• Wednesday, July 17, 2024
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Evolution and challenges facing Ankara production, distribution, and export in West Africa

Evolution and challenges facing Ankara production, distribution, and export in West Africa

By Stephen Onyekwelu

Ankara, known for its vibrant patterns and rich cultural significance, has become a symbol of African identity and pride.

Originating from Dutch wax prints, Ankara has a storied history that intertwines with the economic and cultural fabric of West Africa.

Today, the production, distribution, and export of Ankara represent a critical sector in Nigeria and other West African countries, but it faces several challenges and opportunities.

Historical journey of Ankara

Ankara, also known as African wax print fabric, has its roots in Indonesian batik. In the 19th century, Dutch traders and manufacturers replicated the batik technique using roller-printing technology, creating what we now know as Dutch wax prints.

Initially targeted at the Indonesian market, these fabrics found a more enthusiastic audience in West Africa. By the early 20th century, Ankara had become deeply embedded in West African culture, symbolising social status, cultural identity, and unity.

Nigeria, as one of the largest producers and consumers of Ankara, has played a pivotal role in its evolution. The fabric’s popularity soared post-independence in the 1960s, as it became a representation of African heritage and pride.

Today, Ankara is not only a staple in everyday wear but also graces high-fashion runways globally.

Current state of Ankara production

Despite its cultural significance, the production of Ankara in West Africa faces several challenges.

Local production is often overshadowed by cheaper imports from Asia, particularly China. These imports flood the market, offering lower prices that local manufacturers struggle to compete with. According to the Nigerian Textile Manufacturers Association (NTMA), over 80 per cent of the textile products in the Nigerian market are imported.

Local producers such as the United Nigerian Textile PLC and Sunflag Nigeria Limited are making significant strides but still face hurdles such as outdated machinery, inconsistent power supply, and high production costs.

In 2021, Nigeria’s textile industry was valued at approximately $3.20 billion, but it operates far below its potential capacity due to these constraints.

Distribution challenges

The distribution of Ankara is another critical issue. The informal market plays a dominant role, with numerous small-scale traders and middlemen involved.

This fragmented distribution network often leads to inefficiencies and higher costs for the end consumer.

Furthermore, the lack of infrastructure, such as adequate transportation and storage facilities, exacerbates these challenges.

The rise of e-commerce presents a new opportunity for the distribution of Ankara. Platforms like Jumia and Konga have made it easier for consumers to access Ankara products, but logistical challenges such as unreliable delivery services and limited internet penetration in rural areas still need to be addressed.

Export potential and obstacles

Ankara’s global appeal presents significant export opportunities for West African countries. However, the potential is hampered by several factors.

One major issue is the lack of compliance with international quality standards. Many local manufacturers do not have the resources or knowledge to meet these standards, limiting their ability to penetrate international markets.

Moreover, trade policies and tariffs imposed by foreign countries can be prohibitive. The African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) has facilitated some level of access to the U.S. market for African textiles, but complexities in meeting eligibility criteria remain a barrier for many manufacturers.

In 2020, Nigeria’s textile exports were valued at around $32 million, a fraction of the potential considering the global demand for African fashion. The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) agreement, which aims to create a single market for goods and services across 54 African countries, offers hope for boosting intra-African trade and exports.

Opportunities and way forward

Despite these challenges, the future of Ankara production, distribution, and export in West Africa holds promise. To harness its full potential, several measures need to be taken:

Investment in Technology and Infrastructure: Modernising production facilities and improving infrastructure such as roads, power supply, and logistics networks can enhance efficiency and reduce costs.

Capacity Building: Training local manufacturers on international quality standards and providing compliance support can open up new markets.

Policy Support: Government policies that promote local production, such as subsidies for raw materials and protective tariffs against cheap imports, can help local manufacturers thrive.

Promotion of Sustainable Practices: Emphasizing eco-friendly production methods and promoting fair trade practices can appeal to the growing market of ethically conscious consumers.

Leveraging Digital Platforms: Expanding the reach of Ankara through e-commerce and social media can tap into global demand, especially among the African diaspora.

Strengthening Regional Cooperation: Utilising frameworks like AfCFTA to reduce trade barriers within Africa can boost intra-continental trade and provide a larger market for Ankara products.

Ankara remains a powerful symbol of West African culture and a significant economic sector. By addressing production challenges, improving distribution networks, and capitalising on export opportunities, Nigeria and other West African countries can ensure the sustainable growth of this vibrant industry.

With the right investments and policies, Ankara can continue to shine on the global stage, bringing economic benefits and cultural pride to the region.