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As bread price skyrockets

By Editorial Board
12 August 2022   |   4:10 am
Recent increase of about 20 per cent in the price of bread across Nigeria will inevitably further lower the living standard of the average citizen, given that bread is a staple food item popular among Nigerians...

Bread

Recent increase of about 20 per cent in the price of bread across Nigeria will inevitably further lower the living standard of the average citizen, given that bread is a staple food item popular among Nigerians of all classes.

The increase may appear marginal, but it is certainly sufficient to affect both personal and collective economy. However, the bakers are not to blame. Hike in bread price is coming against the background of the harsh economic condition in Nigeria that has sent prices of essential commodities and cost of living to skyrocket compounding hardship and suffering particularly of the masses.

For a country with high agrarian assets and potentials, the instability being experienced from higher bread prices can be drastically reduced; but it requires a government that not only appreciates the negative impact of bread price on its citizens, but is willing and able to provide the right environment for bread industry to thrive.

Ultimately, the solution lies in looking inward with a view to harnessing the country’s vast resources to source and provide materials for bread making locally, rather than rely wholly on importation and thereby the fluctuation in foreign exchange.

Bakers under the aegis of Premium Bread-Makers Association of Nigeria carried out their threat to halt bread production over what the association claimed as almost impossible situation to operate bakery. This is due to the worsening business environment as production cost hits an all-time high. According to the president of the association, Emmanuel Onuorah, operating a bakery in Nigeria is like squeezing water out of stone as the incessant increase in the prices of baking materials and diesel have affected the industry negatively.

Onuorah enunciated other bottleneck challenges the bakers have to contend with regularly, among which are: the Federal Government 15 per cent wheat development levy on wheat import, NAFDAC’s N154,000 penalty for late renewal of certificates, inability of bakers to access soft loans given by the CBN to Micro, Small and Medium Scale Enterprises and multi agencies regulations of the bread making industry. Also the unstable foreign exchange rate, the rising cost of energy, insecurity among other challenges, militate against the production of bread. In no small measure, these challenges continue to depress and push most bakers out of business.  For instance, in Damaturu, Yobe State, 60 out of the 90 bakers in the town have closed shops, says the chairman of the bakers, Alhaji Isa. A good number of bakers have also shut down business in Lagos, Anambra, Kano and Delta states. Many of those still hanging on to business have no choice than to increase the price of bread.

Indeed, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBC) in a recent report buttressed the bakers’ claim. The report shows that inflation of raw materials in recent times has increased the bakers’ agitations to hike bread price. The NBC analysis reveals that bread price rose to about 35 per cent between May 2021 and 2022; and that the nation’s spending on importation of wheat rose to about $2.5 billion from $1.5 billion in the previous year.

Obviously, the government needs to take a drastic stand to halt the pitiable condition facing small and medium scale industries and by extension the citizens. Sadly, entrepreneurs face difficulties and can hardly survive as the business environment is best described as hostile. The situation portrays a mismatch in government’s huge spending to create millions of jobs for the teeming unemployed youth as well as reposition the economy from its shackles. Ironically, today, unemployment level among the youth is dangerously high and could trigger social disequilibrium.

It is disheartening that over the years, government has been lethargic towards addressing certain critical issues plaguing the economy. What is clear to the discerning public amid this regime of constant bread price increase and skyrocketing inflation is that it would be difficult for people to put food on their table if bread, as common as it is, is no longer available for the masses. It, therefore, indicates that the most staple food and one of the cheapest to grab by both the rich and poor may gradually find its way out of reach from the masses. This is unacceptable for a country that has produced bread locally with cassava.

Bakers have pleaded with the public that: “The new increment in prices of stable bread is not our making but that of the increase in the prices of commodities we use in bread production; we want the government to see to it that prices of yeast, sugar and flour being imported are drastically reduced.” They complained that the three firms with licences to import are monopolising the prices of sugar, yeast and flour to the detriment of bakers in Nigeria.

They have also linked high prices to the Russia/Ukraine crisis, exchange rate and the issue of sourcing foreign currency all of which they said are posing major challenges and increasing the price of wheat flour. This is lamentable and draws attention to the ‘failed cassava’ bread initiative introduced by the Federal Government some years ago. The question is what happened to the idea of cassava bread that was well promoted by the president, Africa Development Bank (AfDB), Femi Adesina under the Olusegun Obasanjo regime? The fund set aside and released for the cassava bread project in 2013 was meant for farmers, bakers, processors and others in the cassava value chain to enhance production. Unfortunately, much of the N10 billion released from the cassava bread fund by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (FMARD) for the scheme has not been well accounted for.

Government can still resuscitate the cassava experiment. The bakers have pointed out that the use of cassava and potato flour was an option but the challenge was that the specific species of cassava needed for good flour production was not sufficient in Nigeria. They said the normal cassava that was common in Nigeria was bitter when used to produce flour while potato cultivation was still largely at subsistence level, making production insufficient in the country. These problems are not insurmountable. The government should do everything possible to provide the enabling environment to achieve the cassava bread blueprint.  

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