Why is Nigeria Not Cashing In On The Dramatic Global Surge In The Demand For Tissue Paper?

Over the last fortnight or so, the surge in the demand for tissue paper, kitchen roll, wipes and napkins has been dramatic worldwide as the coronavirus surge spreads
Across the world, departmental stores, retail chains and supermarkets are having to deal with panic buying, leaving their shelves bare
Worldwide, the printed tissue paper market size was valued at $657.4m in 2018 and I would imagine that this has at least doubled if not tripled by now. With this virus, the market must be worth at least $2bn by now. This is only going to keep growing
Now, let me crack you up. Do you know that Nigeria spends N50bn ($135m) importing tissue products annually?
We import tissue product despite the fact that we have the Nigeria Paper Mill Jebba, Nigerian Newsprint Manufacturing Company, Oku-Iboku and Nigerian National Paper Manufacturing Company in Iwopin virtually sitting idle
Although these plants were primarily set up to produce newsprint, they are modular and can easily be switched to produce tissue paper. Bear in mind Nigeria is also the open defecation capital of the world
Since 1999, we have tried to privatise all three mills but alas, the process has simply not worked. Nigeria is one economy where an industry immediately collapses when you privatise it. As you know, this has been seen with other sectors including Ajaokuta, Nepa, NNSL, etc. Cronyism and the lack of a vibrant domestic bourgeoisie means these industries do not end up in the hands of industrialists
According to the Food and Agricultural Organisation, Nigeria has over 9m hectares of forest. Can someone please explain to me how such a nation is not a major forestry products exporter?
In the current circumstances, I think what our trade and industry minister should be doing is speaking to major retail chains worldwide, asking them to come and take over these Nigerian paper factories and establish a global supply chain
Have we considered how much we could generate from the export of tissue paper if we asked the likes of Walmart, Sainsbury, Tesco, etc to take over our paper mills? Personally, I like to think big, so would set myself an annual target of $1bn in revenue.

Written by: Ayo Akinfe

A London-based journalist who has worked as a magazine and newspaper editor for the last 20 years.