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GIVE US THIS DAY OUR DAILY BREAD

By NBF News
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Nigerians are hardly amused with the current face-off between the government and bakery owners in the country. They are seeking an end to the confrontation so that bread, good and affordable, would return to their dining tables.

For days, it was absent from the streets and the supermarkets. It was not on the dining tables of the rich; neither could the common man lay hands on it.

The importance of bread to Nigerians cannot be over emphasized. For most average Nigerian families, bread remains a staple food in the face of the distressing economic situation in the country. Be it in the cities or in the villages, bread ranks top among foods that can sustain the body for hours.

This was why the absence of bread from the streets for several days was quite distressing

In what could be described as an unsavoury New Year gift to Nigerians, Members of the Association of Master Bakers and Caterers of Nigeria, (AMBCN) made good their threat to embark on a three-day warning strike to press home their demand for government intervention over the rising prices of baking ingredients. For the period that the strike lasted, every bakery in the state was closed in compliance with the order.

The association had earlier threatened to go on strike, saying they could no longer cope with the high cost of bread production occasioned by increase in the cost of flour, a major ingredient used in baking bread.

According to the President of the Association of Master Bakers and Caterers of Nigeria, AMBCN, Prince Jacob Adejorin, who attributed the strike to the increase in the prices of other commodities used in baking, sustained increases in the cost of doing business had made most of their members to close shop.

He further explained that millers have increased the price of flour from N4, 900 to N5, 600, leaving bakers with no choice than to equally increase the price of bread.

According to him, 'It is pertinent to inform bread consumers before the price increase because bread serves as a staple food for the majority of Nigerians. Reason for the price has to do with the continual price increase in baking ingredients, hence we have no option than to increase prices of bread by adding 10 percent to the current price, if we are to remain in business.'

While lamenting the negative effect of increasing cost of baking, national president, Bayo Folarin noted that the organisation had previously engaged government on the rising costs of wheat and appealed for the removal of VAT on bread, and also for them to remove import duties on wheat. Their demands, he said, are yet to be met by the federal government.

Folarin also noted that all entreaties and consultations with flour millers in Nigeria on the need to reduce the price of floor which constitutes at least 80 percent of the raw materials for bread making were also refused.

Daily Sun's findings indicate that the price of sugar, an important commodity in the baking of bread, has increased from N7, 200 to N10, 500 while a bag of flour has been upped from N4, 900 to N5, 600. Prices of other baking ingredients have also gone up.

Though the association had promised to implement the price increase of between 10 and 20 percent by January 15, 2011, depending on prices of baking commodities, bread still sells at the old rates.

However, if the bakers are to fulfil their promise, a loaf of bread sold for N100 would soon go for N110, while that of N200 bread would sell for N220. This new price increase would be coming less than six months after a similar action was taken in the country.

In August 2010 when prices of bread were increased, it attracted wide outcry and condemnation.

Wheat shortage is being felt in the international market due to natural disasters experienced in countries where they are cultivated.

At present, two key wheat-growing areas, the Canadian West and the Russian bread basket region, have suffered serious weather situations which have impacted negatively on wheat production. South Africa is battling a lingering outbreak of fungus infection, Australia, another wheat producing country is presently being overrun by a devastating flood while China is having its own share of weather related crises.

This global decline in wheat production combined with the lingering effects of the recession and continuing weird weather patterns could soon lead to a global food crisis.

While world wheat reserves are the lowest in 25 years, economists caution that scarcer wheat will push up food prices and accelerate inflation. This scenario seems increasingly likely, especially with the present situation in the country.

Despite this glaring global predicament, bakers could be walking on a tight rope, as they are not certain about what the people's reaction could be.

Mozambique, one of the poorest countries in Africa which is heavily dependent on imported foods is yet to recover from a crises that led to ten deaths in Maputo, its capital city, after bakers in the country increased the price of bread by 20 per cent. This also brings back memories of the 2008 food riots in some African counties.

According to Samson Ogha, a nutritionist, it is sad that attempts to produce bread from cassava and sorghum have failed. He noted that earlier attempts did not meet local and regional standards.

He stressed that Nigeria, as a bread consuming country should improve on its local wheat production to cushion the effect of the global wheat decline.

An agitated bread consumer in Lagos, Olamilekan Akanni lamented that the new bread price would definitely push the commodity beyond their reach.

'I love eating bread and beans everyday. This new increase might make me change my diet because I might not be able to afford the quantity that would fill my stomach,' he said.

Expressing more fears over the likely increase, Uchendu, a bricklayer, said bread is very pocket friendly and perhaps the easiest food to get in the streets. He wondered how people like him would make ends meet with the paltry sum he earns after each day's work.

An undergraduate at the nation's premier university appealed to the authorities to look for ways to subsidize the price of bread for the masses. He averred that this might be done by subsidizing wheat importation as well as other commodities used in bread production.