African print textile value chains during the time of Covid-19

Beletchei Ebia


Much of the emerging literature about global value chains (GVCs) during Covid-19 has focused on the challenges faced by North–South value chains, among them supply chain rigidity and stock shortages.  Relatively little work has documented how South–South chains have responded to the crisis. My research attempts to fill this gap through a case study of African print textile (APT) value chains, focusingon those which originate in China and extend to West Africa. I suggest that these South–Southchains’ flexible mode of governance has enabled them to adapt to and withstand the shock of the pandemic. When cloth traders in Lomé, Togo, lost their domestic market, because petty street vendors had disappeared and lines of credit become exhausted, they turned to cross-border trade, initiating a new set of regional trade networks.  Improvising again, they began to rely more on informal trade than before, in order to extend their networks and convey their product across borders.  Both adaptations – the turn to cross-border trade and a greater reliance on the informal – are likely to become enduring features of these trader-drivenSouth–South chains.  Analytically, the paper argues that the flexibility of trader-governed GVCs has an advantage over lead firm-directed chains in adapting to market turbulence in a Southern context, and that scholars of value chains ought to pay closer attention to the under-studied governance structure of such chains. 


GVCs, governance, Global South, Covid-19

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