With the current increase in the price of bread, what does the future portend for bread consumers and bakers?
I can speak for the bakers but I cannot speak for the consumers. As the president of an association that bakes bread, I can tell you that it is a tough time for us (bakers). We are suffering. Jobs are being lost on a daily basis because bakeries are shutting down and are in comatose. It has been tough for us, post COVID-19 till now.
What stage of the baking process gulps the most money that is necessitating the increase in bread prices?
All the stages involved gulp a lot of money. Our raw materials are 100 per cent imported.
Some people believe that because there is no regulation of the prices of foodstuff across the nation, bread prices keep going up at will. What’s your response to that?
That is an erroneous way to think about it. Ordinarily, if we want to pass on the cost, sliced bread should be selling for a thousand naira now, but we still have some that go for N500, N550, N600, N650, and N700, depending on the ingredients used to bake it. We cover practically all strata of society. There is a nexus between increased prices and reduced sales, and it is a negative nexus. The moment prices are spiraling, sales drop. It does not benefit us in any way because once the price increases, it affects sales.
What needs to be done to improve the current situation?
The first thing is for the government to make deliberate efforts to ensure that the duty millers pay on wheat imports (30 per cent) is either frozen or removed. It is humongous because nobody does that anywhere in the world. The Federal Government must support small businesses through the Bank of Industry’s direct intervention from the Federal Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment, and help in terms of soft loans and grants. That will go a long way.
Some bakers are said to use substandard materials for baking. In what ways does your association checkmate things like that?
To be a member of PBAN, you must subscribe to in-country regulation, NAFDAC regulation, you must not use unwholesome material, you must have your standard operating procedure, and your equipment must be properly calibrated. From time to time, compliance officers go around bakeries where they do their premix, to know what they use. Anyone who uses substandard materials (though we haven’t seen any), will be taken up and reported to the authorities.
Aside from the increase in the prices of materials used for baking, what other challenges is the industry facing?
The rising cost of diesel is one challenge, irregular electricity supply is another, harassment of our members by law enforcement agents on the road is something else, as well as unnecessary taxation from local governments. Also, officials of ministries of health in different states in Nigeria burst into bakeries and beat up people without any notice.
Sometime last year, some bakers took to the streets to protest what they termed ‘persistent exploitation’. How were you able to resolve the crisis?
Graciously, the Speaker of the Lagos State House of Assembly, Mudasiru Obasa; the house’s committee on commerce and local government liaison got across to us. They got all the agencies we complained about to sit with us in the assembly, and far-reaching decisions were taken as to whom we should meet if we had any problems. Since then, the Lagos State government has been cooperative. The harassment has reduced in Lagos, but it is not the same in other states. Our protest was in Lagos because of the level of harassment we faced. We were also introduced to the Lagos State Employability Trust Fund, and they have been helpful. They give (our members) grants and loans once the requirements are met.
How do you foresee bread prices in the coming days if not checked?
The prices will keep going up because it is a function of ‘garbage in, garbage out’. It is what we buy that we sell. One cannot buy flour that used to be N10,300 for N29,000, and sell the finished products at the same price. If the prices of raw materials keep soaring, one would have to keep increasing price to be competitive, albeit not arbitrarily, but in a way that one will be able to break even.
WRITTEN BY BABATUNDE TUGBOBO