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USINESS Streamlining artisanal business will create job opportunities

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I remember when I visited Zakibiam Yam
Market in Benue State in the year 2000 . There I
saw women hawking drinking water with
earthenware pots. I lived in Kaduna at the time
and that appeared anachronistic compared to
what we had there . In Kaduna , water was hawked in
knotted cellophane bags . Sometimes , they had blocks in
them and the colder they were, the better they sold .
The only competition they had then was the
elitist Yankari Spring water . Soon enough , the
idea of better packaging and commercialisation
occurred to some entrepreneurs and they came
up with the ‘ pure water ’ idea where the water
was either bottled or packaged in stronger,
sealed cellophane bags to replace the merely
knotted ones .
Then , the leadership of National Agency for
Food and Drug Administration Control at the
time swung into action . On Network news every
night , we were shown clips of NAFDAC’ s team
pouncing on pure water factories , destroying
their products and sealing them up . The same
movies played out in the bakery and
confectioneries subsector where carcinogenic
additives were used as bread ‘ improver ’ to
make the loaves bigger and more profitable for
the owners of crude unsanitary bakeries .
Today , standard bakeries and pure water
factories now thrive on the ashes of the
artisanal ones of yesteryears whose operations
were hazardous and laborious , with
uninspiring prospects for growth and poverty
alleviation . I personally cringed each time I
watched those round - ups on TV and wondered
how many poor people would have lost their
livelihoods each time those makeshift factories
were sealed and products destroyed.
I reasoned that those businesses were mere
entrepreneurial responses to the needs around
and that instead of total destruction of
livelihoods, the operators should have been
educated and supported with training on
industry best practices to standardise their
operations . Fortunately , NAFDAC eventually got
it right . They accessed funds for massive media
education on the dangers of some of the
irregular practices of those business owners
and developed templates of environmental and
health expectations of businesses that produce
foods and beverages , including water . Some of
those templates can today be accessed online
by new entrants. It is better to help already
existing entrepreneurial efforts to get better ,
than to trample them and worsen the
unemployment and poverty crisis in the
country.
This approach is what currently sustains the
fisheries subsector of the economy. Before the
80 s , artisanal fisheries were poorly developed
but under the nation ’ s fourth development plan
and with the support of the Food and
Agricultural Organisation and the United
Nations Development Programme, the activities
of artisanal fishermen who now account for
over 80 per cent of Nigeria ’ s fish production ,
were upgraded in Nigeria ’ s six maritime states .
They are regulated to protect the environment,
deliver better dividends and yield better
returns to the economy . This approach can be
replicated in two critical subsectors of our
economy — oil refining and mining .
Artisanal trades are plied by entrepreneurs who
want to meet needs but may not have the
requisite technology and know - how with which
to fit into modern- day venturing expectations .
However , their businesses provide livelihoods
for them and sometimes for whole
communities.
At a workshop on sustainable mining
development in Nigeria in 2003 , Senator Sanusi
Daggash averred that instead of running down
the illegal miners as the profligates of the
mining sector , they should be praised for their
resilience as they have been the brains behind
some mineral finds notwithstanding their lack
of education and technology. He added that
their activities should be streamlined to
generate more revenue since they were
bridging an economic gap through their
activities .
Artisanal miners are the likes of the gold and
lead diggers in Zamfara and Niger States who
were in the news at different times a few years
ago because of lead poisoning in their
communities. They had been excavating the
earth for the minerals, washing their finds in
their streams and refining them in their homes
with mercury using household utensils. The
proceeds from these activities provided
livelihoods for dwellers but also triggered a
disease epidemic . They were economically
valuable entrepreneurs who lacked the right
technology and approach to a trade that could
yield much more for them and their
environment if they could adopt standard
methods of operation and have exposure to
markets.
A clip monitored by this writer on a Gold
Refining facility mounted by Nasaman Gold
Processing Project in Kogi State gives an insight
into how a little investment can make a
difference in the lives of artisanal workers in a
community. In the documentary , some of the
artisanal miners who brought their products for
refining explained that they made more money
and saved time , instead of continuing with
their hazardous methods . Such resource - based
facilities can keep young people productively
engaged within their communities while
generating revenue with which to pay for
better living standards including education and
healthcare .
Nigeria continues to seek alternative sources of
revenue and employment generation but I do
say that the artisanal operators in diverse
sectors of the economy , including the
subsistence refiners of crude oil in the Niger
Delta , who provide consumer fuels in those
rural communities, may hold the key .
Government can invest in standardising and
expanding their operations such that they can
adopt safer methods , employ more people and
generate additional revenue for the economy

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