Growing non-export sector with quality products

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The United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO), under its National Quality Infrastructure Project (NQIP), funded by the European Union (EU), has moved to entrench quality culture in Nigeria. The Organisation is riding on the crest of its National Quality Award initiative to enhance the saleability and competitiveness of Nigeria’s products and services in the world market. Assistant Editor CHIKODI OKEREOCHA reports that this strategy could be the tonic to revitalise the non-oil export sector upon which the government has anchored its economic diversification agenda.

The intervention of Nigeria’s development partners in the area of enhancing the competitiveness of the country’s products and services in the global market is coming at an auspicious time.

This is because it is coming at a time the Federal Government, operators and stakeholders in the export business are desirous of a greater participation in global trade to drive on-going economic diversification agenda.

Through the National Quality Infrastructure Project (NQIP), which is a European Union (EU)-funded project, but implemented by the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO), the development partners have stepped up efforts at helping Nigeria improve the quality of its products so that they can be sold internally and in the international market.

The NQIP was established to support the development of the missing standards and accredited testing and certification bodies in Nigeria in order to improve the quality of products and services exchanged in the Nigerian, regional and international market.

The initiative, which enjoys the support of the Federal Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment, was aimed at boosting the competitiveness of locally made products at the international market place and ensure their global acceptance from Nigeria.

However, while the NQIP was still in place, UNIDO, last week, upped the ante by organising the first National Quality Award (NQA) to boost the quality of Nigeria’s products and services. The award ceremony held at Sheraton Hotel, Lagos, was aimed at creating the desired awareness on quality and standards and also build confidence on Nigeria’s goods and services.

At a pre-NQA media conference in Lagos, the Chief Technical Advisor, NQIP, UNIDO, Dr. Shaukat Malik, said the purpose of the award was to drive the sustainability of quality culture in Nigeria.  He said UNIDO remained committed to entrenching quality culture and ensuring that Nigeria adheres to international best practices related to quality.

According to Shaukat, quality awards have proved powerful tool for boosting the economies of developed countries of the world where the awards have been in place and Nigeria will not be an exception. He said, for instance, that Japan came up with the quality award in 1951, after World War 11.

Similarly, the United States of America and the EU started their quality awards in 1988 to improve the quality of their companies and boost their economies.

“More than 40 countries in the world are running quality awards every year. It’s popular in the Middle East, China, South Africa and others because they are getting the benefits from increased productivity and competitiveness, Shaukat added.

The UNIDO Chief Technical Advisor explained that there are four levels in this year’s quality awards and that in each level there are three organisational categories.

While Category A is for larger organisations with 100 employees, Category B is for medium organisation with more than 20 to 100 employees. Category C is for small organisations with one to 20 employees.

The Quality Infrastructure & International Trade Expert for UNIDO, Mr. Simeon Umukoro, said the quality award is criteria-based. Any business operating in Nigeria is eligible to apply for an award in one of the three categories, depending on its size.

According to Umukoro, winners, who are local businesses and entrepreneurs, will be determined based on a set of criteria derived from the standards issued by the International Organisation for Standardization for quality management system requirements (ISO 9001:2015) and for performance improvement (ISO 9004).

The NQA of Nigeria also corresponds to the rules and standards of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) on quality awards. The award was created in line with the ECOWAS region approved criteria for national quality awards, adopted at the 781st Ordinary Session of the ECOWAS Council of Ministers in Abidjan in December 2013.

Umukoro said the quality awards will increase the awareness of Nigerian companies and entrepreneurs on quality and standards. He said it will also boost consumer confidence in Nigerian products and services while also promoting healthy competition among manufacturers and service providers.

“What we consume will become safer; services will improve and patronage will be high,” the Head, Quality Control, Nigeria Commodity Exchange (NCX), Dr. Khadijat Addulaziz, said. She expressed optimism that the national quality award will address the national embarrassment caused by the rejection of agric exports from Nigeria by the importing countries.

Dr. Abdulaziz is right. The United States (US) recently rejected 72 tonnes of yam exported by Nigeria due to poor quality. It was the latest in the series of rejection of export-bound agric products from Nigeria by US and European Union (EU).

Before then, five containers of beans exported from Nigeria to the Republic of Ireland were rejected and returned by the importers. The products were reportedly filled with weevil.

