• Skyrocketing Wheat Price Rekindles Debate On Cassava Bread Initiative
• Agric Ministry, Stakeholders Accuse BOI Of Delaying Take Off
• We Give Loans That Meet Risk Assessment Criteria, Says BOI
THE price of wheat has gone up and is affecting the price of bread in many parts of the country, where the staple food is going out of reach of the common man. The wheat price increase has been attributed to the free fall of the naira against the dollar, as the wheat component of bread is imported.
But some Nigerians believe the country ought to have been less dependent on wheat, if the Cassava bread initiative had been carefully implemented. The increasing price of bread is becoming unbearable in parts of the country according to reports.
In Kano, Master Bakers Association recently embarked on a warning strike to protest the increasing price of wheat. Their action caused uncertainty, as many bread consumers were caught unaware by inflated price of the essential commodity.
The Public Relations Officer of the association, Kabiru Hassan Abdullahi, said, “The strike action was mainly to attract government’s attention and for the consumers to appreciate our problem.”
To many consumers, however, the action was unnecessary, as they argued that bakers were only trying to put the nation into unnecessary bread crisis. Ahmad Baban Bene, a father of three, said any increase in bread price would put the poor man on the street at the receiving end.
The bakers went on strike because a bag of wheat flour, which sold for between N7, 300 and N7, 500 shot up to between N8, 500 and N8, 700. During the strike action, the price of bread increased by between20 to 30 percent, as a product that used to sell for N100 now goes for N120, and that of N120 is now retailed at N150, while the ones sold at N200 climbed to N230.
Proffering solution to the wheat crisis, Abdullahi, said, “Government must find ways to encourage wheat farming at the state and national levels. Bakers must be assisted to get cheap flour. Another viable way to get things right is for government to initiate subsidy on bread, as obtains in other parts of the world. When bread is subsidised, bakers and also consumers will enjoy. On the part of government, that will mean a lot in terms of service delivery.”
According to Abdullahi, although bakers in the state are already using cassava as a component of bread, there is need to increase its percentage from the current five. In the alternative, he said there is need for full adoption of Cassava initiative since it can be produced locally.
Nigeria is the largest producer of cassava in the world and so, we have comparative advantage over every other country. Why can’t we use what we have? If you look at this year’s budget for instance, you cannot find anything on cassava policy
“We need to have a situation, where we can have like 10 or 15 percent of cassava component in bread baking for a complete departure from whole wheat bread. This paradigm shift can actually help government earn more revenue,” he said.
The Ministry of Agriculture blamed the Bank of Industry for delayed implementation of the cassava bread initiative. Officials of the ministry accused the bank of failure to give out loans to master bakers to develop infrastructure needed to key into the initiative, even when the ministry had since lodged in fund at the bank for such purpose.
The Assistant Director, Cassava value chain, Mr. Olusegun Ayeni told The Guardian that the hitch the cassava initiative is facing at the moment stemmed from the unwillingness of the Bank of Industry (BoI) to disburse the money the ministry lodged with it for bakers and cassava processors.
Although he did not disclose the amount lodged with the industry bank, Ayeni said the ministry is still waiting for the bank to have an account of the outstanding fund with the bank.
On the reason for the delayed disbursement by BoI, Ayeni said: “Excuses had been the usual bureaucracy in government circle.”
He said the idea of the fund was to assist bakers and processors to acquire bakery units, processors and other equipment needed in their business.
The president, National Association of Nigeria Traders, Barrister Ken Ukaoha, who reacted to the rising cost of wheat in Abuja, said the challenges facing the bread sub-sector would not bode well for the country, if nothing were done to urgently arrest the situation, especially as the new administration made no reference to the cassava policy in the 2016 appropriation.
“The bread sub-sector is faced with very serious and daunting challenges. The sharp increase in forex is a big issue because more than 90 percent of the bread produced in this country is made from wheat, which is imported. The cassava bread initiative is a policy wrapped around local content in terms of the percentage of wheat and cassava flours that should be combined to make bread.
“We noticed back then that with the 20 percent cassava and 80 percent wheat, the bread was really better and more than 87 percent of Nigerians were actually asking for it. We discovered that 67 percent of Nigerians were sure that cassava bread was better than wheat bread,” he said.
On the claims in some quarters that millers do not want to accept cassava processed by local processors, Ukaoha said there are some varieties of cassava that actually reduce the shelf life of bread, such that bread baked with them get bad within two days.
