quality of recycled steel is low compared to primary steel produced directly from iron ore, which makes it unsuitable for some specific applications such as construction. Moreover, steel scrap generally has high copper content which becomes problematic during the recycling process because it causes cracks. Application of such type of recycled steel is extremely limited. In order to give a boost to production of recycled steel over ore-based steel, it is important to overcome these downcycling problems.

Decarbonization of Steel Industry A Rocky Road Ahead by EOS Intelligence

EOS Perspective

While there are several challenges in implementation of alternative technologies in steelmaking process to reduce CO2 emission, steel producers are under pressure to act in wake of rising carbon prices. 86% of the industry’s production comes under the purview of existing or planned carbon pricing markets.

A study published in July 2019 by CDP, a non-profit environmental advocacy group, pointed out that the world’s 20 largest publicly-listed steel companies, which together account for over 30% of the global steel production, could suffer an average loss of 14% if the carbon price rise to US$100 by 2040. The report also indicated that about 60% of the companies have set some target for carbon emission reduction, of which, target of only two companies align with the Paris agreement goals. The 20 companies under study are expected to cumulatively reduce the CO2 emissions by less than 50% by 2050, which is much less than the target of 65% reduction in CO2 emission required to meet the Paris agreement goals. This clearly shows that the steel producers are underprepared to align with the global climate change goals. The need of the hour is to embrace radical technology changes, but high cost, limited resources, and lack of unified and global policy framework are the main barriers disincentivizing the steel industry to move towards low carbon future.

However, with the support of the governments, technology innovators, and other stakeholders, some steel giants are working on several green initiatives to reduce the CO2 emissions. Most pilot projects are concentrated in Europe, as companies in this region are receiving immense support from the European Commission in view of its goal to make EU carbon neutral by 2050. The table highlights key projects undertaken by the leading steel companies to move towards low-carbon future.

Decarbonization of Steel Industry A Rocky Road Ahead - projects by EOS Intelligence

Currency Conversion as on 26 March:
€1 = US$1.10
SEK1 = US$0.10

 

 

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Nigerian Power Woes Cripple Businesses

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Achieving efficient generation and distribution of electricity in Nigeria has over the years remained a sore point and a major threat to growth of the economy. Poor electricity supply has serious consequences for the businesses in the country, with several existing companies struggling to maintain profitability and new players shying away from entering the market. The government has undertaken several measures, including transferring majority of the power infrastructure from government to private hands, however, it has not managed to improve the situation. Ambitious policies and agreements with multinational energy companies might just be the key to solve Nigeria’s energy problems.

Nigeria is considered most abundant in natural reserves and is the largest economy in Sub-Saharan Africa. The country has the potential to generate about 11,000-12,000 MW of electric power from existing plants. Despite this, Nigeria is only able to generate about 4,000 MW on most days, which is less than one-third of what is required to provide for its more than 190 million citizens.

According to a 2014 World Bank survey, about 27% of Nigerian businesses identified electricity as the main hurdle in doing business. Also, IMF estimated per capita electricity production in Nigeria to be less than 25% of that of the Sub-Saharan Africa average. The gap between the electricity generation capacity and demand in the country is a result of poorly maintained electricity generation facilities and very little investment in new power plants as well as an outdated transmission and distribution infrastructure.

Government action or lack thereof

Nigeria’s power sector has suffered from mismanagement and corruption for many years. Since Nigeria’s independence from the British rule in 1960, the government set up a heavily subsidized grid, which was subject to high level of corruption and was never able to generate enough profits to finance new power plants or upgrade the transmission and distribution network to meet the needs of the growing population. In addition to its inability to upgrade, the electricity sector suffers from a huge range of issues, ranging from leakages in power transmission and distribution, to lack of maintenance, to theft and vandalism.

In an effort to combat the country’s energy poverty, the government liberalized the power sector in the early 2001 in hope to attract foreign investments. However, the plan didn’t work as expected. Instead, privatization increased corruption as the political members tried to appoint political allies and family members to head the new distribution companies.

According to a 2018 publication by the Istituto Affari Internazionali, an Italian non-profit think tank, Nigeria has been steadily generating 4,000 MW/h since 2005, with no increase in output over the past decade. This is costing the Nigerian economy a great deal as businesses and industries suffer due to regular power outages. Moreover, as per a 2018 estimate by A2EI (a Berlin-based collaborative R&D platform in the solar off-grid industry), Nigerians spend NGN4.3 billion (US$12 million) annually on small gasoline generators, of which NGN2.9 billion (US$ 8 million) is spent on fuel.

