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Kano ice block biz no longer cool

Ice block making business is usually a lucrative one for those in it especially in northern Nigerian states like Kano where sweltering heat prevails during the months of January to May. The heat usually forces residents to demand for cold drinks to get some respite.

At such times, not only residents in Kano but people from Daura in Katsina State, Jigawa and even neighboring Niger Republic besiege Kano to purchase ice blocks and transport them for consumption in the areas. The ice block markets, which are concentrated in Dakata, Sharada, Katsina Road, Murtala Muhammed Way and Sauna areas of Kano metropolis witness influx of customers daily during peak periods.

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The ice block markets in Dakata Industrial area is a bee hive of activities as many customers were always hastily throwing the ice blocks inside large sacks for transportation to various destinations while others impatiently waited for their supplies to be ready. “You know we have to get these ice blocks to our customers before sunset when Muslims would be breaking their fast, that’s why you see everybody in a hurry,” Madam Rebecca, who operates a restaurant in the vicinity, told Weekly Trust.

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She said she bought each of the ice blocks at of N50 and would resell them from N90 to N100 to her own customers. “On a sack of ice blocks which contains about  a hundred pieces, you can make profits of about N4,000 to N5,000”, she said.

Also, Malam Auwalu Rabe, 29, another dealer in ice blocks describes the business as successful, recalling that it bolstered his grocery enterprise in no small measure. “When I decided to establish a provision store, I began with a wooden kiosk which contained few items about two years ago, but after discovering ice business, I was able to rent a shop within a short time. I can tell you that dealing in ice blocks has been a blessing to me”, he said with a broad smile on his face.

But for Hamisu Musa, also a large scale ice block seller, the business could be both sweet and sour at the same time because the price of the commodity fluctuates with the weather particularly during rainy season. “How much you can make depends on the weather in any given day. For instance, the price of an ice block could be N50 when the sun is hot in the afternoon. But after it rains, the price could abruptly drop to N10. In that case you can say the business is not profitable considering the production costs”, he said.

Musa said apart from price fluctuation, setting up the business could also be challenging, because not everybody can afford it. He said a cold room which has the capacity to accommodate about 400 blocks of ice goes for N380,000 while a smaller one with the capacity of 280 blocks goes for N280,000.

Similarly, Ismai’la Adeleye, the chairman of the Dakata Small Scale Ice Block Makers lamented that ice block business is no longer as profitable as it used to be especially with the recent increment of electricity tariff by the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN). He said before the increment his electricity bills never exceeded N20,000 a month.

“But now we pay more than N40,000. The increment has forced many of us to shut down, because they cannot continue. It’s not profitable anymore. Out of the 120 cold rooms we operated in this factory, only 60 are now working. Cold rooms as you know require constant electricity supply, because they use air conditioners to work. The ice blocks also take very longtime to be ready. They can take up to 48 hours to harden,” he explained.

Adeleye said though its Ramadan period, the sale of ice blocks has plunged because festive period has coincided with the rainy season. “An ice block normally sells at N50 but sometimes we are forced to sell ten pieces at N100 when demand is at its lowest. That happens during cold seasons or after heavy rains which make the weather to become cool,” he said.

According to him, the business also requires employing people to package water, arrange the liquids sachets in the cold rooms and monitor them until they are ready. “A cold room needs at least one person to take care of it. An ice block dealer could have more than three cold rooms at a time which means they have to have one person for each. Each of these people are paid about N1,000 in a day,” he further said.

Weekly Trust learnt that ice block business is highly competitive which many people see as another disadvantage. Customers dealing in the goods normally go round many markets to search for possible reductions in prices, according to Adeleye.

“Customers do not remain loyal to a single market. A customer of ice block can visit three to four markets before he finally settles for the one where he thinks the price is favorable. This is why many makers try to fix uniform prices to avoid losing their customers to other markets. The competition is so keen sometimes that all the markets remain stagnant, causing vast losses to all of us,” he explained further.

For now,   ice block making appears to be a business in hibernation, but the stakeholders in it hope that if the PHCN reduces tariff which they consider the greatest impediment to their success, they would probably see a light again at the end of the tunnel.

 

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