Markets for Poor and Research Institutes

Markets for Poor Umbuzo: I have been following your articles on the fast growing concept reflective of “Markets for poor”, as initially propagated by C.K. Prahalad and associates, in their new approach to marketing tagged “Bottom of the pyramid” (Bop). So much is taking place on this subject presently in countries of south/south-east Asia, South America, and even southern Africa, by way of product innovation and business models. In Nigeria, we seem to be in the dark about this subject, despite obvious poverty around. I hope it will not be much of a burden on you if I enquire about the relevance of the more than 100 research institutes here, in this regard – Fred Amadi

Present growing interest, globally, from the realization that issues related to the yet-to-be-tapped global four billion consumer market living on US$ 2 dollars per day at the “Bottom of the pyramid” (Bop), makes me wonder if Nigeria is in any way affected by this new wave. Though recent presence, here, of some international development organisations, in BoP marketing, are giving one cause to waver.

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As the clamour for job creation and poverty alleviation now seem to be government’s mantra, there are reasons to speculate why research institutes in Nigeria, relevant to initiatives in innovative improvements of traditional technologies, seem to be ‘off the scene’. Application of existing resources could be channeled to researches whose outcome would impact on markets for poor. This means the over 100 government funded research organisations helping to change lives of the Nigerian poor, through keying into this concept of Bottom (or Base) of the pyramid.

Research institutes in Nigeria which come to mind (among others) include, Agricultural Rural Management Institute (ARMTI), Cocoa Research Institute of Nigeria, Federal Institute of Industrial Research Oshodi (FIIRO), Institute of Agricultural Research and Extension Services, National Cereals Research Institute (NCRI), National Root Crops Research Institute (NRCRI), Nigerian Institute for Oil Palm Research (NIFOR), Product Development Institute (PRODA), Raw Materials Research and Development Council (RMRDC), National Root Crops Research Institute (NRCRI). The International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), an international research-based organisation in Nigeria, recently became “the baker” of the newly introduced “Nigerian Bread” (derived from the incorporation of cassava flour at 40% into wheat flour) – This is a positive step towards creating jobs and alleviating poverty, and will impact on BoP.

I had a personal experience from an initiative of the Federal Institute of Industrial Research Oshodi (FIIRO), through its introduction of bottled fresh palm wine in the 1980s. As a very young marketing manager of an agro-based manufacturing company that benefitted from this fit by FIIRO, from having “Delta Palmwine” (fresh raffia palmwine preserved in bottle) as its flagship product, I am aware of the effects of such research output. I was at the forefront of its massive awareness-creation effort and subsequent acceptance in several cities of the eastern states of Nigeria during the period.

I still remember the impressive demand for “Delta Palmwine” by even those of southern ethnic extractions residing in northern cities, like Kano. This also prompted discussions with the Nigerian Railways then, on branding of wagons which were to ply the Port-Harcourt to Kano route. “Delta Palmwine” even co-sponsored a Port-Harcourt conference of GastroenterologistsFallout of a published discovery that palm-wine aided in the cure of peptic ulcer.

This is a pointer to so much indigenous research efforts can yield. Poor funding; lack of a functional collaborative mechanism between research institutes and the industries; researchers’ perceived contentment with achievement of results only in their laboratories or workshops, then publications; and many others, are major stumbling blocks of researchers. They should however commence looking in-wards, at playing a part in this fast growing concept of creating markets for the poor.

World Bank defines poverty as earnings of $2 a day or less, futhi $1 a day or less as extreme poverty. Nigeria is 25th poorest economy in the world, njengoba kungabantu abangaphezulu kuka 50 percent of it citizens living under $2 ngosuku (the poverty line), having an inflation rate of about 12 percent. An obvious majority of the more than 80 million Nigerians living in rural areas are classified as poor.

What I am propagating here is a market approach to development, hinged on the “bottom of the pyramid” marketing conceptThe creation of a market for products which are useful to the poor and allow them to get out of the poverty trap. It is an idea aimed at harnessing capitalism to solve the problems of those at the bottom of global economic pyramid. In such a situation, the target population (the rural or urban poor) is more likely to actually want it and use it.

If a business can derive a profit making that product, it not only creates jobs but will keep getting it made, even if donor organisations become uninterested. Let’s get away from a mentality of finding the fortune at the bottom of the pyramid, to creating the fortune with those at the bottom of the pyramid.” The world’s poor do not have much money individually, but there are billions of them – A very large market.

Based on the need to create markets for poor, Nigerian researchers (while encouragement seems not to be coming from the industrial sector) should consider this concept, and look towards schemes such as enhancement of fresh produce procurement system for farmers; storage equipment for agribusiness; fruits and vegetable preservation for retail and export business. Since business models for making the poor benefit from the following are thriving elsewhere, they should also work in Nigeria: Safe Water (cheap point-of-use water treatment system); insecticide treated bed nets; private latrine production (from local materials); treadle pump (small farmers participation in agricultural value chain for increased incomes); organic textile programme, where cotton farmers have direct access to end-users (fashion designers); affordable eye-glasses production; bicycle repair scheme (for farm inspection bicycles); yoghurt production scheme (for development ingane); innovative financing (to help urban poor, through instalment buying, rental or leasing).

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Shiya amazwana

Ikheli lakho le ngeke ishicilelwe.