Nigerian Power Woes Cripple Businesses by EOS Intelligence

Nigeria’s energy poverty affecting businesses across industries and sizes

Manufacturing and trading industry

Poor electricity supply is affecting the manufacturing industry in an immense way. A typical Nigerian factory experiences power outage or voltage fluctuations approximately eight to ten times a week, with each power outage lasting about two hours. This adds to the cost of production through lost material, damaged products, and restarting the factory equipment. This makes the manufacturing business unattractive to investors since the overhead costs are high, return is low, and the business environment is largely uncertain.

To combat the power issue, companies depend on diesel generators for power backup, however, this significantly adds to the cost of the product, which in turn affects the competitiveness of the business since whatever is produced in the country is more expensive when compared with production costs in other regions.

In addition to electricity shortage, prices and availability of fuel for operating the generators also impact businesses. While small business generators are powered by price-capped gasoline, the larger generators that power big businesses, apartment complexes, and big homes can only be run on diesel, which in turn is volatile with regards to pricing and supply.

According to a market intelligence firm based in Lagos, SBM Intelligence, diesel is among the top three cost heads for many Nigerian firms. Moreover, with the price of diesel also being volatile, many businesses operate with a constant risk of increasing overhead cost, which may result in reduction in output, downsizing, or even business closure. This was seen in May 2015 when Nigeria was hit by fuel scarcity, which caused many traders and businesses to shut shop as they could not afford diesel for their generators.

One business sector most impacted by Nigeria’s energy poverty is the perishable food sector. Nigeria’s fuel scarcity in 2015, caused the loss of approximately NGN10 million (US$27,000) worth of food items. Similarly, as per members of the Ajeromi Frozen Foods Market Association in Lagos, a severe bout of power outage in March 2016 resulted in the decay (and thereby loss) of frozen food worth NGN20 million (US$55,000) in just five days.

Apart from this, small businesses are also severely impacted by Nigeria’s power shortage. Most small shops cannot afford complete generator back up and therefore suffer with limited working hours and sub-par working conditions. For the ones that can afford a generator, the cost of it is very high, squeezing out profits from their already limited setup. For instance, a small tailor shop with a daily income of about NGN4,000 (US$11) spends close to NGN3,000 (US$8.2) daily on fueling their generator to keep the business going, highlighting the disproportionately high cost of electricity to run a small business in the country.

According to a market intelligence firm based in Lagos, SBM Intelligence, diesel is among the top three cost heads for many Nigerian firms. Moreover, with the price of diesel also being volatile, many businesses operate with a constant risk of increasing overhead cost, which may result in reduction in output, downsizing, or even business closure.

Technology sector

Nigeria’s tech industry accords for approximately 14% of the Nigeria’s GDP in 2019 and is poised to be the next frontier for growth. However, constant power outages have become a serious problem for the booming sector. Most tech companies operate around the clock to provide a 24*7 service to their customers, however, in Nigeria, most app companies operate for only 8-9 hours a day as they cannot sustain generator costs for the entire 24 hours. This impacts the quality of service provided.

As per Chris Oyeniyi, owner of a smartphone app called KariGo, electricity cost (including generator cost) on a monthly basis is about US$800 for the bare minimum number of operating hours. The same electricity bill would be around US$100 if the public power grid was dependable. This hampers growth for tech start-ups, which have to allocate significant amount of their funds towards power supply instead of using them for expanding, both in terms of scale and staff.

In an attempt to overcome this challenge, several technology start-ups prefer to work in co-working spaces that allow them to pool their electricity bills. This concept is becoming very popular in the country, however, despite this, generator costs remain very high to provide around the clock services.

In addition to the high costs, technology firms also operate with a constant risk of losing all their digital work (that is not backed up) or hampering important software updates in case of a sudden blackout.

According to a survey of 93 Nigerian tech start-ups by the Center for Global Development conducted in 2019, 57% of start-ups found power outages to be one of the biggest challenges for their business. Moreover, one-third of the firms surveyed reported losing more than 20% of their sales due to power outages.

Other sectors

Just like the manufacturing and technology sector, most of the other industries are also impacted by irregular power supply and thereby rely on large generators to run their operations. This puts additional cost pressures on the business.

In 2019, Temi Popoola, the West Africa chief executive of investment bank Renaissance Capital, stated that diesel accounts for approximately 20-30% of banks’ operating expenses in Nigeria, which is significantly higher compared with other developing countries.

The telecom sector is also vulnerable to the power outages faced by the country. In 2015, MTN, a telecom giant, stated that it spends approximately NGN8 billion (US$22 million) annually on diesel to keep its network online. This is a huge cost and accounts for about 60% of its operating costs. Due to such heavy operating costs, the company is forced to focus more on sustaining its day-to-day activities rather than investing in any other area such as expanding its network.

The road ahead

Currently there does not seem to be any light at the end of the tunnel for Nigeria’s power woes. With high level of corruption paralyzing the sector and limited amount of new private investment, the sector is in a state of limbo.

