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Garri has gone gold: Soaring prices leave Nigerians scrambling for staple food, experts blame gov’t, farmers’ greed

Garri has gone gold: Soaring prices leave Nigerians scrambling for staple food, experts blame gov’t, farmers’ greed

Soaring prices of garri, a popular cassava flour in Nigeria, have left many Nigerians scrambling to feed their families. The price of this once-affordable staple food has skyrocketed, with BusinessDay reporting a 108 percent hike in prices as of Wednesday, March 6, 2024.

Amid the country’s challenging economic landscape, citizens find themselves in dire straits as the affordability of garri, once considered a lifeline for the average Nigerian family, slips further away.

A Lagos State resident, Lateef Amogbonjaiye, paints a grim picture of the rising cost of living and shares with our correspondent the difficulties he faces in affording necessities like garri. He explained that the price of a 4-litre bucket of garri has nearly tripled in the past year, jumping from N1,200 to N3,000.

Read also: Garri price doubles as cassava output shrinks

According to the married father of four, who sells generators at the Ebute Ero Market in the Apongbon area of the megacity, the price surge has forced him to prioritise his family’s needs over his own.

Amogbonjaiye said, “What we are facing as regards the expensive price of garri is too much. Last year, we were buying a 4-litre bucket of garri for between N1,000 and N1,200, but now the price has increased to N3,000. It is too much. When I talk with people about the price increase, all they say is that the rate of a dollar to a naira is quite high. We buy a Derica of Garri for N1,700. I still bought it yesterday. Last year, it sold for N500.

“I am a father of four with a wife. We are just getting by. Sometimes I would give my wife and children the garri that I bought for them and sleep like that. I will not eat. All I will do is drink some sachet water and go to bed. If I cannot afford to buy anything, I will just take water and sleep. That is my only alternative. If my children pity me sometimes, they would say, ‘Daddy, take this one and eat.’ When they eat some, they will give me the rest so that I don’t go to bed hungry.”

Amogbonjaiye’s story highlights the struggles faced by many Nigerians due to the rising cost of essential goods; however, the trader is not alone. Mrs. Adebisi Sanni, a mother of five who trades in garri at Mowe Market in Ogun, described the commodity as a luxury that her family now struggles to afford.

“The way we consumed garri last year is different from the way we eat it these days,” she said, adding that though she sells garri, it has become difficult to give the product to those in need as she used to do when it was cheaper.

“Before, garri was a common food whereby, when we got home, we could take some to ‘cool down’ before I cooked a proper meal, but we do not do that anymore. Now, if anyone would take Garri into our house, we would measure. As the price of rice is high, that is the same way we look at garri. We cannot eat it anyhow,” she added.

Continuing, she said, “Before now, we gave people garri, but we don’t any more, even though I sell the product. Right now, we cannot give people garri anyhow. The small tin of tomato paste that is used to measure garri is now N100. The 4-litre paint bucket sells for N3,000 in Mowe. Garri has become gold. We don’t give people garri anymore. In the past, we could visit people and give them garri, but we don’t do that anymore. You have to think twice before you decide to give someone garri for free.”

Also, BusinessDay, during a trip to a market in Alagbole, a border town between Lagos and Ogun states, encountered a mother of three who simply identified herself as Iya Muhydeen. Our correspondents observed her as she haggled with a garri trader. During their exchange, Iya Muhydeen consistently complained about the hardship in the country and the soaring prices of food commodities.

In a chat with BusinessDay, she reminisced about when the product was available and affordable and queried why the price of the product had skyrocketed within a short time.

She added that garri, which used to feature prominently among meals in her household, has been reduced significantly.

Read also: Inflation: Rice, noodles, garri prices double leaving millions struggling to eat

“Garri is no longer the food of the poor,” she exclaimed in Yoruba. “I plait hair; my husband is a cobbler, and his work is no longer what it used to be. How many people can afford to make a shoe at this hard time? So, we manage what we have; if we were using 10 cups to make eba (a food made from garri) before, now we use five or six cups.”

