Home » Business » Surely, We Can Make Our Own Pampers?

A news item on ZBCTV on Tuesday night about the increase in Zimbabwe’s import bill could scarcely escape attention for basically two reasons.

First, the country continues to import more than it exports, a slide that economists like to call trade deficit.

For last year the figure stood at $3 billion and the first three months of this year alone have given us a whopping figure of $1.6 billion spent on imports.

Zimbabwe exported goods worth $716.6 million leaving a deficit of $853.6 million.

A simple extrapolation suggests that by year-end Zimbabwe would have spent around $3.5 billion on imports in an economy that is said to be worth $10 billion.

Even for non-economists this figure — and a trend — should be worrying because Zimbabwe is allowing itself to wantonly consume products from outside while systematically scorching its own industries.

Zimbabwe is fast becoming some giant warehouse of foreign manufactured goods while it has also become the retail cash cow of the region.

Additionally, money being spent on foreign products could be harnessed to develop the economy of Zimbabwe which will only grow weaker and weaker as it relies on foreign imports.

And, literally, some of those imports are not even healthy.

But the ZBC report brings out certain uncomfortable facts.

It takes particular issue with disposable napkins also known as diapers or pampers.

It says: “Zimbabweans also imported disposable napkins valued at $8 million in the first quarter . . . If the trend is not stopped, it will mean that by the end of the year, the country will have used over $32 million in importing disposable napkins. Literally speaking, the country will have flushed $32 million down the drain come the end of 2015.”

The report adds that sanitary ware products and other toiletries accounted for more than $3.5 million in the first quarter.

Now the sanitary ware and other toiletries being referred to here include sanitary pads, soaps and detergents, tissues, toothpaste and so on.

Whether by design or not, the choice of this area is very prudent.

Yes, we could forget about the car manufacturing, fertilisers, steel products and so on, the revival of whose industries seems a tall order, intimidating.

But we use toiletries everyday — some kids no longer use the traditional cotton napkins these days — and there we go spend-thrifting, blowing away, our money!

Toiletries are by all fair means some of the easiest things to make.

A backyard industry could make soap for a whole community while tissues, which we are spending a fortune on, are made of recycled paper.

Unfortunately, local companies for these simple undertakings are closing down especially because of lack of protection from undue foreign competition.

Out of interest, this writer got hold of a company that manufactures sanitary ware.

Here is what Paddington Mupfururirwa, the sales and marketing manager at the company, said: “We are the only company still manufacturing sanitary pads in Zimbabwe at the moment and this is not healthy for us obviously.

“Three companies have ceased production in the last five years alone and we are not so clear of our future as well. However, we gly feel the underlying problems affecting viability for this industry go beyond the figures we see. There is lack of a comprehensible policy that protects the local manufacturer by lowering duty tariffs on raw materials.

“As we speak, it would appear more attractive to import a finished product as opposed to raw materials and machinery.

“This is because (to buy) raw materials (we) are paying as much as 15 percent while finished products (cost) only 5 percent with plans to scrap these duties altogether.

“It is thus difficult to revive those closed firms, add to that the influx of very cheap imports and we have an unsustainable situation.”

This is posing viability problems as local manufacturers have to keep prices low to maintain relevance but with such low margins, they are unable to increase plant sizes or even market aggressively enough.

“So while we moan about these statistics, we need to reflect on what the government can do to assist the local manufacturing process so as to narrow the gaps for imports to penetrate,” said Mupfururirwa.

Of course, he points out, sanitary ware is a sensitive issue which needs to be treated with care as we have women whose access to a wider choice of quality, affordable sanitary products should never be compromised.

But there should be a balance between importing for that purpose and creating an economically sustainable process through manufacturing.

And sanitary ware is simple enough a subject, if a touchy one at the homes, and at the level of authority it must now be seriously considered whether it is desirable to leave the health of the family in the hands of outsiders and we pay handsomely for it.

There is also the issue of an increase in the import of such products as fish, eggs and fresh produce contributing to the high bill.

It is now common cause that at Mbare Musika traders with South African-produced products such as tomatoes, onions and fruits are now flooding out local products. And the farmers from Domboshava, Chihota, Seke and Mutoko are paying a huge price.

This is not only unsustainable: it is also most unfortunate.

On the back of this unflattering picture, what has to be done?

While there has been regular condemnation of imports such products as agricultural produce, including chicken, not much has been done to curb such influx.

At the macro-level one would be hard-pressed to find a regular programme of re-indistrialisation, retooling and revival of industries to churn out local goods to substitute imports.

One would have thought that the environment Zimbabwe is under, an environment of sanctions, would have given more impetus to import substitution.

(Import substitution is defined as, “An economic theory employed by developing or emerging market nations that wish to increase their self-sufficiency and decrease their dependency on developed countries.

“Implementation of the theory focuses on protection and incubation of domestic infant industries so they may emerge to compete with imported goods and make the local economy more self-sufficient.”)

There are jobs to be made as well in import substituting.

It is understandable that there could be politics of imports to the effect that imports should make up for what we cannot readily avail.

That is how we survived the period of shortages not so many years ago.

However, a stop-gap measure cannot subsist forever especially one that has negative long-term effects.

Zimbabwe must also begin to talk seriously with countries such as South Africa with a view of stemming the flow of products that Zimbabwe can make.

And these include pampers.

Source : The Herald