Situating bakers’ alert to another hike in bread price

Last week, the Premium Bread Makers Association of Nigeria (PBAN) again addressed the media to alert members of the public about planned hike in the price of bread due to the several challenges facing the sector daily.

It said the move was aimed at intimating bread consumers ahead of the increase, prompting JOHNMARK UKOKO to ask whether another hike in the price of bread is necessary, as the economy takes a harder toll on ordinary Nigerians.

Bread remains one of the oldest and commonest food items all over the world, as the product predates the birth of Jesus Christ over two thousand years ago. It is a staple food item taken by majority of people, but especially by the masses, as it should be available and accessible to all and sundry in all climes and countries.

To stress the importance of bread and fish, the scriptures told a story of how Jesus Christ and his 12 disciples fed and a multitude that followed Jesus while on earth with five loaves and some fish.

In most Arab countries and some Latin America countries, the citizens of those countries have sent their government packing because bread price was increased by few Shillings or little amounts.

In the time past labourers in Nigeria live on bread and beans alone daily to carried out their daily shores.

In times past in Nigeria, pupils and students from poor homes practically, live on bread to survive.

In times past, when Nigerians travel back to their country’s side, one item they must buy home in large quantities to share for their kit and kin or simply put, their kinsmen and other relatives is bread.

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The product was so cheap and sold everywhere that it was taken for granted until the Russia-Ukraine conflict started.

Since the beginning of the conflict in late February 2022, the price of the product that was usually taken for granted, as the food of the poor has increased by over 300 per cent.

Last week, precisely on August 5, 2021, the umbrella body of the bread bakers had during a media briefing where the news was once again broken in quick succession, lamented that the commonest food for ordinary citizens has suddenly become like a precious gold.

Chairman of the Premium Bread Makers Association of Nigeria (PBAN), Emmanuel Onuorah, broke the news that the association was proposing to increase the price of bread for the umpteenth time this year due to rising cost of baking materials.

He noted that the recent development in the global market place had not translated to a better operating environment for local bakers.

The planned hike followed a recent strike by members of PBAN and the Association of Master Bakers and Caterers of Nigeria, which culminated in a 15 per cent hike in the price of bread about three weeks ago.

Onuorah said most members of the association had been forced to close down their business operations this year due to increasing cost of doing business, maintaining the price of bread had to increase just as millers and sugar refiners have increased their prices by over N2,000.

“We had an increase of over N10,000 between three weeks ago and last week. We have no other option, but to increase our prices again within a few days. The price of preservatives has also increased by N2,000, while the price of butter has risen by over N2,000. So, we have to respond accordingly to remain in business.

“For us as an industry, our own is garbage in, garbage out.  If the price of wheat reduces, certainly we will look at the price of our products and also act accordingly,” Onuorah said.

He also appealed to the Federal Government to open up foreign exchange (forex) window for the sector and industry players, particularly the flour millers, saying this would significantly address the indiscriminate increase in the prices of flour in the market.

“When we withdrew our services, flour was sold for N28,500 per bag, but as of Friday, August 5, 2022, the price had increased to N30,500,” he further lamented.

Although the PBAN leadership has good grounds to contemplate another increase in the price of bread less than two months after the last hike, most Nigerians are asking whether only Russia and Ukraine are producing wheat and flour in the whole world.

“What happened to the cassava bread experiment that was promoted by former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration through the Federal Industrial Institute Research Organisation (FIIRO) about a decade and half ago? Does it mean that despite the huge amount of money the Obasanjo administration gave FIIRO to ensure that the country depended less on wheat importation simply ended in private pockets?

On many occasions, Obasanjo and FIIRO assured Nigerians then that the country would no longer be at the mercy of the foreign wheat producers, the Russia and Ukraine conflict has shown that Obasanjo and FIIRO did not tell Nigerians the entire truth.

While the impact of the Russia-Ukraine war is being felt in Nigeria and other African countries, the warring countries signed an agreement to ship over 20 million tons of grain stuck in Black Seaport, through an agreement brokered with support of the United Nations (UN) and Turkey, which Secretary General of the UN, Antonio Guterres, described as an unprecedented accord between both countries.

Does it also mean that the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development did not render any account in the ministry’s avowed assistance for local wheat farmers?

It is also curious to observe that all intervention grants the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) claimed to have given local farmers through its Anchor Borrowers Programme (ABP), which gulped trillions of naira did not include local wheat farmers.

The CBN forex crisis has dealt a big blow to all sectors of the country’s economy, especially the importation of machineries, raw materials and other production inputs, but exactly the country reached the current situation beat everyone’s imagination, as some politicians and their family members continue to easily access dollars, which they spray in parties.

The PBAN also cited the current price of diesel, which now sells for between N800 and N1,000 per litre depending on the  location, as one of the main reasons why the association is contemplating price hike. But in all, the Buhari government and the successive administrations are to be blamed for the country’s present situation.

No doubt, diesel is the main energy source in Nigeria as the successive administrations have been unable to repair,  or even built and turn around the country’s comatose refineries.

When countries like Chad and Republic of Niger are building refineries and refining enough diesel for their local consumption and export, Nigeria, which prides itself as the giant of Africa and with all the abundant natural gas and crude oil reserves, has failed to do so.

While some Nigerians have urged the Federal Government to support and hasten completion of the Dangote Refinery, it remains a sad reality that Aliko Dangote is about to achieve what the government and over 200 million Nigerians could not do.

The other issue, is while Nigerians await the Dangote Refinery to come on stream to refine petroleum products for the country, what happens to the modular refineries, which Vice President Yemi Osinbajo encouraged during his visit to the Niger Delta some time ago?

Does it mean that after six years of the Vice President’s pledge, the modular refineries were still in the drawing board as none of them have commenced refining crude oil? If Nigerians are unable to buy rice, beans, garri, semovita and now bread, what do the authorities expect the people to eat?

Onuorah and members of PBAN may increase the price of bread in response to skyrocketing prices of flour, sugar, butter, diesel and worsening forex exchange crisis, but Nigerians are asking whether if and when the Russia and Ukraine war ends, the prices will ever revert to the pre Russia-Ukraine war rates?

They also wonder whether Nigerians will be able to afford bread again with the way the PBAN has been increasing the prices of bread every month. Only time will tell!

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