Moreover, there are constant disagreements between the Nigerian Bulk Electricity Trading Company (NBET) and the private power generating companies, which further impact electricity supply. Recently, in September 2019, another issue came into the light, when NBET directed all thermal electricity generation companies (GenCos) to pay an administrative charge. To oppose this, the GenCos have threatened to shut down power production and supply and argued that there is no policy directive to that effect by the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC). The two sides have not managed to reach any consensus as of now. However, such additional charges will further put financial pressure on already struggling GenCos, who have largely failed to improve their generation levels due to lack of capital for maintenance and operation. This will further negatively impact the already dismal grid supply levels.

Nigeria is dealing with another legal dispute over a hydro power project with a proposed capacity of 3,050 MW. In 2003, the Nigerian government awarded the build-operate-transfer (BOT) contract to a local company, Sunrise Power and Transmission Company Limited (SPTCL) and followed it up with signing a general project execution agreement with the company in November 2012. However, simultaneously, the government also awarded the bid to execute the hydro project to a JV between China Gezhouba Group Corporation of China (CGGCC) and China Geo-Engineering Group Corporation (CGGC) in 2006.

Moreover, in 2017, it signed another engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) contract with Sinohhydro Corporation of China, CGGCC and CGGC to form a joint venture but excluded SPTCL from the agreement. Following this SPTCL filed a legal suit against the federal government and its Chinese partners at the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) in Paris for breaching the contract. The government risks approximately US$2.3 million in fines in this legal tussle. Moreover, the Chinese government refused to provide the required funding for the project (US$5.8 billion) until the legal dispute is settled. Thus, the project is on hold until any legal solution is reached.

However, that being said, the Nigerian government is ambitiously trying to revive the country’s electricity sector. In 2017, the government developed a National Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Plan, under which it aims to achieve 30,000 MW electricity by 2030, with renewable energy accounting for 30% of the overall energy mix (9,000 MW). The government plans to adopt ‘The Sustainable Energy for All Action Agenda’ (SE4ALL), which is a UN initiative to support sustainable energy in Africa, with targets of 90% Nigerians having access to electricity by 2030.

To this effect, in May 2019, Central Bank of Nigeria announced the disbursement of NGN120.2 billion (US$330 million) to different distribution companies, power generating companies, service providers, and gas companies in order to improve their liquidity situation. Furthermore, in 2018, the government secured a loan of US$485 million from the World Bank to upgrade the country’s electricity transmission network and infrastructure and is currently in talks about a US$2.5 billion additional loan to uplift the power sector.

The government has also signed a six year power deal with the German energy giant Siemens, with an aim to generate a minimum of 25,000 MW of electricity by 2025. As a part of this deal, Siemens will work alongside the Transmission Company of Nigeria to achieve 7,000 MW and 11,000 MW of reliable power supply by 2021 and 2023, respectively. Thus in addition to building new generation capacity, the government is also focusing on improving supply from the existing grids, which has been stagnant at around 4,000 MW over more than a decade.

Moreover, the country’s energy sector is receiving significant support from international bodies such as PowerAfrica, which is a wing of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Over the past few years, PowerAfrica has been assisting the government in agreements on solar projects that help Nigeria in diversifying its energy mix. In 2015, PowerAfrica supported Nigeria’s first private IPP Project (the Azura Edo Project) to reach financial close in 2015. It also assisted it in securing a US$50 million investment by the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC). The Azura plant (the first project initiated by Azura power) became operational in 2018 with 461 MW capacity. It is the first phase of the 1,500 MW IPP (Independent Power Project) facility that is being developed in Nigeria. In December 2019, Africa50 (a pan-Africa infrastructure investment platform) expressed its plans to invest in the Azura power plant.

Growing private investments, international support, and supportive government policies as well as investment may just lift up the Nigerian electricity sector, which has been in dire need for reform over several decades.

In 2017, the Nigerian government developed a National Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Plan, under which it aims to achieve 30,000 MW electricity by 2030, with renewable energy accounting for 30% of the overall energy mix (9,000 MW).

EOS Perspective

As per the International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR), the Nigerian government has spent approximately NGN1.164 trillion (US$3.2 billion) on the power sector during 2011-2018 without any significant improvement in energy supply. Poor power supply has been crippling the country for many decades now.

Large businesses, especially in the technology sector, could help boost the economy but like any other business, they require electricity to run successfully. Nigeria lacks the basic business environment at the moment. Moreover, ongoing issues with the private generation players further hamper the sectors growth and performance.

Recently, the government has made several moves in the right direction (especially with regards to investment in renewable energy sources), but it is too early to comment if they could solve Nigeria’s decades-long energy problem. Moreover, the real issue is not about investment levels or government policies, but about the implementation of these initiatives. As seen previously at the time of privatization of the sector, the government failed to uplift the sector as it was plagued by corruption, favoritism, and bureaucracy.

