My last two articles have centred on value-addition business ideas for entrepreneurs. However, performance of businesses sometimes depends on the investment climate and that is where policy-makers come in. It is not the want of ideas that has left the economy in a stymie, it is more of the inclemency of the operating environment and unrealistic economic empowerment programmes that have discouraged productivity and left many travelling seemingly less threatening terrains like entertainment, hospitality, importation, politics and downright fraud.
None of these venture areas, except fraud, is bad in themselves but they hold little promise for the recovery of an ailing economy. Entertainment businesses are leisure services. While relaxation is essential and adds to health, it best serves as a complement to productive activities. Relaxation is earned after a hard day’s job. Only well fed, clothed, sheltered and healthy people can work hard. There is a need for policymakers to continue to invest effort in the best ways to make it easier for Nigerians to engage in work activities that provide the essentials of life – food, clothing, and housing. We cannot stretch out like the proverbial pussycat, which, after a long nap, yawningly declares that it is wonderful to wake up and then rest afterwards. Rest is the prerogative of hard work.
My point, therefore, is that policymakers now need to pay close attention to the kind of businesses they create and nurture. They should be created, not just for being seen to spawn new enterprises. Due diligence must be done to ensure that those businesses can actually add value to the people, the economy and the environment at large.
Oftentimes, many economic empowerment programmes I have seen launched on TV involve the distribution of grinding machines, hair dryers, and sewing machines, wheelbarrows, and so on. With due respect, none of these areas can really add mentionable value to lives and generate employment. How many people is a woman running a grinding machine expected to employ and how much salary is she supposed to pay? Besides, the grinding machines are not made of stainless steel and are therefore hazardous to health but then, Nigerians are very resilient.
Empowerment efforts in the coming days must be well thought out. The country has comparative advantage that should now be built up to competitive levels through proper, realistic funding in many areas. Fortunately, many primary producers have learnt to form associations that would facilitate the distribution of support materials and funding. The business cluster idea mooted many years ago by the Raw Materials Research and Development Council can be purposefully utilised to support businesses that can yield quality employment opportunities for people and communities.
Let me now give some examples: We have comparative advantage in the areas of grains production, some tree crops like cocoa, rubber, shea butter, neem, and eucalyptus. While the areas of grains, cocoa, rubber may appear a bit hackneyed, there are emerging (not in terms of existence but discovery of potentials) crops that attract good pricing in the international market that can be focused on to, include more participants and shore up the nation’s foreign exchange earnings. In this rank are soybeans, neem, shea butter, and tigernuts. When we extend our ideas, we expand opportunities.
Another area is leather. Nigeria has supplied leather abroad since before colonial times but it is time to extend the frontiers: Ostrich and crocodile leather are well priced in the international market, well beyond the traditional cowhides and goatskins. Upcoming entrepreneurs can be supported to innovate into commercial ostrich and crocodile ranching. Ostriches are not difficult to rear but that industry has not grown beyond a few farms in the last 18 years whereas the birds thrive well in all parts of the country. This poor performance is largely because slaughter is focused on table purposes. Nigeria will reap big when we get to the commercial leather stage and that includes croc leather.
The possibilities in our solid minerals subsector must be duly tapped to prop the economy in the coming difficult days. One very important area to look into is the now moribund ceramics industry. Many ceramics industries in the past collapsed because of the challenges in sustainable sourcing of raw materials. The raw materials are locally available but in their raw form. Auspiciously packaged programmes to actualise the local production of ceramics and other industrial raw materials through establishment of resource-based primary processing industries is now required to genuinely empower the people.
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