Sufficency in cassava bread will take some time – Lagos master bakers
• Middle Men Are Responsible For High Cost Of Bread
Prince Jacob Adejorin is the chairman, Lagos State Chapter of Association of Master Bakers and Caterers of Nigeria (AMBCN) and also the Vice Chairman, Southwest geopolitical zone of the association. He told OMIKO AWA why prices of bread have gone up.
What is your association doing about the increase in the prices of bread and other confectionaries that have to do with wheat flour?
As of now, the association has not increased the price of loaves of bread, even though the prices of ingredients such as sugar, flour, butter, salt and others are on the increase. We have maintained minimal prices because we do not want to create inconvenience for consumers. We also know that increase in prices would lead to scarcity of the product and create further hardship to consumers.
Shall we then attribute the current hike to the activities of middlemen?
It is not totally so; as I said earlier our increase is minimal because most of us run our bakeries on diesel and firewood, which are also on the increase. If one sits down to consider what comes to us as profit after production, it would be right to say we are leaving from hand to mouth; but we have to take it as our own sacrifice to nation building, as we cannot stay idle or leave the country for another.
However, millers towards the end of the year reduced the price of a bag of flour from N12,000 to N10,750. Despite this reduction, dealers still sell at a high price, thereby putting Master Bakers at the receiving end. Before the reduction, a bag of flour rose abysmally from N6,000 to N7,000 and like that to N12,000. One of the main causes of this rise in price is the dealers; they get the bags of flour at lower prices from millers and sell at high prices to us. Another thing that contributes to this hike is the non-availability of foreign exchange for the miller to import wheat; as we were told, they sometimes go to black market to get foreign exchange at a higher rate and many have to make their profits too.
Since wheat is becoming expensive, while not use cassava flour?
There is no full cassava bread anywhere; what we have is cassava inclusion in bread. By this it means we need to add certain percentage of cassava flour to wheat, which means we cannot do without wheat in its entirety. The Federal Ministry of Agriculture during the administration of Jonathan trained a few of us on cassava inclusion in bread production, so that Master Bakers can produce cheaper loaves of bread. It is annoying to note that out of the 500,000 Master Bakers in Lagos State, only 40 of us were trained and this is not limited to Lagos alone because each state, then, brought out the same number of Master Bakers. Another thing is that after our training there has not been any other, so how do you expect us to move forward? The painful aspect is that out of the 40 trained from Lagos State, only four have the equipment to bake cassava bread. I am one of the beneficiaries and I remain grateful to government.
Apart from lack of training, the much talked about cassava flour is not always available in the open market and the few bags available are sold at almost the same price as wheat flour. Processors say they have to sell at high prices because they too get the cassava at a high price from farmers; so, to make this flour available, farmers must be encouraged to plant cassava and sell to processors at a minimal rate.
What is hindering the continuous training of others?
This has to do with the committees set up to see to training and empowerment of members. Members of this committee for reasons best known to them have perpetuated themselves in office without carrying out the duties expected of them. I am one of the beneficiaries. I also got a loan from the Bank of Industry, which I have used to equip my bakery to be able to produce cassava inclusion bread. One needs to be trained to know how to do it.
Would this force the price of bread down?
It would by the time many of us start producing this type of bread, but from what is on ground, that would take some time to happen because only four Master Bakers can produce this type of bread. Also, a bag of cassava flour if seen goes for N10,000 as against N11,900 for wheat flour. Besides the number, there is another problem of the equipment, which one still needs to configure to be able to bake the bread.
Are there differences between cassava and wheat bread?
There are no noticeable differences; in fact, the result of the cassava inclusion in bread is superb; one can hardly notice the difference. Mind you, we are trained to mix 10 to 20 per cent of cassava flour to wheat flour to get the desired result. While embarking on the growth of cassava, we should intensify our local growth of wheat and also make other key ingredients cheaper to have a relatively low priced bread and keep some of our Master Bakers from leaving the business to doing other things like driving taxis to remain alive.
How do you ensure standards?
Largely, some of the loaves of bread you see flood the market are produced by mushroom bakeries; they are not registered; they use all manners of ingredients to produce their bread and many of them are unfit for human consumption. The operators of these bakeries run their bakeries in rented shops, some in filling stations and some even in their private kitchen; this is not proper and the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), and other licensing agencies frown at this.
Why is your task force unable to blacklist mushroom operators?
Some of them operate with the help of the areas boys and sell their bread to unsuspecting consumers at unwholesome hours. They are ready to do anything to survive, which is the reason we appeal to Lagos State government to use the KAI outfit to deal with them.