“The Chinese dress is so cool.” “And did you see the bag I imported from Dubai? I even prefer the sanitary towels from China. They are more affordable…” These are some of the talks amongst a number of Kenyans who feel that an imported product is ‘cool’ and trendy.
While local customers see it trend to buy manufactured goods from other countries, manufacturers and other players in the industry dread this, terming it as the ‘silent killer’ to the sector.
Khalil Anjarwalla, Director of African Cotton Industries says that cheap imports are more a threat to the industry compared to counterfeits locally.
He explains: “The biggest threat for us right now is not even counterfeit goods but Chinese imports most of which come in illegally.” Anjarwalla adds: “If they are bringing in some equipment such as building material into the country, there is space left in the container so they fill it up with light weight tissue paper or sanitary pads. This is also happening a lot in Zambia where they are importing a lot of building materials from China.”
To revive the once thriving industry, Anjarwalla says there is need for the government to take initiative to support the cotton industry and manufacturing industry at large. “We also need to educate farmers and give incentives as well as offer tax breaks to players in the manufacturing sector.”
In the 1960s, Kenya had a number of ginneries but because of poor industry practice, poor farming techniques and lack of government incentives in the 1980’s, the cotton did not become a focus product that were pushing as a country.
Therefore, a number of cotton ginneries and spinning mills have shut down because we were not getting products from the farmers because they were not being incentified and educated. “But I believe the Central Organization of Trade Union (COTU) is trying to revive it from an agricultural perspective but we have a long way to go,” he adds.
Anjarwalla believes that as a country, we have the capacity needed to grow the cotton industry to large scale. Bringing down the electricity cost and ensuring a proper transport infrastructure will go a long way in strengthening the industry. “If I make sanitary towels and I need to send them to Uganda, Congo or Zambia, I need to access those markets directly. But sadly, what is happening currently is that if one wants to export sanitary pads to Zambia, they first have to go through Durban or Dar es Salam. Also, if we need to improve the railway network.”
Strong engineering capabilities and very technical labourforce is needed in this industry so that the country does not have to import expertise in the sector.”