He, however, said there are other varieties that are good and had been proven to be best in making cassava flour. “So, we agreed then that we should identify the ones that are good and look at their usefulness. And that was why we arrived at the varieties that were used then. Since the last administration, nothing had been heard about the cassava initiative and nothing is on ground to carry it on.
“Nigeria is the largest producer of cassava in the world and so, we have comparative advantage over every other country. Why can’t we use what we have? If you look at this year’s budget for instance, you cannot find anything on cassava policy. You can’t find any mention of cassava initiative, yet we complain that lots of forex is being wasted on unnecessary import. How does government intend to drive the policy, when no reference was made to it in the budget? Are we saying that the initiative has died with the last administration? It means we are back to square one, as far as I’m concerned.”
Then secretary of National Cassava Processors and Marketers Association, Mr. Femi Salami, told The Guardian that the seeming failure of the cassava bread initiative is indicative of the fact that government and its agencies have failed to fulfill their part of the pact entered with stakeholders in the bread business.
He said processors of high quality cassava flour, which is meant to be added to wheat at the ratio of 20:80 percent by millers, are not getting the assistance they were promised.
“Countries all over the world have one thing or the other to do with wheat. The sad thing is that the wheat being imported in Nigeria and other developing countries is third grade. Just like what happens with the importation of rice, Nigeria takes whatever it gets because we cannot look inward and make things work here.
“By virtue of the imported low quality wheat, there is need to produce composite flour that would boost its nutritional value, hence the introduction of high quality cassava flour. It is not only cassava that can be used for this purpose, we can also use yam, rice, potatoes and such carbohydrates, but because Nigeria has comparative advantage in cassava, that was why we settled for it.
“The cassava initiative launched in 2013 was based on four things: all cassava flour will be picked by flour mills; the price will always be at a guaranteed level and government will subsidise it; that we would be growing cassava specifically targeted at producing high quality cassava flour that would be used in the production of bread, and that the Bank of Industry (BoI) will give loans to assist us. The fund is about N3.5b. A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), which indicated that these conditions will be met within 14 days, was signed in public glare with so much media hype. However, the promise was not kept and we are now counting years.”
The national chairman of Association of Master Bakers of Nigeria, Sir Simeon Abanulor, also blamed the BoI for the delayed implementation of the cassava bread initiative. Like the ministry of Agriculture, Abanulor said the bank has refused to release money meant for equipment for bakers despite all the promises in public.
“If this project fails, BoI caused it, because it failed to do the right thing at the right time. Till today, the bank has not disbursed the money lodged with it and consequently, the master bakers don’t have the requisite capital and are not empowered. BoI has not paid equipment suppliers the remaining of their money. The bank has messed up the project by not empowering bakers and it is unfortunate,” he said.
He said HoneyWell and Golden Penny, which are the major players in the industry, are currently adding 10 percent of high quality cassava flour to wheat and have advised bakers to add the remaining 10 percent to make the added quantity of 20 percent.
He regretted that the bakers couldn’t do that, as they lacked proper equipment to enhance their product.
He explained that the composite flour with 20 percent high quality cassava yields better output and guarantees profitability apart from its nutritional value.
“The initiative came to stay, but it is unfortunate that we are not even sure what the cassava component is in wheat for now. If the improver is there, it will be more profitable than using the whole wheat flour because whole wheat flour is N10, 500, but the multipurpose flour with 10 percent inclusion of cassava goes for N7, 800.
“The yield is not the same thing too. For whole wheat, you cut 90 grams and get 60 loaves but the composite range yields 68 loaves of 90 grams. That is why we are saying cassava bread is a type of national development and if Federal Government knows that, they should finance the policy well. It will help our economy and reduce unemployment, especially now that Nigerians have accepted bread as a staple food and not snacks as was the case before.”
He explained that the increase in bread price has become imperative because the price of flour has increased three times in 2016 alone, and that his association had to advise its members to increase their prices by 20 percent.
But the Bank of Industry (BoI), in a reaction, explained that prospective customers, who have not met the bank’s risk assessment criteria, might not have access to the funds. It said the bank has a responsibility to ensure that loans are properly utilised and recovered for intervention in other sectors.
A top official of the Bank, said the disbursement of funds is based on appraisal, through processes designed to avoid loan defaults by customers, in order to ensure that the institution remains healthy to provide financial intermediation in the real sector.
The official said the Bank recently partnered auditors to aid appraisal of assets presented by businesses seeking loans from the institution in order to ensure that the ratio of non-performing loans in the institution is further reduced from the present four per cent.
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