Similarly, the government adopted a policy in 2010 called Vision 20:20, wherein it aimed to be featured in the top 20 economies globally by 2020. Within the power sector, Vision 20:20 aimed to increase generation capacity to 20,000 MW by 2015 and 35,000 MW by 2020. However, it failed to make significant investments or incentivize private players to invest in the sector and failed miserably in its goals. If the same is repeated now, the result will not be very different.

The government’s plans can only be implemented if there is substantial transformation of the entire sector, with the private sector participating equally in the upliftment. The government needs to provide significant financial incentives for new power projects and must also restructure the distribution companies to improve liquidity. Lastly it must counter the corruption and bureaucracy seeped into the sector and ensure that generating companies receive complete and timely cost-reflective tariff from the government. While these measures are difficult to achieve, they are the only way the sector can see any respite in the coming years.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Luxury Brands Become Collateral Damage of Hong Kong-China Conflict

Talk to any top executive at Gucci, Prada, Tiffany (or any luxury brand for that matter) and they will tell you the importance of Hong Kong as a market in their business. For years, Hong Kong has ranked among the top five luxury hubs and accounted for about 5-10% of the estimated US$285 billion luxury goods market. However, the recent pro-democratic protests in Hong Kong against China have left luxury brands grappling, with many undergoing store closures. With the situation seeming to worsen by the minute, luxury brands must act fast and with prudence to limit their losses, formulate strategies, and identify other regions that may help them offset loss of revenues from Hong Kong.

Hong Kong has been one of the top destinations for luxury brands with several leading brands operating multiple stores in this small area encompassing 427 square miles and housing a population of 7.5 million. Hong Kong achieved this cult status due to a large number of visitors from mainland China (as well as other Asian countries) who travel to Hong Kong to shop. This is due to Hong Kong’s tax-free policy and an assurance that the products purchased are genuine (unlike in China where stores are distrusted).

Most of the leading luxury retailers derive a significant portion of their sales from Hong Kong. Richemont Group (which owns brands such as Cartier, Chloe, Dunhill, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Montblanc, Panerai, Piaget, and Roger Dubuis, among many other) derives about 11% of its global sales from Hong Kong, while Burberry derives about 8-9% of its global sales from the territory. Brands such as LVMH and Prada attain about 6% of their global sales from Hong Kong. Despite having one of the highest real estate costs, brands have always been bullish about Hong Kong, opening multiple stores and stocking their best and most recent collections.

Recent protests impact luxury retail sales

However, since mid-2019, Hong Kong’s retail market has taken a big hit. What started as a protest over an extradition law has translated into a full-fledged pro-democracy movement challenging China’s grip over Hong Kong and has brought the latter to a standstill.

Along with a large fall in visitors from China, several other countries have issued travel warnings against Hong Kong. Visitor numbers declined by 39% in August 2019 (compared with August 2018), with visitors from China falling more than 42% during the same period. In addition to fewer tourists, the local population is also avoiding malls and other public places owing to the ongoing protects. In fact, about 30 shopping malls shut down across Hong Kong in October due to violent protests. These closures have come around the peak festive time (the Golden Week holiday) and have continued to remain closed during the otherwise well-performing Thanksgiving week.

This has converted one of retail’s best performing markets into one of the poorest. Brands such as Burberry, Hermes, Prada, and Tiffany have been forced to shut down few of their stores in Hong Kong. The sales of premium goods, such as jewelry, watches, and other high-value items plunged by nearly 50% in August 2019, when compared year-on-year.

This has converted one of retail’s best performing markets into one of the poorest. Brands such as Burberry, Hermes, Prada, and Tiffany have been forced to shut down few of their stores in Hong Kong. The sales of premium goods, such as jewelry, watches, and other high-value items plunged by nearly 50% in August 2019, when compared year-on-year.

Brands are estimated to suffer a 30-60% quarterly drop in sales in Q3 2019 and considering how the protests are widening and worsening, the sales are expected to drop further in Q4. For instance, as per UK-based financial services firm, Jefferies, Burberry’s sales from Hong Kong are expected to fall by about GBP100 million (US$131.6 million) in 2019. While the brand is expected to offset half of the loss from growing sales in other regions, the remaining loss will be incurred by the luxury retailer.

Given the steep fall in sales and high real estate cost, brands are now revaluating their presence in Hong Kong. In October 2019, Prada announced its plan to shut down one of its flagship stores in Causeway Bay. The company used to pay HK$9 million (US$1.2 million) monthly rent for the 15,000 square feet store and could not justify the high costs anymore. While a few brands are shutting down stores, few others, such as Burberry, are talking to their landlords about rent reduction to cope with the gloomy sales in the short run.

The impact on luxury sales may not be just short term in Hong Kong. Several brands are re-strategizing their approach towards Hong Kong, especially with regards to the Chinese customer. Chinese customers are increasingly going for shopping trips to Japan and South Korea instead of Hong Kong.

