Douala, 2 October 2017 (ECA) - Deputy Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), Giovanie Biha, got a big round of applause during a dinner debate in Douala after she displayed items produced by local Cameroonian women entrepreneurs.
“I want you all to see these fine oils, handbags and natural herbal products made in Cameroon,” said Ms. Biha. “These are organic products and of superior quality, I can assure you. I encourage you all to buy some before leaving Douala. We are talking about promoting local products and must, therefore, lead by example.”
The debate was a special feature during the 33rd meeting of the Intergovernmental Committee of Experts for Central Africa (ICE2017), which took place from 26 - 29 September in Douala under the theme “Made in Central Africa: from a vicious to a virtuous circle.”
Panelists focused their arguments on ways of making the “Made in Central Africa” brand a reality through developing and strengthening local industrial capacity and consumer base.
A few local entrepreneurs were invited to display their products at the conference venue. Ms. Biha who had visited the exhibition booths earlier in the day and bought some of the products, told co-panelists she was impressed by the quality of the products and wondered “why don’t we find these in European and American markets when our own markets here are flooded with products from those parts of the world?”
Co-panelist, WAGO Jean-Baptiste from the African Intellectual Property Organization (OAPI), argued that branding is one of the few reasons why local products are not well positioned in the international market.
“The handbag Ms. Biha just showed us is very good and there’s no question about its quality,” said Mr. Wago. “But what you notice right away is that it has no logo, no address and doesn’t carry the producer’s name. What if someone saw this and wanted to invest in it or just buy in large scale, how do they contact the producer?”
Panelists included ECA’s Giovanie Biha; OAPI’s Wago Jean-Baptist; a representative from Cameroon’s Ministry of the Environment, Eba Ebe Gabriel; and Helen Tsobgni Tioma who heads the Association of Cameroon Business Women.
The overall consensus was that Central Africa has the necessary natural resources, skills and talents to make “Made in Central Africa” a reality. But more needs to be done in terms of partnerships; financing for small and medium enterprises; packaging of local products in a way that they can successfully compete in the international market; and pricing.
The issue of pricing was raised by some members of the audience who felt that local products tend to be more expensive than those imported. Imported goods have, therefore, a market advantage over locally produced ones. This owes to the fact that manufacturers in Europe, America and Asia are involved in large-scale production and at lower costs, given their relatively more advanced technology and machinery.
For Ms. Biha, the question should not be whether or not we can produce good stuff in Central Africa. We should rather “think of ways of ensuring that such small and medium enterprises can grow, scale-up and think beyond their limited client base.”
“Let’s consume and promote our ‘Made in Central Africa’ products,” Ms. Biha added.
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