Commodities processing for job, wealth creation

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Jennifer Abraham

Homespun wisdom dictates that the best cure for hard times is hard work, creativity and discipline. If these principles can work for individual family units, it will work better for the enterprise called Nigeria, which is presently facing an economic downturn due to a relentless slide in revenue from crude oil since 2013 and a general mismanagement of whatever proceeds had accumulated over the years.

Accruals were in the main thrown at recurrent expenditure, purchase of infrastructure and other non-revenue yielding expenses. It is poor financial intelligence to contrive spending or even saving without palpable, diversified earning streams.

Obviously, no matter how much emergency funds had been put aside for the rainy day, the economy was bound to run into trouble sooner or later as long as it has not been earnestly engaged in productive activities.

It is amazing how Nigerians clamour for foreign direct investments as an answer to the monetary challenges. The FDIs are good if they offer an opportunity for technology transfer and give some returns to the economy. It is naive to imagine that foreigners would come here to develop our economy for us.

Bill Clinton did tell Africans many years ago that only Africans could develop their continent. They are here to first of all, help themselves and their home economies. But if they can provide employment for indigenous people, thereby creating a window for transfer of technology, then it is a progressive alliance good only as a complement to indigenous efforts at resource-based industrialisation.

The Western nations passed through a phase when they had to contain the flatulence of the idle rich to evolve economies that respect and reward hard work, skills and talent.

Perhaps, Nigeria is getting close to that juncture. If the current contempt for corruption is sustained to maturity, it will eventually yield a system that abhors the criminal rich, paving the way for a diligent, productive class to re-emerge.

This is the time to roll up our sleeves to make our economy productive; to meet our internal needs, and for export.

We will benefit immensely by utilising our natural resources, not only in their primary state, but through value addition. So, current efforts at increased agricultural production should go beyond the need to grow crops, trees, land and water livestock to incorporate the establishment of value-chains across diverse processing levels to ensure that as many products as possible would be churned out from each raw commodity. If we continue to do things the way we did in past years, things would not only remain the same but would certainly get worse because the oil revenue buffer is slowly fading into the night while the population continues to grow.

To generate jobs for our people and for increased earnings, the policy of value-addition must be urgently applied. A clichéd example remains that of Malaysia, which came to Nigeria in the 60s and collected palm seedlings to plant in their country. Today, they have not only developed improved species of the plant through concerted research and development but have spawned up to 21 different products from palm oil.

Ironically, Nigeria is still basically at the palm oil stage. And because it is profitable for leaders to travel abroad on study tours, they have been visiting Malaysia for some years now, ‘to learn more’ about how we can emulate them. This tragic state of stymie must not continue.

This means that a lot more will be done to raise funds from other viable sources that had hitherto been ignored.  In 2015, UNIDO Country Representative, Dr. David Tommy, while on a working visit to the Federal Institute of Industrial Research, Oshodi voiced out that this was an auspicious time for the managers of Nigeria’s economy to pay attention to the development of processing technologies for value addition to Nigeria’s natural resources.

This writer was amazed at the number of research breakthroughs unfolded by FIIRO’s Director-General, Dr. Gloria Elemo, that were awaiting adoption by local entrepreneurs and other investors.

Commodities such as ginger, moringa, neem (dogonyaro), cassava, shea butter, local cereals and agro-wastes are raw materials for potentially vibrant industries.

So, instead of shipping bags of commodities out in their crude state, we can process to locally-produced beverages, chocolates, wines, fortified ready-to-eat foods and so on both for local consumption and export, instead of importing them from the West at premium costs.

The government must make it less easy for the industrialised nations to keep dumping finished goods on us while we obediently remain suppliers of crude commodities in perpetuity. Our indigenous food technologists, chemical engineers, lapidaries and other professionals and artisans are wallowing in waste in our unbridled import-dependent state.

In the Mines and Steel subsector, the Nigerian Institute of Mining and Geosciences, in conjunction with the Council of Mining Engineers and Geosciences, can institute a compulsory ‘finishing school’ for young graduates to develop local capacity in mining and minerals processing; much like what the Nigerian Law School does.

At an earlier interview, the Director of NIMG, Dr. Umar Bamaili, mentioned that processed precious stones can fetch up to 500 times the price of raw ones. This sums up the need for us to develop processing industries in diverse areas to shore up our ailing economy and provide jobs for our youths and professionals.

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