Moreover, the Chinese government is also encouraging customers to shop in mainland China by reducing taxes and thereby narrowing the price gap between China and overseas. In 2018, the Chinese government reduced import taxes on luxury goods and followed it with a cut in value-added tax in April 2019. Post this, several brands such as Gucci and Hermes reduced their prices by about 3% in China. This might show that several brands are trying to offset their losses in Hong Kong by targeting the Chinese consumer in their home country.

Brands are also shifting their marketing investments from Hong Kong towards the mainland. Hermes and LV have been extremely bullish about the Chinese market and have opened new stores in the region. Hermes opened its 26th store in China in 2019 and has been expanding its e-commerce presence in China since launching it in 2018.

Luxury Brands Become Collateral Damage of Hong Kong-China Conflict by EOS Intelligence

Brands are extra careful about their design and communication

In addition to focusing on reaching the Chinese customers (in their home market as well as new travel destinations), brands are also being extra cautious about not supporting Hong Kong in the conflict. China has been prompt at bringing brands to task if and when they identified Hong Kong as an independent country in any of their designs or brand communication.

Brands such as Givenchy, LVMH, Versace, and Coach have publically apologized to the Chinese nationals for their clothing designs that labeled Hong Kong as a separate country (from China). Moreover, they removed all such designs from their collections, globally, to ensure they remain in good books of the Chinese customers.

The Chinese have also been very sensitive about any support or sympathy shown to Hong Kong with regards to the conflict. For instance, Tiffany received significant backlash for one of its print ads, which showed a female model covering her right eye with her hand. The Chinese saw this as a sympathetic shout out to the Hong Kong protester who was shot in the eye in August 2019. While Tiffany clarified that the campaign was not a political statement and was conceptualized and shot much before the incident, they eventually removed the image from all digital and social media platforms.

Although not directly related to luxury brands, in October 2019, the Chinese government sanctioned the NBA for a pro-Hong Kong tweet by Daryl Morey, who is the GM of Houston Rockets team. The NBA and Tiffany cases show China’s lack of tolerance towards any pro-Hong Kong message by any brand or organization and thereby brands must ensure that they distance themselves from any pro-Hong Kong sentiment (real or perceived).

Thus it is quite possible that Hong Kong market may lose its luster for luxury goods for good, especially if the Chinese customers stray elsewhere for their shopping. In that case Hong Kong market will only remain relevant for its own residents, which may not justify more than 2-3 stores for a brand in the city.

Thus it is quite possible that Hong Kong market may lose its luster for luxury goods for good, especially if the Chinese customers stray elsewhere for their shopping. In that case Hong Kong market will only remain relevant for its own residents, which may not justify more than 2-3 stores for a brand in the city.

Most brands are currently following a wait and watch strategy, where they are not sending large amounts of their inventory to Hong Kong as has always been the case. They have temporarily shut down shops and given unpaid leaves to their employees. They will wait and gauge if the Chinese consumers do return to Hong Kong when the situation settles and decide the future course accordingly. In case the Chinese customer takes a fancy to other shopping destinations (such as Japan) or start shopping domestically, Hong Kong may lose its position as the luxury hub of Asia.

Opportunities that may arise

In case the Hong Kong conflict has any permanent impact on luxury sales in the region, brands will have to go back to the drawing board to ensure a strong position in Asia. In addition to identifying and developing new shopping hubs for the Chinese customers, brands will also have to alter their strategy and approach to retain Hong Kong’s resident customers. Hong Kong’s resident customers are also avid shoppers but they are more price sensitive in comparison with their Chinese counterparts.

Targeting solely the local residents may also widen the scope of e-commerce in luxury retail sales. Unlike most other markets, e-commerce has not been a major driver of sales in Hong Kong. This is due to the fact that a large number of shoppers are travelers and therefore prefer to make their purchases from retail stores. Moreover, the presence of multiple stores within a small area further reduced the need for e-commerce.

However, if brands plan to reduce their footprint in Hong Kong (only to cater to local residents), they may look at shutting down few stores and promoting e-commerce sales. Hong Kong residents are also more likely to purchase from online multi-brand aggregators (such as Farfetch and Net-a-Porter) that offer deals and discounts. Thus working with such aggregators to promote their brands may also be a good avenue for luxury retailers.

A growing focus and investment towards developing the e-commerce part of the business may also result in growing demand and thereby investments in the mobile payment technologies (which are used for easy payments for purchases) in Hong Kong. While this technology never really took off in Hong Kong as it did in China, this may help in providing the push that it needed.