Asked if her family has an alternative to garri, she replied, “Where is the alternative? No food can replace garri.”

Omawunmi Olomo. F. Ojukwu, a co-chairman of the Ebute Ero Garri Dealers Association, blamed the price of the once-affordable commodity on government policies, including the removal of petroleum subsidies, which has led to an increase in Premium Motor Spirit (PMS), otherwise known as petrol, and a general spike in prices.

He said, “We buy directly from the farmer in the bush. We buy from every corner of Nigeria, like Edo, Delta, and Oyo states. When you go to the market, it is the price that you meet there that you would buy because things are very expensive.

“Those who sell the garri to us also bear their brunt, especially when it comes to the cost of petroleum products. Things are so expensive. This time last year, we were selling garri for N36,000 to N40,000, that is, 100 kilogrammes, which we call the red bag, but today we are selling it at the rate of N70,000 to N75,000.

“The people that are producing this garri complained that the means of production are very expensive. Conveying the cassava from the farms to the places where it is processed into garri is also expensive. They further told us that they pay their workers a lot of money to process the grain before it gets to us, and then it reaches the final consumers.”

She added that transporting the garri to the cities has also become expensive, noting that since she is in the business to make a profit, the haulage cost is transferred to their customers.

She said, “Before, we carried a bag for N400 from the farm to Lagos directly, but now it costs between N1,800 and N2,000 for each bag.”

The trader further noted that profit from the garri trade has been greatly impacted by “the cost of transportation.” She added, “This time last year, we used to make a profit of about N500 per bag, and the market was booming, but now we hardly make ends meet because people are not coming to buy our product. Now we cannot predict our profit margin. We only pray to God that we sell. For instance, this morning I have not sold anything, but I had to take breakfast, which cost me about N1,500. As of last year, before noon, I would have sold about 10 bags of 100 kg of garri.”

Corroborating his colleague’s words, Isiaq Olorunishola, a co-chairman of the Ebute Ero Garri Dealers Association, said that for about four months they have been living from hand to mouth.

He said, “We have been managing in the market space for the past four months because things have been very difficult. This time last year, this place would be filled with bags of garri, and customers would be trooping in, but everything has changed. I feel that it is the increase in the price of fuel that has drastically affected our business. We were meant to get some bags of garri today, but our boys are informing us that there is no vehicle to convey them because they don’t have fuel.”

Nigeria is the largest producer of cassava, a root crop that originated in South America. According to statista.com, in 2021, the West African country produced 63 million metric tonnes of cassava, ahead of the Democratic Republic of Congo (46 million), Thailand (34.1 million), Ghana (22.7 million), and Brazil (18.1 million), with Indonesia, Vietnam, Angola, Cambodia, and Cote d’Ivoire also making the top 10 largest cassava-producing countries.

Read also: Taming the food crisis: The buck stops at the President’s desk

On its website, the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, a nonprofit organisation that says its main priority is ensuring a food-secure future for sub-Saharan Africa, noted that cassava supports the livelihood of over 300 million Africans. But, for most people like Iya Muhydeen, the sharp increase in garri prices is worrisome and begs the question: why has the foodstuff turned to gold, hence putting more hardship on the common man?

Hike in cassava prices

Dr. Olubunmi Olorunfemi, the chief executive officer of BOF AgriFood Industries, a food processing firm based in Ayedun, Ekiti State, said Nigerians are facing a surge in garri prices due to a combination of factors, including a dramatic increase in the cost of raw cassava and insecurity deterring farmers.

He revealed that the price of cassava has skyrocketed from N35,000 per tonne last year to a staggering N120,000 currently, adding that this threefold increase translates directly to higher production costs for garri processors.

He said, “This time last year, we were buying a tonne of raw cassava from the farm for N35,000. Now it is N120, 000. It means that while we were paying farmers N35, 000 last year, we are now paying them N120, 000. That is just for cassava. Processing the cassava into garri is another issue. The diesel that we were buying for N600 is now N1,250 in Ayedun-Ekiti. Those are the major issues.”

