Economic experts have kicked against Nigeria’s penchant for imported fruit juices, arguing that the nation should rather be at the fore front of nations exporting same at least to other African countries.
In spite of the abundance of fruits for juice processing in the country, makers of fruit juice still depend on importation of concentrates from Europe and Asia for their manufacturing processes.
Across the country, various states are blessed with abundant variety of fruits grown by farmers or naturally spread by animals or birds, including tomatoes, water melon, pineapple, pawpaw, citrus, banana, guava, mangoes, cashew. These fruits can be seen everywhere on major highways across the country.
Each region of the country produces at least three of these seasonal fruits in commercial quantity.
Regrettably, less than one per cent of the total fruits produced in the country are processed or exported. The rest are either eaten fresh or just rot away. The implication is that farmers reap less from their many years of labour, while the economy loses millions of dollars that could have been accrued from the export of these fruits.
Meanwhile other nations that do not even have oil are taking the huge advantage presented by the agricultural sector to extract billions of dollars and boost their economy. Some of these nations today are doing better than Nigeria.
South Africa, Kenya and Ghana are some of the countries on the continent that have taken advantage of sparkling opportunities in all subsectors of agriculture.
Most manufacturing companies in Nigeria have shut their factories and relocate offshore due to the lack of foreign exchange to acquire some equipment for the processing of these fruits into concentrates.
Consequently, these companies depend on the importation of concentrates from Swaziland for its operations, which are now out of reach like the dollars and other factors of production.
Harsh business climate
The unfriendly manufacturing environment in the country is one serous factor that is affecting the processing of concentrate for industrial use. The harshness operating environment makes it easier for the importers to go to other countries to import these fruit juice instead of producing it here in Nigeria.
Where the manufacturing companies cannot withstand this pressure, they relocate their factories elsewhere.
According to Mansur Ahmed, President, Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN), the current situation is not good for the economy.
“It is sad and we will keep hearing such bad news if the government does not act fast in restoring the power sector. Instead of companies coming in, they are exiting and this definitely affects the workforce since more people will be losing their jobs as companies move out,” he said.
Ahmed noted that the prevailing environment is not suitable for manufacturing as this affects production costs, which in turn hampers effective competition with goods from other world markets.
In the last two years, he said, “about 820 companies have closed shops with most of them relocating to the neighboring countries. Some of those remaining in the country have also diversified most of their production unit to those countries making the nation more of a consumer nation than a manufacturing one.”
Reviving beverage industry
The beverage manufacturing sub-sector had depended on the importation of fruit juices and wines sold on the Nigerian market until 2002, when former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s government placed a ban on it.
Apart from that, the government also lowered the tariff on concentrates to five per cent, to make local manufacturers take advantage of the highly lucrative industry to enhance the production of juice and wines in the country and discourage importation.
Most beverage manufacturers currently in operation started during this period, but with the bulk of the concentrates imported from the U.S., the Netherlands and other foreign countries.
He said that the challenge of poor concentrates in the country could be overcome with improve high-yield seedlings, technology and technical services and better education and enlightenment form farmers.
He noted that the recent drive by the Federal Government to diversify the economy, encourage industrialisation and backward integration should provide the needed impetus to attract investors.
He urged the government to ensure policy consistency to avoid a repetition of policy summersaults of yester-years.
The Industrialist said that research and development be made an integral part of the country’s backward integration policy while various research institutions should be strengthened through funding and manpower development.
Another area to be considered, he said, was a special lending facility of not more than five per cent interest rate for investments in concentrate production in view of the huge capital outlay required for the project.
Ahmed opined that the gains of promoting resource –based industrialisation included conservation of foreign exchange, employment generation, wealth creation, economic diversification and poverty reduction.
“A nation’s over dependence on importation harms its poise, weakens its future reserves, affects its ability to be fully independent and presents a string of unpredictable social ills,” he said.