EOS Perspective

While it is yet to be determined if the ongoing conflict will have a permanent effect on Hong Kong’s position as a prime shopping destination, it is safe to say that the situation will remain unfavorable for the next few months. While some brands such as Prada are already shutting down stores permanently and limiting their exposure in Hong Kong, others such as Burberry are a little more optimistic and want to wait before taking any such decision. This is due to the fact that Hong Kong previously faced a similar situation in 2014, when the umbrella revolution disrupted sales. However, sales bounced back shortly after and Hong Kong continued to be one of the most important luxury markets.

That being said, current protests have become much more intense than anything Hong Kong has endured before and do hold the ability to permanently contract Hong Kong’s role as a leading travel and shopping destination. This may force brands to rethink their strategy for the region with increased focus on e-commerce. This in turn could create opportunities for Hong Kong’s e-commerce and its ancillary markets.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Commentary: India’s Automobile Sector Breakdown Causing Economic Distress

Over the past few months, a lot has been said about the shrinking automobile sales in the Indian market. Touted as one of the key drivers of India’s economic growth, the automobile industry is facing the worst slowdown in two decades as production and sales numbers continue to drop month after month sending the sector in a slump. While the government has made efforts to improve the situation, it will take more than just policies and measures to flip the status quo and bring the industry back on the growth path.

Indian automotive industry witnessed a period of growth during the first term of Modi government – we wrote about it in our article Commentary: Indian Automotive Sector – Reeling under the Budget in February 2018. However, over the past year, the auto sector is in shambles and far from recovery. The sector that contributes 49% of the manufacturing GDP in the country (and more than 7% to the country’s total GDP) has shown decline in growth in the past 18 months as the numbers continue to fall each month. The slowdown is so severe that it has affected all aspects of the business leading to piled up inventory, stalled production lines, decelerating dealership sales, delayed business investments, and job loss.

Quintessential factors that triggered the slowdown

There are various reasons that have plagued the auto industry in the recent months. One of the key factors is the inability of NBFCs (Non-Bank Financial Companies) to lend money. NBFCs, which largely depend on public funds (mainly in the form of bank borrowings, debentures, and commercial paper), have been facing liquidity crunch in the recent past as both public sector and private sector banks have discontinued lending money. This had a double effect on the auto sales – firstly low liquidity has restricted NBFCs ability to finance vehicles, thus having an adverse impact on sales, and secondly, the limited availability of funds bulleted the cost of financing vehicles thereby making them relatively more expensive, further worsening the sales scenario.

In October 2018, the Supreme Court of India announced that no BS-IV cars shall be sold in India with effect from April 1, 2020 (all automobiles should be equipped with BS-VI compliant engines, with an aim to help in reducing pollution in terms of fumes and particulate matter). Owing to this, consumers have delayed their plans to purchase vehicles expecting automobile companies to offer huge discounts in the early months of 2020. And to clear out their existing stock of BS-IV vehicles, it is highly likely that the companies will offer massive concessions before the deadline hits. Delay in purchase of vehicles on consumers’ end has contributed to the overall low sales.

Additional factors that add to the downfall include changes in auto insurance policy (implemented in September 2018) under which buyers have to purchase a three-year and five-year insurance cover for car and two-wheeler, respectively (as against annual renewals), inclusion of additional safety features (including airbags, seat-belt reminders, and audio alarm systems) in all vehicles manufactured after July 1, 2019 adding to the manufacturing cost for the OEMs, and stiff competition from growing organized pre-owned vehicle market which has doubled in size in less than a decade (the share of the organized channel of the pre-owned car market has increased to 18% in 2019 from 10% in 2010). Customers have been passive on buying new vehicles as the total cost of ownership goes up due to an increase in fuel prices, higher interest rates, competition from used cars segment, and a hike in vehicle insurance costs.

Government initiatives to help the auto sector recover

To boost demand for automobiles and offer some respite to the businesses operating in the space, the government announced a number of measures and policies. These include lifting the ban on purchase of vehicles by government departments (the ban was introduced in October 2014), which is hoped to result in loosening of stocked-up inventory and getting sales for automakers, component manufacturers, and dealers. Government also announced additional 15% depreciation on new vehicles for commercial fleet service providers acquired till March 2020 with the aim to clear the high inventory build-up at dealerships.

Other than lifting the ban and price reductions, the government also announced that all BS-IV engine-equipped vehicles purchased until March 2020 will remain operational for the entire period of registration. This will have a two-fold effect – firstly, automakers will be able to push out their stock without having to upgrade existing models and make them BS-VI-complaint (since no more BS-IV-complaint vehicles will be registered post March 2020 and manufacturers will have to upgrade to BS-VI from BS-IV emission standard on the old stocks) thus clearing old inventory, and secondly, consumers can expect much higher discounts. This is expected to provide enough movement within the auto sector, both in terms of sales and revenue generation.

Government has also taken steps to stabilize the NBFC crisis where a separate budget of US$ 14 billion (INR 100,000 crore) has been announced to refinance selected NBFCs. While it is clear that these limited funds will not last long, currently, any step taken to recover from the situation is welcomed.