The season of rejection of Nigeria’s export-bound agric products is being blamed on dearth of infrastructure and Nigeria’s export regulatory agencies’ failure to adopt a quality management system approach to improve the quality of agric produce exports.

According to operators and experts, this is bad news and a major setback for an economy severely battered by recession, requiring urgent stimulation of the non-oil export sector to give impetus to the economic diversification agenda.

Recall that in the heat of the crisis over the rejection of beans exported from Nigeria, for instance, the Minister of State for Agriculture, Mr. Heineken Lopobiri, had describe it as “a national embarrassment”. He said the five containers of beans were returned to Nigeria because weevils were detected in them by the Republic of Island Quarantine Service.

He said the containers were exported without the knowledge of the Nigerian Agriculture and Quarantine Service, hinted that government would return the Quarantine Service back to the ports to partake in the examination of import and export containers.

He also said henceforth, for any agro-product to leave the country, it has to be certified by the Quarantine Service, as this is the global practice in the United States and other developed countries.

However, Lopobiri’s promises that government will put its house in order to avoid a repeat was still in place when the US authorities turned back 72 tonnes of yam exported by Nigeria to that country over issues around poor quality and packaging.

Even if Lopobiri had made good his promise return the Quarantine Service to the the ports, it still does not resolve the more fundamental issue of lack of laboratories for testing and certifying made-in-Nigeria products before export.

The lack of quality infrastructure especially laboratories to aid certification of locally produced goods for export market has continued to erode the competitiveness of locally made products in the international market.

A national quality infrastructure, according to experts, is a system of institutions, which jointly ensure that products and services produced in the country meet predefined specifications. It also provides technical support to companies so they can improve their production processes and ensure compliance with regulations or international requirements.

The lack of it is widely believed to be partly responsible for Nigeria’s rising unemployment. It is also the reason why Nigeria is not globally competitive. Her products and services lack global quality certification and are denied access to markets in developed economies.

Yet, agriculture and export are two key segments of the non-oil economy, which government is now focusing on in the hope of diversifying the economy. The sector believed to be more inclusive and growth-oriented. It is also more sustainable and characterized by high economic linkages.

However, the Director General, National Productivity Centre (NPC), Dr. Kashim Akor, blamed the sector’s under-performance on poor packaging. Speaking at the pre-NQA media conference in Lagos, Akor whose Centre is a parastatal under the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment, noted that Nigeria is a country with rich, diverse agric and other non-oil export products, “but our problem is packaging.”

“So the quality award will address the issue of poor packaging and ensure salability of Nigeria’s export products. It will ensure that whatever is produced is accepted globally,” the NPC DG said, adding, “We want to promote quality consciousness and to do this, there must be constant sensitisation.”

Akor, who noted that quality is a marathon race that has no finishing point, stated that the NPC and Nigeria’s development partners particularly UNIDO remained committed to driving the quality culture in the private and public sectors in Nigeria. He said the award process is very thorough, meticulous and the jury is as transparent as possible.

It was learnt that UNIDO’s inauguration of the NQA to stimulate healthy competition that will drive quality consciousness was an addition to its long history of support and intervention in Nigeria. For instance, the Organisation, few years back, made available 12 million euros for the establishment of National Accreditation System in Nigeria.

In doing so, UNIDO, through its Country and West Africa Director, Dr. Patrick Kormawa, was emphatic that “You cannot improve on your Gross Domestic Product (GDP)) if you do not produce products in Nigeria and sell them in the international market.

“We also will not provide the needed jobs in this country if we are not able to manufacture products here and trade them in the international or regional market.”

“But for us to be able to trade, we need to at least, meet basic quality requirements; most of the products that are made in this country are rejected because they do not meet certain basic quality requirements.”

Kormawa expressed hope that the 12 million euros commitment by UNIDO  will help Nigeria produce a legislation that will contain a National Quality Policy (NQP), establish an internationally recognised National Accreditation Body that will vet the activities of regulatory agencies such as Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON) and the National Agency for Food, Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC).

He said it will also help develop a National Metrology Institute to ensure that instruments are of international standards, improve the capacity of the Organised Private Sector (OPS) to conform to standards as well as establish conformity assessment bodies.

It will also enhance the powers of the Consumer Protection Council (CPC) and other consumer organisations to sensitise consumers on quality standards as well as ensure improved consumer protection.

The post Growing non-export sector with quality products appeared first on The Nation Nigeria.

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