Reviving cottage industries in S/East

By Ogu Bundu Nwadike

In the pre-colonial periods that ran through the pre-independence days to the early post-independence era in Nigeria, the then Eastern region was regarded well for her high capacity to produce palm oil and other palm produce in globally endorsed commercial quantities. It has been discovered that contrary to the feeling that there must have a great palm produce industry that flourished then in parts of the region there were only what has been categorized as cottage palm produce industries. In fact, some relics of the wonder working cottage palm industries can still be found in many parts of the present day southeast zone of Nigeria. Sadly enough, the advent of the war and its consequences obviously carried with it the dismantling of the established system of producing palm produce in large quantities.
By the turn of the century in the year 2000, it was clear that the cottage palm produce industry in the East has been consumed by imported economic activities that have turned too artificial and indeed superficial to be sustainable. It became an abuse or even a curse to encourage youths to embrace the cottage palm produce industry. While many able-bodied youths aimed to travel or fly overseas in search of greener pastures, many more trooped to the cities in search of white collar jobs. The remaining few youths that could not migrate from the rural communities where the cottage palm produce industries were naturally and suitably sited jettisoned all exhortations to join in upholding the sustenance of the industry. Many of such youths ended up running to commercial cities to serve people as apprentices in one line of trading or any of the unskilled artisan trades. And that was how the East lost the palm produce industry that God in His infinite wisdom blessed us with.
Many pundits now suggest that had that cottage industry been sustained and continually developed, a very big, technologically operated palm produce industry would have metamorphosed from it. This is an unarguable truth. It is on that backdrop that this writer is encouraged to advise that the government and leaders of the southeast zone consider critically the possible possibility of re-inventing the moribund cottage industry system and growing it into a technology-based industry with time. And it does not have to be for only the palm produce industry but other agro-based cottage enterprise that at the moment are either non-existent or are very embryonic basic stages that are chronically manual. I am thinking of the cassava processing industry, corn processing industry, palmwine brewing industry, plantain processing industry, fruit processing industry, footwear processing industry, textile industry, fashion design industry, spare parts fabrication industry and other such endeavours that border on manufacturing of essential products for both domestic and commercial uses.
This suggestion finds reasonable credence in the failure of the recourse to the importation of general goods, both those that can be viably produced here and those that can find markets locally. As naturally endowed business people, industrialists and traders, the people of the southeast holds the key to the economic life of Nigeria. In a way, this comes in the form of holding the forte in the importation industry, if we call it that. Ndigbo are the greatest importers of all classes of goods from overseas into Nigeria. Ordinarily, there should not have been anything wrong with that. But many blame the import dependence of Nigeria on the decisions and choices of the international businessmen and businesswomen that abound in the southeast. This is open to argument, but the truth is that some importers place orders for products that can be conveniently and viably produced in Nigeria, especially in the southeast.
That idea does not preclude the continued importation of some categories of goods, particularly heavy industrial machinery and equipment. Rather, it recommends the revitalization of cottage industries to produce many things that currently fill the import list of the country to the brim. Why do our businessmen and businesswomen import toothpicks in very large quantities valued at many millions of dollars? A toothpicks manufacturing cottage industry system should be deliberately and consciously created and established in suitable places across the southeast, for instance. What about setting up a cottage industry for the manufacture of pencils? Only recently the Honourable Minister of Science and Technology, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, announced with pride and fanfare that Nigeria will commence the production of pencils in 2018! Not a few pundits were appalled by such a revelation that after 57 years as a sovereign, independent country Nigeria still spends millions of dollars to import virtually every pencil used in Nigeria. A cottage industry that will kick start the manufacturing of pencils can be established here and there in the southeast.
The fact is that if great industrialization will be achieved in Nigeria nay southeast in the next 50 years, there must be cottage industries for the various that can be gainfully produced or manufactured here. Except and until the cottage industries are established and nurtured here, the dream of industrializing the country will remain a nightmare. There are no two ways about that. That is how the very strong economic blocs of Asia started. Today, they have some of the most viable industrial profiles in the world. Of course the technologized and industrialized world was not created with what they boast of today. They began with cottage industries. The most immediate and remote benefit of the cottage industry system is that unemployment will be drastically reduced to the barest minimum. Then also the government will also increase its internally generated revenue over the time. Ultimately, the country will veer on to the fast lane of technologized and industrialized development.