Though considered temporary, the relief measures offered by the government have gained traction in the industry and players believe that these provisions will have a positive impact on the buyers’ sentiment, even if for a short period of time.

Implications of the auto industry crisis

The slowdown is expected to have a negative impact across all aspects of auto business, especially in the short term. Drop in sales has led manufacturers to decrease production (and even stop production for a certain period of time), cut down overall costs, and reduce headcounts thus weighing down the overall automotive sector.

The months leading to reduced sales did not only impact the production capacities but also resulted in the loss of more than 350,000 jobs. In the coming months, many more risk losing their jobs owing to plant shutdowns, dealership closures, and small component manufacturers going bankrupt.

The cost of vehicle ownership has also increased. Automobiles attracts the highest GST slab of 28%, and this, coupled with the varying road and registration charges imposed by state governments, makes the upfront cost of the vehicle exorbitant for a large segment of consumers (especially the working middle class for whom a two-wheeler or a small segment car is a basic necessity rather than a nice-to-have convenience) making it almost impossible for them to but it.

Given that the automobile sector works in conjunction with other industries, the current slump in auto sales will pull down ancillary industries including parts and components, engines, battery, brakes and suspension, and tire, among others. Considering the fact that the sector contributes nearly half to the country’s manufacturing GDP, if the issue at hand is not addressed immediately, it will further add to the ongoing economic crisis within the country worsening the situation altogether.

EOS Perspective

Policies announced by the Modi government to revive the tumbling automobile sector only seem to mitigate the negative sentiments circling about the future of the industry. However, at this stage, what the industry really needs is a stimulus package in the form of tax incentives or liquidity boost to immediately change things on the ground level.

There is an urgent need of a remedial course of action on the government’s part to stop the vehicle sales from dropping further. As an immediate relief to boost sales and invigorate the auto sector, the government should implement a GST cut on vehicles. This would kick-start vehicle demand almost instantaneously that would work in favor of the automobile industry – manufacturers (to resume halt production), dealers (to clear inventory), and parts makers (to resume small parts and component manufacturing), help resuscitate lost jobs, and contribute, to a small extent, to strengthen country’s slow economic growth.

However, with the government turning a blind eye to industry needs (lowering the GST slab), there is only so much the business owners can do. Under this current scenario, unless the government takes some drastic measures that ensure validation in backing automakers, auto ancillary businesses, and dealers, the sector is unlikely to recover soon. Provisional policies and short-term measures can offer momentary relief but not the survival kick the auto industry is in dire need of.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Tax Cuts – Enough to Make India a Global Manufacturing Hub?

India has recently announced an unprecedented reduction in its corporate tax rates. Not only is this a respite for domestic and existing foreign companies, but it is also expected to boost India’s position as a preferred investment destination for international companies looking to diversify their manufacturing footprint. Amidst the ongoing trade war between China and the USA, many companies, such as Apple, are looking to relocate a chunk of their manufacturing facilities away from China as part of a de-risk strategy. This presents the perfect opportunity for India to swoop in and encourage manufacturers to set base there instead of other Asian countries. However, tax reduction alone may not be enough to score these investments as the government needs to provide additional incentives apart from improving logistics and infrastructure, as well as land and labor laws in the country.

For the past three decades, India had one of the highest corporate tax rates in the South Asian region standing at 30% (effective rate of about 35% including surcharge and cess), making it one of the biggest sore points for investors looking at setting up a shop here.

However, September 2019 brought an unprecedented move, as the Indian government slashed the corporate tax rate to 22% from the existing 30%. Moreover, new manufacturing units established after 1 October 2019, are eligible for even lower tax rate of 15% (down from 25%) if they make fresh manufacturing investments by 2023.

The effective tax rate in these cases (subject to the condition that companies do not claim benefits for incentives or concessions) will be 25.75% (in case of 22% tax rate) and 17.01% (in case of 15% tax rate). These companies will also be exempt from minimum alternate tax (MAT). The tax cuts in effect are believed to have improved India’s competitiveness among investment destinations in the region.

The tax cuts in effect are believed to have improved India’s competitiveness among investment destinations in the region.

To put this into perspective, India’s new tax rate is lower than the rate in China (25%), Korea (25%), Bangladesh (25%), Malaysia (24%), Japan (23.2%), however still a little higher than that of Vietnam (20%), Thailand (20%), Taiwan (20%), Cambodia (20%), and Singapore (17%). However, for new companies/MNCs looking to set up a unit in India, the country offers the most competitive rates in the region.

This tax break by India is also well-timed to exploit the degrading US-China relationship, which is resulting in several US-based companies, such as Apple, Google, Dell, etc., to look for manufacturing alternatives outside of China. Currently, Vietnam, Taiwan, and Thailand have been the prime beneficiaries of the trade war, with the three countries attracting about 80% of the 56 companies that have relocated from China during April 2018 to August 2019. However, India’s recently introduced tax cuts may act as a major stimuli for companies (that are looking to partly move out of China or are already in the process of doing it) to consider India for their investments.

