Across the globe, there is a pervading awareness that things will never be the same in the post-pandemic era. Already, some business ventures that were once considered the ‘crème’ of the global economy have taken serious hits in unimaginable measures, and some of the little ones which were regarded as below the rung, are fast rising to match up.
With the new social rules in place, some businesses have come to the sad realisation that they may have to remain closed for much longer than they expected. Even for those businesses that have been allowed to reopen their operations as the world enters a phased and gradual reopening, obvious adjustments still have to be made – including limited physical contact, among others.
In a recent interview, the President of the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN), Engineer Mansur Ahmed, noted that these new developments have added significant complications to the manufacturing processes and operations.
For one, the 8-week nation-wide lockdown kept most manufacturing companies shut, or at best operating at significantly lower capacity for the best part of Q2. The result of this was reflected in the sector’s indices, both in terms of output and employment.
Resuming operations after the lockdown, the manufacturers have had to deal with the challenges of a completely changed system of operation–one which we now commonly recognise as the “new normal.”
A major change in operation can be seen in the sourcing for raw materials. Besides having to deal with the immediate impact of the border closure on operations, there is now the uncertainty of foreign exchange and its impact on the costs of importation (or smuggling of materials when borders are closed).
Nairametrics wrote about a recent CNBC interview where Partner and Head of Consumer & Industrial Markets at KPMG Nigeria, Obi Goodluck, stated that most Nigerian manufacturers had been compelled to source raw materials locally or risk being shut down completely.
Goodluck explained that prior to the pandemic, most of the Nigerian manufacturing companies imported a significant percentage of their materials from China, but the pandemic had disrupted that supply chain thus compelling them to look for alternatives.
“Specifically from the Nigerian point of view, we will no longer reply on importation of raw materials. As it were, this pandemic started from China and over 80% of Nigeria’s raw material imports come from China and the Asian countries. With the lockdown even in China, that became an issue. As such, companies had to come up with alternative and innovative means of raw material sourcing. Those who already imported raw materials prior to the lockdown relied on their stock until they ran out…”
These alternatives are not just intended to serve as an immediate alternative but can forestall the possibility of such in the future.
Manufacturing companies have also had to rethink the way they transport goods to their customers, in view of the non-pharmaceutical safety rules put in place. One of the regulations in place presently is ensuring minimal physical contact in the processes.
By implications, companies have to rework the way they move their products to the consumers and this has largely impacted on the logistics costs. It also means that deliveries and logistics is ‘the next big thing’ in the Nigerian market.
Having to deal with all these changes at a time when thousands have lost their jobs and primary sources of income is even more of a difficult situation. People generally have less purchasing power now than they did before the pandemic, and so weighing of priorities and opportunity costs will always come to play.
Worse still, they would be paying even more now for the same items, given the extra factors at play in the production process. For instance 1kg sachet of Dangote granulated sugar which sold for N250 before the lockdown, now sells between N800 and N900 per unit, while the 250g sachet which sold for N100 before the lockdown now sells between N250 to N300.
Right now, the manufacturing sector is in that small space between the rock and a hard place, and manufacturers are going to have to make some difficult decisions going forward.
One suggestion that comes highly recommended among experts in the industry is backward integration. At the CBN roundtable discussion in April this year, Nigeria’s richest man, Aliko Dangote had also suggested in his keynote address that backward integration was about the surest way to hasten the long-awaited diversification of the economy.
There were concerns about how fast the industry could integrate with the agricultural sector so that more of the local produce went into the industries, but the manufacturers were optimistic that this could be worked out in time to enable them enjoy waivers and benefits in the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA).
It was agreed that the backward integration would require some support moves from the government in creating the right financing and regulatory environment for industries, so that they could integrate more local input in their processes and products and strengthen the supply chain.
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The MAN president had already assured that the CBN promised that investment in the sector would go towards supporting manufacturers to go into backward integration. If the financial sector could also review its regulations to capture current realities and the needs of the manufacturing sector, more could be achieved in less time.
The Economic Sustainability Plan of the federal government also captures quite a lot to show that the manufacturing industry has a place in the government’s plan, but a seamless implementation remains to be seen. The struggle to ensure that Nigeria produces what Nigerians consume is still on.
In light of new realities, the Unified Exchange Rate proposed by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) could also help to create some stability in the FX. Once the exchange rate is more certain and stable, businesses and investors can make definite plans on imports and exports.
Instead of the current situation where the manufacturing sector contributes less than 10% of the GDP, Nigeria is definitely capable of having a manufacturing sector that contributes as much as 25% or more to her GDP, and this should be the target.