Is Nigeria aware of the fact that this coronavirus pandemic has opened up unprecedented opportunities in the global rubber industry?
I often wonder if there is any agency in Nigeria monitoring global product development. What I have in mind is a body of intelligent men and women who follow demand and supply fundamentals and then make sure Nigeria reacts to them accordingly.
For instance, the global rubber industry was valued at $40.77bn in 2019 and was projected to reach $51.21bn by 2027. However, with this pandemic, the medical sciences sector is in desperate need of rubber products, so demand may balloon to $60bn in 2020. Nigeria is one of the few countries on earth where you can mass-produce rubber. Why has a task force not kicked into action?
Natural rubber is used in the production of clinical products such as surgical gloves, rain boots, overalls, some components of goggles, respirators, pacemakers, hospital mattresses, pillows and seat cushions used by medical personnel in the fight against Covid-19. In addition, as the manufacturing of these products is stepped up, the rubber will be needed to make reinforced products such as drive belts, air brake diaphragms and conveyors on revolving or stationary drums.
Already, the rest of the world had latched on to what is going on with countries like Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam certain to dramatically expanding their output. Natural rubber production worldwide in 2019 totalled 13.6m tonnes, a huge increase from the 6.8m tonnes produced in 2000 and make no mistake about it, the 2021 figures will probably double. However, Nigeria is fast asleep once more.
Thailand produces 5.5m tonnes of rubber a year, Indonesia’s output is 3.8m tonnes, while of Vietnam is 1.3m tonnes. Unfortunately, Nigeria only produces a paltry 150,000 tonnes or so. To add insult to injury, the bulk of this is exported in raw form, with no added value.
At the most recent China-Africa trade Forum, Zhou Pinjiang, the Chinese ambassador to Nigeria said that China’s imports from Nigeria in 2019 increased by more than 70%. Why have we not reached out to him and said we will quadruple the volume of rubber gloves, syringes, respirators, etc we export to China. All we want is for the Chinese to open a manufacturing plant in Nigeria and we will guarantee it is supplied by drastically increasing rubber output and acreage.
Rubber is grown in Edo, Delta, Cross River, Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Rivers, Lagos, Ogun, Ondo, Osun, Ekiti, Oyo, Imo, Abia, Ebonyi, Anambra and Enugu states. I am waiting for the governors of one of these states to set aside 1,000 square kilometres of land for dedicated rubber production and to offer farmers incentives like hybrid seedlings, interest-free loans, 50-year land leases, etc.
Are any of these state governments aware of the fact that natural rubber production is considered one of the most profitable agro-industrial ventures globally? Rubber is rated as the world’s fourth most important natural resource after air, water and petroleum.
(9) Were Nigeria governed by forward-thinking people, by now, one state governor would have signed a personal protection equipment (PPE) supply contract with say the British National Health Service. Imagine guaranteeing the supply of say 10m surgical gloves over the next five years.
There is always opportunity in adversity. Covid-19 is no different as it has opened up huge markets in sectors like pharmaceuticals, online conferencing, rubber, medical equipment manufacturing etc. However, Nigeria has not generated $1 from any of these sectors. Do we really have the moral right to complain when the Caucasian looks down on us as sub-human?