My last visit to Washington DC to honor the visiting Nigerian President, Muhammadu Buhari was eventful but also opened my eyes and broadened my knowledge on what I would call new business adventures to alleviate our unemployed youths in Cross River State.
It also calls to attention why we have not considered small scale enterprises as a prelude to job creation rather than big capital projects that create fewer jobs and in most cases are never achievable?
In one of those in-house meetings at the Nigerian Embassy in Washington DC, as we exchanged pleasantries, a white guy just walked up to me and said Bawoni?
That is trying to exchange pleasantries with me in Yoruba language. I smiled and uttered, where did you learn that from?
He said Nigeria is his second home. He told me about his visits to Edo state, Asaba, Sapele and even Akampka in Cross River state. He even knew the local villages in my home state better than I did.
Looking at him, this is a clean cut white guy, with Calvin Klein designed suite that can easily pass for a Wall Street stock broker.
What are you doing in our villages I uttered, he jokingly replied, I am a supply chain merchant. I engage in primary supplies because that’s where you make the big bucks.
Join me, as I walk you through this adventure of wealth, in our own backyards, often overlooked by our policy makers.
In the villages of Akamkpa, Awi and its environs, Ken and his group actually go in search of palm kernel shell. These are shells of palm kernel scattered everywhere in our villages. It is worth noting that the international search and purchase of shell worldwide is as good as crude oil.
Palm Kernel shells can be used in its natural form for fuel at power stations, as a clean alternative to coal, to form activated carbon or to pave roads.
I asked myself, why do we need white boys serving as middle men, buying these kernel shells from our homelands, shipping it out of Nigeria and trading it on international markets?
Why can’t our own mass unemployed youths be gainfully employed in businesses just like these? I will answer your question in a minute.
In another development, I met some representatives from the Nigeria Trade Commission during a trade meeting. We got talking and later exchanged business cards.
One Akin, a Yoruba native, caught my attention. He is one of the officials of the group. He was so familiar with Obudu, Sankwala, and even Obanlikwu areas of my state. Again, he knew so much about this region and even knew their market days.
I inquired his line of business and he said he buys Benne seed and exports to America. I was amazed at the profit margin.
A tonne of black Benne seeds sell for ne thousand four hundred dollars per metric tonne on trading platforms while a tonne of white seeds sell for nine hundred and fifty dollars.
It was even more amazing when I discovered that some major consumer chains like McDonalds with over one billion burgers sold and still counting, uses Benne seeds in her bread.
With this information, my head started calculating immediately. What if Cross River State invests in Benne seeds production and processing and establishes a partnership with McDonalds’ consumer chains as a Primary supplier?
With Abundant supply of these primary products in our homeland, why haven’t we thought of these? Can Benne seeds be the 21st century crude oil or can exporting this product on commercial scale substitute for our lost oil wells?
What is rather amazing is that our mothers in our local villages, who sell these products, sell it so cheap that the profit margin is not sufficient to sustain them or improve their living standards.
Again, I asked myself the question the second time, why can’t our unemployed youths engage in this business and become international business men like Akin and colleagues taking advantage of our palm kernel shell and Benne seed that has made them so wealthy at the detriment of our poor primary producers, and how can our people key into this trade?
Just read on, I will explain to you why.
For the benefit of younger readers, let me walk you through for proper understanding and how we can overcome these challenges.
In the 1980s, Nigeria had what we called commodity boards. Products like benne seed, kernel shell, cocoa, soy beans among others are called cash crop commodities. They were often exported. What this meant was that the sole buyer of these products was the government.
The government buys, processes, packages, test products in government laboratories, and export products to be sold on international trading platforms.
Governments made huge profits and it created massive employment in different sectors.
However, later by the end of the 1980s to early 90s, government decided to ban all commodity boards, and state owned cooperatives. For the first time, the local farmer in Ikom, Obudu and Akampka, could sell their products directly to the market and to the highest bidder instead of selling to government at a fixed price.
Before I proceed, for your information, this was the genesis of Nigeria’s unemployment crises, even though policy makers would argue otherwise.
So when the local farmer started selling directly to the highest bidder, they started making so much profit, in Ikom, then as a child, we called it cocoa boom.
My little friends then in secondary schools from Etomi, Abia, and Bendeghe areas, as borders in secondary school, suddenly became very rich. They had so much provision and to spare.
Our older friends all bought Okada, our parents built new houses, bought pick up vans, married more wives with their new profits instead of expanding their plantations, and Ikom Four Corners transformed from a local abandoned civil war torn city to a metropolitan City filled with Okada and keke NAPEP in every nook and cranny.
So this is where the problem lies. When governments banned the commodity boards, a supply chain vacuum was created. There was nobody ready and skilled enough to fill the vacuum that commodity boards just vacated.
Our local entrepreneurs used their new found wealth to enter politics during the Babangida democratic experimentation in mid 80s, bureaucrats who had knowledge on how the process worked, were gradually being retired from service and the new crop of bureaucrats that rose to be directors, had no clue on this process because it was outlawed.
It was amidst this supply chain vacuum that the Lebanese, the Pakistanis, the Indians and even some Americans took advantage of this market, and today we are tenants in our own homeland, producing some of the world’s greatest commodities with little or no access to the International markets.
Matters became worst, when most export product laboratories in Nigeria lost international accreditation. Our existing export testing laboratories are so substandard, so much that Nigerian products have to undergo second testing upon arriving international trade platforms.
So, this explains why most of our food export products are tested in Ghanaian laboratories and shipped out of Ghana.
1. As a strategy to boost job creation among our teeming population in Cross River State, the state government should as a matter of priority, in partnership with the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and the Federal Ministry of Commerce and Industries, initiate the setting up of Export Processing Laboratory in Calabar to boost export trade. This will fill the gap on standardization and compliance requirements which had hindered successful engagement in trade on international platforms over the years.
2. The state government should support our teaming unemployed youths with Micro Credit loans to engage in this Commodity trade
3. The Cross River State Government Investment Promotions Unit and Micro Credit Units, should organize workshops and seminars and educate our teaming unemployed youths on how to engage international trade platforms, how FOB transactions are done, how payments are determined, how better products grading are determined and how wealth can be created from products we have in abundance.
4. Cross River State Government should as a matter of priority open an international trade office or commission to help navigate these transactions and help key in our teeming unemployed youths to productive ventures.
So while we may be focused on major development projects which are desirable, we should not forget little things that matters for there-in may lay our source for internal growth, job creation, and entrepreneurship development as a people.
Princewill Odidi is a United States Development Consultant (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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