Textiles: An untapped potential for jobs

Even though majority of the textiles produced are those from the clothing industry, other forms of textiles such as upholstery, roofing materials and materials used to cover plants, also play a key role in all aspects of life.

Beneficiary sectors

In agriculture, textiles are used to cover plants and wrap trees for protection from weather and insects. Coffee filters and tea bags are made from non-woven textiles. In our homes the furniture we use are made of different types of upholstery textile products. Textiles are also used in roofing materials, wire coverings, wall coverings, blinds and window screens.

Similarly, the transport industry relies on textiles to line the beds of the roads before they are paved. Again, a tyre gets 75 per cent of its strength from textiles. The interiors of all types of transportation vehicles are covered with textiles. Textiles are also used in brake linings, gaskets, seat belts.

What is more, when it comes to medicine, textiles are used to save lives. For example, the Jarvik-7 artificial heart is made of about 50 per cent textiles. Similarly, some artificial arteries are made of knitted polyester to prevent clotting. In the same way, sutures for wounds are made of dissolvable textile fibres.

Thus, textiles form part of our everyday lives in the sense that if the potentials in the textile industry are well utilised in this country, it will lead to expansion of our economy in terms of employment growth, beginning from the raw material stage to the finished product. This will greatly contribute heavily to our Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

 State of textile industry

Ghana’s textile industry employed a total of 25,000 employees in the year 1977, accounting for 27 per cent of the total manufacturing employment. By the year 1995, this number had reduced to 7,000 which declined further to 5,000 in the year 2000. By 2005, the number of persons employed in the textile manufacturing sector had dwindled to only 2,961.

Currently, the large scale garment manufacturing sector employs about 3,000 employees. There is a high turnover of workers due to challenges that are faced by this sector. Some of the challenges are occasional shutdown of these factories and also lack of favourable economic conditions.

The AGOA programme

Ghana has not taken full advantage of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) which began in the year 2000 and has been extended to the year 2025. The apparel sector exported products worth $10 million in the year 2017, a figure which is very insignificant compared to a country like Kenya which exported about $350 million worth of textiles products.

Ghana has not been able to take full advantage of the AGOA due to some challenges faced by the garment sector. These include the inability to produce in large quantities, lack of expertise and technical know-how and also issues of sizing and grading of the garments. Again, some of the tools and processes used in production are archaic, hampering large scale production. Another challenge is the banned dyes used in fabrics. These pose health risks to the wearer of the garments.

The ability to overcome these challenges offers market opportunities for Ghana to help accelerate growth in its non-traditional exports, seeing that the United States is the world’s largest consumer and importer of apparel, bringing in 90 billion dollars’ worth of apparel products in 2015, representing an increase of 33 per cent in six years.


Standards development and application

The GSA has what it takes to develop standards in the garment sector and to help the manufacturers to fulfill the requirements of these standards to make their products acceptable worldwide. The Director General of the Ghana Standards Authority (GSA), Prof. Alex Dodoo has stated that, “the GSA has the ability to support the textile industry to develop world-class standards capable of allowing them to sell anywhere in the world.” He also said the Ministry of Trade and Industry has developed a strategic approach that would put businesses in Ghana in a good position to access markets in the US through the AGOA, which has been renewed for another 10 years beginning in 2015 to 2025.

Furthermore, the GSA has a textile laboratory that goes into the testing and certification of all types of textiles and textile related products ranging from garments, African prints, jute sacks, tarpaulings, sewing threads, work wears, etc. The laboratory is expanding its scope to go into other areas of testing.

Areas of employment

When the potential in the textile and garment industry is well utilised it will reduce unemployment in the country. For example, in agriculture, the youth could be involved in the production of the raw materials like the cotton, wool, jute fibres, etc, providing sustainable employment for the youth and preventing urban migration.  These raw materials could also be produced on large scales for export as a source of foreign exchange in the country. After the raw materials are processed to fabrics, they can then be used in the apparel factories or can be exported for foreign exchange.

Manufacturing plants can also be set up for the production of synthetic fibres like polyester, nylon, acetate, etc. This helps in reducing imports of these fabrics in the country, helping to stabilise the cedi.

It needs to be said that the apparel industry goes beyond fabrics. It extends to the dyes used to manufacture the fabrics. This means that people could also be employed in the manufacture of dyes.

The youth are not interested in reading textiles courses in the tertiary institutions. For example, a research conducted in the University of Education, Winneba, showed that the intake of fresh students for textiles courses was 68 in 2008, 54 in 2009, 43 in 2010 and drastically reduced to 16 in 2011. When there is a robust textile industry in the country, it affects the textile education in the tertiary institutions. More students must be encouraged to study textiles programmes in these institutions to acquire skills for the industry.

The textile sector has the potential to accelerate growth in the industry and the economy as well. It also has the potential to provide employment of both the high skilled and low skilled workers, ranging from designers, accountants, dressmakers, etc. In moving forward as a nation, we can develop policies that will help explore all the employment and economic potentials in the textiles industry.

By Rachel Amanfu

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