Bakers in Africa’s biggest economy have called for the legislation of the cassava inclusion policy to drive its adoption in the flour milling industry.
The bakers who made this known during the Cost of Living Crisis Twitter Space programme organised by BusinessDay said the addition of High-Quality Cassava Flour (HQCF), Orange Flesh Sweet Potato, and Sorghum in flour production by millers can help tackle the surging bread prices.
“If we are serious in addressing the continuous surge in bread prices we must ensure that every flour sold in the country should have an element of cassava flour, sorghum, or sweet potatoes,” said Jude Okafor, the national secretary for The Association of Master Bakers and Caterers of Nigeria (AMBCN).
“Other countries are adding this to their flour to help control prices of bread,” he added.
He noted that the bill has remained in the House of Assembly as it was reintroduced in the senate.
Since the Russia-Ukraine war, prices of wheat, a major component in bread production, surged to an unprecedented level as both countries are major suppliers of the grain.
The situation forced several countries that were hard hit to start including close substitutes such as sorghum, orange sweet potato flour and HQCF in the production of flour. But despite the pressure, the Buhari administration is yet to rethink the country’s cassava inclusion policy which was introduced by the previous administration.
“Currently no flour miller in the country is including cassava in their flour as we speak. The cassava flour has been abandoned since Buhari’s administration. What we do is to buy cheaper wheat from the Black Sea region and blend it with quality wheat from the United States and Canada,” Okafor said.
“Our local production is still low and we need to start looking at alternatives,” he added.
The Obasanjo-led government initiated the cassava inclusion policy in 2002. Then, the Obasanjo administration mandated flour millers to substitute five percent cassava flour in wheat flour meant for baking bread and production of other confectionaries.
While the initiative increased the country’s local cassava production and made Nigeria became the largest producing nation of the crop, it failed to take root amongst flour millers, as most of them were unable to get high-quality industrial-grade flour for use.
This was a result of the inadequate processing capacity to process fresh cassava tubers to high-quality graded flour for industrial use.
Owing to this, research institutions such as the Federal Institute of Industrial Research (FIIRO), International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), and the National Root Crop Research Institute (NRCRI) in a combined effort released improved cassava varieties to farmers for high-quality cassava tubers, aiding the processing of high-quality flour in the country.
In 2007, the policy, which was already gaining momentum, was abandoned as the Obasanjo-led government left office thus bringing the whole policy process to a halt.
After five years of being abandoned, in 2012, former President Goodluck Jonathan, re-introduce the policy to encourage the substitution of high-quality cassava flour for wheat flour and the inclusion rate was expected to increase from 10 percent steadily to 40 percent by 2015.
On this promise, many investors made a lot of investments in cassava production and processing which is very capital intensive. Yet again, the policy implementation was slow to take effect as there was stiff resistance from the flour millers and consumers’ unwillingness to embrace cassava bread.
Since the Buhari-led government took over in 2016 nothing has been said or done concerning the inclusion policy.
The Nigerian government’s inconsistency and inability to affect the use of cassava flour have resulted in the loss of huge revenues that could have accrued from an active industry.
Okafor pointed out that since Nigeria has been unable to increase its wheat production to the same level as its counterparts in Ethiopia and South Sudan whose nations are self-sustaining on their wheat production, the cassava flour, potato, and sorghum composite should be produced in the country more especially for its nutritional benefits.
‘‘ The orange, flesh sweet potatoes flour is better than wheat flour, it contains natural sugar and milk also contains vitamin C, it’s good for people above 40 years replacing wheat bread.’’
Okorafor explained that due to the surge in prices, patronage for bread and other confectionaries is falling.
“Today we don’t work at full capacity. We operate at 30 percent capacity in most bakeries. The buying public has reduced by one-third of the number it used to be,” he said.
He spoke further on the multiplier effect of operating at very low capacity, noting the situation has forced many to total shutdown due to the many problems bedevilled the industry.
“We are in the employment of over 450,000 people, the second highest employer of labor; each bakery employs 20-25 people, we have been able to pull people out of the street. If all these bakeries shut down totally, meaning all its employees will go back to the street there will be an increase in insecurity.”
Speaking also, Nora Busa, public relations officer of AMBCN said the association is calling for a temporary suspension of all levies or fines imposed on them by both government and regulators to survive this difficult time and also because these levies also add up to hike in the price of bread.
Busa said that “The regulators are not meant for generating revenue. There are some charges now under the bakery you see them charging bakery N500,000 to N1,000,000 because you just fell a penalty.