According to him, compounding the problem is the growing fear of insecurity among farmers, who are scared to go to their farms to either plant or harvest their products. The agriculturalist cited the recent kidnapping of monarchs in the Ikole Local Government Area of the state as a stark reminder of the dangers faced by farmers.

He said, “The farmers are afraid to go to the farm because of fear of being kidnapped, especially in Ikole Local Government. We can recall the incident of three monarchs that were kidnapped recently in the state, and that is not the first time it has happened in the past few years.

“It is because it involved the kings that it gained national prominence. While one escaped, two of them were murdered. Due to insecurity, these farmers do not feel safe going to their farms.”

Dr. Olorunfemi advised that the government should create a more secure environment for farmers. He noted the need for improved security measures to allow farmers to cultivate their crops without fear, adding that the issue of cattle herders destroying cassava farms must be addressed as well.

“The immediate thing that can be done is to provide security so the farmers can go to their farms safely. The farmers are afraid to go to their farms. People who want to farm in commercial quantities are afraid to invest. That is creating scarcity, and it is not just limited to Ekiti State but to the nation as a whole.

“The farmers are afraid to go to the farm, and the large-scale farmers are afraid because the herdsmen would trespass into their farm and their cattle would eat their cassava and destroy their cassava farm. That is another major factor that is driving the high cost of garri in the country,” he said.

On his part, Pelumi Aribisala, a major player in Nigeria’s cassava industry, said everyone—from farmers to the government—shares some of the responsibility for the recent spike in garri prices.

Aribisala, a co-founder of Cato Foods and general manager (farms) for Crest Agro Product Limited, oversees thousands of hectares of cassava cultivation.

Read also: Harsh economy: Otti assures of transparency in distribution of food items from FG

According to Aribisala, Cato Foods, located in Osun State, has an installed capacity of about 30 metric tonnes per day. In a year, the company produces between 7,000 and 9,000 metric tonnes of cassava, while Crest Agro, based in Lokoja, Kogi State, has a production capacity of about 22,000 metric tonnes of starch, which is also derived from cassava, per . He added that he coordinates about 6,500 hectares of land in Lokoja and about 1,200 hectares of land in Osun State, with no fewer than 1,000 smallholder farmers all cultivating cassava.

Shedding light on why the price of the staple food has risen astronomically, Aribisala points a finger at some Nigerian farmers, accusing them of exploiting the dry season’s impact on cassava harvesting by jacking up cassava prices.

He noted that greed among Nigerian farmers, who are capitalising on high demand during the dry season, a time when harvesting is more difficult and labour costs rise, to arbitrarily inflate prices, is one of the factors behind the rise in garri prices.

Aribisala added that the traditional view of cassava farming as a “poor man’s job” is discouraging investment and innovation in cassava production, leading to further constriction of supply and pushing prices higher.

He said, “I am aware that the price of garri has skyrocketed in the market. In fact, it is part of what we recently discussed in our strategic meeting in Osun State. Basically, everybody needs to take a share of the blame; although some might be blamed more than others, everybody has a share of the blame over this issue.

“I will start with the people. The price of cassava is rising at the moment, and this has led to an increment in the price of garri. Also, the belief that garri is a poor man’s food is part of the notion that has put us in this situation. The mentality that agriculture is a poor man’s job. As a result of that, people are not taking it seriously as a business.

“The people have to be blamed because we have some element of greed, and [they] also take advantage of the poor economic situation that Nigeria has found itself in. Currently, some farmers who have cassava on their farms have taken advantage of the situation and arbitrarily increased prices. These are the guys who know about the demand issue. There is a demand-supply issue. We are in the dry season now, and every year during the dry season, the price of cassava will go up.”

He added that the weather condition was a contributing factor to the price hike of cassava flakes “because, during the dry season, there is a shortage of labour and the ground becomes hard. Since most of our cassava harvesting is done manually, as we have been unable to introduce mechanical methods or technology into the harvesting of cassava in Nigeria, there is a shortage of labour because the ground is hard.

“There are also a number of cassava roots that would be lost into the ground because of breakage, so most farmers do not like to harvest their cassava during the dry season.