While the tax reform stands across all industries, India is looking to boost investment in the labor-intensive electronics manufacturing sector including smart phones, televisions, etc. To achieve this, the government recently scrapped import tax on open cell TV panels, which are used to make television displays. In addition to large brands such as Apple, India is also targeting component and contract manufacturers for such companies (such as Wistron, Pegatron, and Foxconn) to shift their business from China and set a shop in India.

India's Tax Cuts Not Enough by EOS Intelligence

Is a tax break enough?

While this is a big step by the Indian government to attract foreign investments in the manufacturing space, many feel that this alone is not enough to make India the preferred alternative to its neighbors. Companies looking to relocate their manufacturing facilities also consider factors such as infrastructure (including warehousing cost and set-up), connectivity (encompassing transportation facilities and logistical support), and manpower (such as availability of skilled manpower and training costs) along with overall ease of doing business, which covers the extent of red tape, complexity of policies, and transparency of procedures.

The Indian government has to work towards improving the logistical infrastructure, skilled labor availability, and cumbersome land-acquisition process, among many other aspects. As per the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report 2019, India ranks 70 (out of 141 countries) in terms of infrastructure. While India heavily depends on road transportation, it needs to invest in and develop modern rail and water transportation and connectivity if it wishes to compete with China (rank 36).

India also ranks poorly with regards to skilled workforce and labor market, ranking 107 and 103 on the indices, respectively. To put this in perspective, Indonesia ranks 65 with regards to skilled workforce and 85 for labor market, and Vietnam ranks 93 for skilled workforce and 83 for labor market. Other than this, India also struggles with complex land acquisition laws and procedures, and must look into streamlining both to position itself an attractive investment destination.

Apart from this, the government also needs to provide additional incentives for investments in sectors that are its key priorities, such as tech and electronics manufacturing for export. As per industry experts, electronics manufacturing in India carries 8-10% higher costs in comparison with other Asian countries. Thus the government must provide other incentives such as easy and cheaper credit, export incentives, and infrastructural support, to steer companies into India (instead of countries such as Vietnam, Indonesia, and Thailand).

Several experts and industry players suggest that the government should provide the electronics manufacturing industry incentives for exports that are similar to those under the ‘Merchandise Exports from India Scheme’, which provides several benefits including tax credits to exporters.

In August 2019, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) proposed incentives to boost electronics manufacturing in India. These include a 4-6% subsidy on interest rates on loans for new investment, waiver of collateral for loans taken to set up machinery, and the renewal of the electronics manufacturing cluster (EMC). EMC creates an ecosystem for main company and its suppliers to operate in a given area (the previous EMC scheme ended in 2018).

Apart from this, industry players are also seeking an extension of another scheme, Modified Special Incentive Package Scheme (MSIPS), which also ended in 2018. MSIPS provided a subsidy of about 25% on capital investment.

EOS Perspective

India’s tax break came at an extremely opportune time, with several MNCs having expressed their plans to branch out of China (for at least 20% of their existing manufacturing facilities). From imposing some of the highest corporate taxes, India has now become one of the most tax-friendly markets, especially for new investments.

This is likely to put India in the forefront for consideration, however, it is probably not enough. The government needs to work on several other facilitating factors, especially infrastructure, land laws, and availability of skilled labor, which are more favorable in other Asian countries.

Moreover, the appeal of some countries, such as Vietnam and Thailand, seems to remain high, as several of them introduced a ‘single point of contact’ facilities for investors. Under these facilities, in various forms, investors are provided with investment-related services and information at a single location, and/or are provided with single point of contact within each ministry and agency they have to deal with. This makes the access to information and investment procedures much easier for foreign investors, and increases the perception of transparency of the whole process. India on the other hand struggles with bureaucracy, fragmented agency landscape, and red tape. Despite initiating a single window policy, multinational representatives need to visit multiple offices and meet several officials (also in many cases offer bribes) to get an approval of their proposals and subsequently get the required permits. Bureaucratic and procedural delays, as well as poor work culture remain to be considerable deterrents for foreign investors.

India struggles with bureaucracy, fragmented agency landscape, and red tape. Bureaucratic and procedural delays, as well as poor work culture remain to be considerable deterrents for foreign investors.

Also in 2018, India only managed a mere 0.6% of its GDP from manufacturing FDI, indicating a low confidence level among foreign companies to make medium to long-term commitments in India. However, large part of the reason for this were also the high tax rates. Therefore, the recent tax reduction is a major step in the right direction, while the government still has some distance to bring India to replace China in the position of manufacturing giant of Asia, especially in the electronics sector.

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