Covid-19 pandemic bares plight of industries
Eric Wainaina @EWainaina
Joseph Kaguai supervises four employees at his toothpicks manufacturing plant in Thika town as they race against time to meet an order placed by one of his few remaining clients.
Most clients have gone silent as coronavirus pandemic effects persist.
Kaguai, who is among the few people practising toothpick manufacturing locally says before the pandemic hit the country in March, his Jasenka Industries struggled to build a client base since most buyers rely on importers.
“We had only managed to get few hotels and wholesale buyers. Local dealers had engagements with importers from China, and convincing them to switch to our products was not easy,” says Kaguai, who opened the firm in September last year.
However, since stoppage of importation, mostly from China, the commodity, whose demand has plummeted due to closure of hotels, has been scarce.
The situation exposes the danger of the country’s over-reliance on imports and local manufacturers potential to produce enough for the nation if supported by government.
President Uhuru Kenyatta has placed manufacturing among his main areas of focus under the Big Four agenda as a way of creating employment but the impact of this is yet to be felt.
“This should be a wake-up call that government should support manufacturing as a matter of priority by discouraging importation of items which can be produced locally.
We have the manpower, skills and needed raw materials,” Kaguai told People Daily.
Kenya imports heavily from China, with most traders in textiles and electronics around the city shipping nearly all of their wares from the Asian economic giant.
The annual import bill stands at about Sh1.76 trillion, of which Sh370 billion or about 21 per cent of Kenya’s total imports are sourced from China.
Phyllis Wakiaga, the chief executive of Kenya Association of Manufacturers says the pandemic presents a challenge to the government to help in building local industries.
The government, she said, needs to fast-track finalisation of Local Content Guidelines, approval of Local Content Policy and expanding the scope of Local Content Bill to feature all sectors in manufacturing.
Implementation of the measures, she said, will not only ensure sustainable local value chain integration but also reduce industrial and trade risks from external shocks.
“Although Covid-19 has demonstrated Kenya’s unity, it has also brought to light the dangers of over-relying on imports at the expense of building resilient industries,” Wakiaga said.
While import inflows have reduced, some manufacturers have had to change their production lines to produce masks and hand sanitisers to fill the gap.
These efforts are reflected for example by the Kitui County Textile Company (Kicotec) and the National Youth Service which are producing face-masks while Shona EPZ Limited and Bedi Investments Limited in Nakuru are manufacturing Personal Protection Equipment (PPEs).
Kitui Governor Charity Ngilu, in an interview with the Washington Post about Kicotec recently, said it was economically unhealthy to continue relying on importation.