“There is also the fact that the harvested cassava can dry up and become waste since they cannot store it. There is a higher demand during the dry season and a lower supply; hence, that brings the price up. The greedy nature of people is to blame.”

However, the brunt of Aribisala’s criticism falls on the government. The GM Farm for Crest Agro said that the government is not doing enough to empower cassava farmers, even though Nigeria is the largest exporter of the commodity.

He faulted Nigerian leaders for failing to adequately support cassava farmers with improved agronomic practices that could significantly increase yields and technical assistance that could provide farmers with the knowledge and resources to maximise production.

Read also: How inflation surge affects non-food items, Nigerians berate high prices

He said, “Second, we have to look at the part of the government; they share the bulk of the blame because our farmers have not been introduced to good agronomic practices. They have not been supported with the right technical assistance to be able to increase their yields. The question is, where are the sixty million metric tonnes of cassava routed annually?

“However, Nigeria is not earning enough foreign exchange from cassava, and that is because of the mentality that garri is a poor man’s food. So, about 75 percent of the cassava we produce is consumed locally as garri.

“The farmers have not been given the right support to increase their yield per hectare. We are the largest producers of cassava worldwide, but we have one of the lowest yields per hectare, which means the average yield per hectare is about 7.85 tonnes. Whereas 7.85 tonnes can be as high as 30-35 metric tonnes per hectare with good agronomic practices. You can see the shortage. Imagine if we were able to push our current yield per hectare to 20 tonnes per hectare by using the same size of land. We would still be able to double our annual production to 50 million metric tonnes per year, which would bridge the gap between demand and supply. The gap that we are having in cassava today is about 28 million metric tonnes annually.”

Furthermore, Aribisala cited the Maputo Declaration, an African Union agreement for member states to allocate 10 percent of their budgets to agriculture, suggesting Nigeria falls short of this commitment.

He also questioned the allocation of government subsidies. He proposed channelling funds currently used for fuel subsidies towards agriculture, specifically to support cassava production.

Aribisala continued, “Like I earlier said, the government should share the bulk of the blame because they are not supporting cassava farmers enough. I would have thought that the subsidy the government is taking from petrol was channelled towards agriculture. There is a Maputo declaration where all African leaders came together and agreed that 10 percent of their annual budget should be given to the agriculture sector. I doubt if we are doing three percent. Looking at all the states in the country, I believe that the state that gives the most from their budget to the agricultural sector is not releasing more than five percent.

“Cassava grows very well in the southern part of the country. What is the commitment of our governors to cassava cultivation, the nation’s staple crop? What is the commitment of the president or government? You see that the government has a lot to blame. Cassava farmers do not even have access to good equipment or machinery for them to carry out their farming activities. The yield per hectare is very low.”

Unofficial imports

He further revealed that although Nigeria is the largest producer of garri worldwide “unofficially,” cassava flakes are being imported into the country to the detriment of local cassava farmers.

“Officially, Nigeria is not importing garri. Unofficially, we have some business people who have been able to fill the gap in the market. There was a time when we were seeing some brands in supermarkets of garri coming into the country from China or India, and the prices were higher than what we sell locally. Off the books, we have some business people that import garri from neighbouring countries or Asia, despite the fact that we are the highest producers of garri in the world. Because it is not official, we might not be able to put a figure on the volume that is brought into the country,” he said.

Corroborating Aribisala’s opinion, Akinola Olalekan, the head of the marketing department for Psaltry International, an agro-processing company at Ado Awaye, Isehin, Oyo State that refines cassava into high-quality food-grade starch for consumer products, noted that the climate is a major factor in the price hike.

He said, “The cassava market is fine, and it is booming. However, what happened with the price of garri as regards its increase is that we have cassava, but it is the climate that changed the price.

“Cassava has its season, so when it is the dry season, it is not that we cannot harvest the cassava, but it always gives us an issue due to the climate because the soil would be hard and the tubers wasted to the soil would be much, way more than necessary. We cannot use machines because the harvesters can do it. The way the cassava was planted determines if there would be difficulty harvesting during this season.

