Poor packaging of products, though often taken lightly, has always been one of the major factors behind failure by Tanzanian manufacturers to capture reliable markets abroad.
This problem has been going for years without any proper solution sought to it, particularly with small enterprises.
Cumbert Kapilima, head of Tanzania Bureau of Standards’ packaging and technology centre, says many small enterprises put more focus on improving the quality of their goods but packaging has remains a fetter to their efforts. Yet in the modern world of business, this is one of the major determinants of quality products.
The reason is clear, and it is that packaging influences consumer taste and determines the period in which a product can be safely ferried and stay in the market. It is therefore a major product safeguard.
It is a blessing that a packaging centre already exists in Tanzania, run by TBS. Rather sadly, it only provides packaging training and sensitises manufacturers on the best ways to handle products before actually reaching consumers. This seriously limits the centre’s usefulness and relevance.
In other countries like Singapore, China and Japan, such facilities are one-stop packaging centres that offer comprehensive knowledge and research on packaging, besides manufacturing packaging materials for business enterprises.
In other words, the centres are places where businesses can get all manner of packaging material and then proceed to the market in decent form. Such should be facilities where all packaging information or news is readily available to companies, people, industrial sectors, projects, etc. Short of that, which is largely the case in Tanzania, manufacturers produce and most of their efforts go to waste.
But that is not the only reality in the Tanzanian packaging industry. Under the prevailing circumstances, the availability of packaging materials remains under the monopoly of the Small Industries Development Organisation (SIDO) – and this has serious consequences to producers.
Manufacturers attribute the prevalence of inefficiency, shortages and poor quality of packing materials precisely to this state of affairs where there is a lone importer of the items. This has not only adversely affected the flow of Tanzanian goods searching for foreign markets but also undermines the manufacturers’ urge to produce.
What then should be done? Of all areas of production, this is the most notable spared by the wind of trade liberalisation. But if the government is to liberalise it, it should do so with immense caution. Keeping supply of packaging materials under one supplier amounts to holding back, in fact sabotaging, business given the demands of globalisation.
But even if one were to keep the supply under the armpit of the state-run SIDO, perhaps for purposes of ensuring the agency remains afloat, why not have the supply fall under the care of several enterprises within the agency?
Still, in the long term, ensuring that the country has one-stop packaging centre with as many branches as would make economic sense looks by far the best way out.
It remains to be seen whether the government, the Industry and Trade ministry and the likes of SIDO in particular, will find time to put in place modalities that will ensure this dream comes true.