One is writing this brief piece with considerable excitement. For the first time since one commenced this academic programme, Nigeria has been cited as a positive example of a country, which could do, pretty well if the tempo of change is deepened and internalised across the country.
The example given was the southeastern state of Anambra where the people have just started an energetic export of bitter leaf and ugu vegetables, which are popular in southern Nigeria and used extensively in cooking, though they can be used more beneficially if the therapeutic properties are recognised and harnessed. Our tutor, otherwise known as lecturer in Nigeria, said only a purposeful and efficient African government can lead its people to export vegetables to Europe up to eight times within five months or so without objections from regulatory authorities like the European Food Safety Authority.
The class in question is known as Just In Time (JIT). Though the concept is generally believed to have begun in the 1970s with either the shipping industry in Japan or the Toyota Motor Corporation, it spread to the United States and Europe in the 1980s. JIT seeks to do away with waste in manufacturing and time and dramatically reduce production time. Efficient use of time would mean, among other things, that inventory might not be necessary. The implication is that everyone and every system must work with precision. The supplier must supply whatever is required of him or her precisely at the time it is needed, in the right quantity and the right quality.
All the interdependent teams or departments in an organisation must work with exceptional accuracy because a minor error in one part will definitely affect the entire production process, including the time customers take delivery of their goods. Japanese firms like Toyota have long perfected the Just In Time system. JIT is now used extensively in accounting, aviation and other areas around the world. This system does not primarily seek the abolition of inventories, contrary to the thinking of quite a number of people, but, more importantly, far greater efficient use of time and resources. Lean manufacturing grew out of this concept.
There is a general belief that this system cannot work in many emerging markets, especially those in Africa because, among others, we are hardly punctual in both private and official matters. African time is a notorious syndrome. It was against this background that our tutor mentioned in the class yesterday that things may well be changing in Africa, citing Kenya and Anambra State as examples. The Kenyan example has been known around the world, at least in Europe. Kenya accounts for 35 per cent of fresh flowers in the European Union, with half going to Holland. In 2014, Kenya made almost $600m from the 124,000 tonnes of flowers sent to Europe, cultivated on 127 farms by some 90,000-farm employees.
The farms are located around the Lake Naivasha, which has an excellent climate and fresh water. Naivasha is less than 100kilometres northwest of Nairobi. Horticulture, with about 500,000 people in the value chain, accounted for 1.3 per cent of Kenya’s GDP two years ago. The country could derive so much benefit from its horticulture industry because it has over the years developed an efficient labour force and an efficient transport system, including a globally respected airline managed by KLM; the efficient transport system ensures that flowers arrive in Europe still very fresh. In other words, the Kenyan horticulture industry is an example of JIT at work.
It was delightful to see my country mentioned in this connection in my class. Our tutor said that it is still a conundrum or puzzle to her that a state in Nigeria with no international airport could export eight cargoes of highly perishable vegetables to Europe without problems. This statement must have been made because of the ban since last year by the European Food Safety Authority on the importation of Nigerian beans and some other agric produce for unhygienic and other improper practices. She appeared genuinely surprised that a state in a country not known for efficient transport facilities could scale the hurdles of regulatory agencies in food matters which the developed world takes very seriously because hundreds of millions of lives of their own people are directly involved.
The tutor must have conducted a personal search on Anambra State because she was to quickly praise the leadership of the Anambra State Investment and Protection Agency (ANSIPPA) as composed of internationally accomplished professionals. She also said that she learnt the Anambra State Governor, Willie Obiano, used to be a top banker who trained at Harvard, adding that Nigerian banks have come of age since 2006 when they joined the club of the world’s top 1,000 banks following Charles Soludo’s consolidation.
There are two major takeaways from the examples of Kenya and Anambra State as two African entities, which show that Africa can, with time, begin to practice Just In Time system in their businesses. The first is that there is no reason why places like Jos in Plateau State cannot become Nigeria’s Lake Naivasha by producing large quantities of flowers for export. The second is that there is no reason why other states, including Plateau and my home state of Delta, cannot follow in the footsteps of Anambra State and begin a massive export of vegetables and other agric produce.
All Nigerians—indeed West Africans—in our class will remember for some time to come the day our country was, for once, used as a god example that Africa could be changing for the better.
Ms Ahwefeda is a research student of International Management at University of Roehampton, United Kingdom