“In my company, we deal with mechanised farming, and the seeds we are getting are not enough for us, so we have no choice but to outsource to other marketers. So, there is always a scarcity of cassava every dry season.”

He further noted that logistics was a bane to their business. “Another factor that has made the price of garri increase is logistics. Manpower always reduces during the dry season. Due to the weather, the farmers cannot stay under the sun for a long period of time because they will complain. Also, transporting the cassava from the farm to the factory is another issue due to the price of petrol and diesel.”

Proffering a solution to the development, the agronomist opined, “If the government can reduce the cost of fuel and empower cassava farmers, I believe that the price will drop and Nigerians will not face hardship. There is nothing we can do about the climate. The reduction in petrol and diesel will make things better.”

A spokesperson at the cassava section of the IITA, who does not want her name in print because she was not authorised to speak with the media, emphasised the effect of the prevailing economic situation in the country on the costs of producing garri.

Read also: Food processors invest N23.8bn in Nigeria to cut import bill

According to her, a struggling economy directly impacts cassava production, the raw material for garri. She also notes that as cassava finds use in various products beyond garri, including flour, ethanol, and starch, the price increase ripples through the entire production chain.

She further added that garri prices typically rise during the dry season due to labour costs increasing as workers demand higher wages due to harsh working conditions.

She said, “During the dry season, labour becomes more expensive. The workers increase the price of their services. Another reason I have learned about the spike in the price of garri is the cost of transportation. Most people produce their garri in rural areas, and it is then transported to urban areas for sale.

“With the amount of petrol and diesel, it would affect the cost of garri in the market. In addition, the roads are bad, and vehicles get faulty sometimes when transporting goods because the movement from the rural areas to the urban areas on a bad road can be treacherous. With the cost of petroleum products, these farmers would increase the price at which they sell their produce.”

She also noted that greed is a factor, as when a wholesaler delivers the goods to the retailer, they want to make a profit, and it is the same thing with the retailers and the final consumers.

Citing an example, she told BusinessDay that the price of cassava increased by 60 percent between 2023 and 2024.

“For example, if I bought a truckload of cassava for N250,000 last year, this year I will get it for at least N400,000 or more. If I processed it, and last year I was selling a ‘congo’ of garri for N500, this year the price would have doubled or tripled. This is because the price of everything in the economy has tripled.

“We are talking about the rise in petroleum products, labour, the cost of the machine that processes the products, and protection, among other factors. To even see the roots of cassava is hard. Farmers have to travel to the villages to get the roots, and if they do, the bad road is another ugly head that rears itself,” stated the IITA staff.

Dismissing the insinuation that most of Nigeria’s cassava goes to waste due to the lack of storage, the spokesperson said there is an adequate storage system for the product, “especially for those who deal with IITA.”

She added, “There is storage for the product. For example, if you process your garri from IITA, you can store it for about two years. The storage of cassava has to do with its moisture content. If the moisture content is low in the range of 7-9 percent, you can store it for two years; however, it has to be in an airtight place, but if you have a high moisture content ranging from 10–15 percent, storage would be lower.”

Addressing the issue:

The source proposes solutions focused on government intervention. Reducing fuel prices, particularly for the agricultural sector, and prioritising road repairs to improve access to farmlands are seen as crucial steps. The source strongly advises against the import of garri, arguing that it would not only fail to lower prices but also worsen the situation due to insufficient domestic production.

She added that emphasis should be laid on the reduction of prices for petroleum products and road repairs, but advised against the importation of garri.

“I will advise that the government should find a way to reduce the price of petroleum products, especially those in the agricultural sector. More so, they should endeavour to repair roads, especially the ones that lead to farmlands, so that the farmers would have easy access to their property.

If garri is imported into the country, it would not crash the price of the product; rather, it would increase it and make matters worse because, with the demand we have on the ground, the product is not even sufficient for us. Instead of importation, there should be land to cultivate for production. Cassava is not sufficient. It is not enough,” the source said.