If the most common staple foods in Nigeria had to line up in order of popularity, bread would easily be in the top three. Bread is one of the most versatile meals and isn’t limited to any social class — it can be the much-loved agege bread in the trenches or the fancy sliced bread on high-brow dining tables.
Bread simply doesn’t discriminate. But, like everything in Nigeria, it’s facing a hard time.
On July 13th, 2022, the Association of Master Bakers and Caterers of Nigeria (AMBCN) commenced a nationwide strike to force a conversation. The association is an umbrella body that caters to players in the Nigerian baking industry.
When the AMBCN first announced the strike in June 2022, the association accused the government of neglecting its members who are facing many business challenges. The association warned the government to use the warning strike as motivation to address its concerns.
What caused the bread strike?
The high cost of production is the AMBCN’s biggest concern. Data compiled by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) shows that the average price of 500g of unsliced bread rose by 35.21% from N310.81 in May 2021 to N456.79 in May 2022.
This hike in the average price is down to the prices of ingredients like flour which is made from wheat. Wheat can also be milled to make other popular meals in Nigeria like cereals, pastries, cookies, biscuits, cakes and noodles.
Wheat is the Michael Jackson of grains
Like many of Nigeria’s consumables, wheat is a largely imported product. Nigeria produced only 55,000 tons of wheat in 2020, despite consuming an average of 5 million tons annually. The NBS reported that Nigeria’s durum wheat import rose from N401.31 billion in 2019 to N1.29 trillion in 2021.
Russia and Ukraine are two of the top producers of wheat globally. They jointly account for about 30% of the global wheat trade. Their output means that the February 2022 invasion of Ukraine by the Russian military would have an impact on the wheat supply chain to countries like Nigeria.
Even before the Russian invasion, the COVID-19 pandemic had created shipping disruptions that affected imports in Nigeria and drove up prices of wheat-affiliated products like bread. The Russian-Ukraine war just made things worse globally for the wheat trade.
The average prices of other bread-making ingredients such as sugar and butter have also skyrocketed over the past year.
The worsening value of the naira against the dollar is another issue that Nigerian breadmakers have to face.
This is what the cost of production of bread looks like
Regulatory overreach blamed for bread strike
Another one of AMBCN’s complaints to the Nigerian government is the conduct of regulatory agencies. The association accused agencies like the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON) and the National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency (NESREA) of making life difficult for its members. The main complaint is that the agencies are charging bread makers “outrageous levies” at a time when business is more difficult than ever.
The high cost of production is forcing many bakeries to shut down nationwide as owners simply can’t keep up. Shutting down businesses means more Nigerians are further populating the already saturated unemployment market. These issues are what inspired the AMBCN to embark on its strike.
What do bread makers want?
Bread makers have steadily increased the price of their products to adjust for the high cost of production over the past year. But the July 13th strike is a statement to the government that simply increasing bread prices isn’t a sustainable strategy. So this fight with the government is for your benefit, dear bread customer reading this.
The AMBCN has requested that the government take deliberate steps to arrest the inflation of prices for the ingredients driving up production costs.
One of such suggested steps is the reduction of tariffs on baking materials like the 15% levy on wheat importation. The AMBCN also wants the government to open up the competition on sugar importation and not limit it to only three licenced importers.
Another obvious step is to give dealers easy access to foreign exchange at the official rate to buy important bread ingredients like wheat.
They also want the government to make NAFDAC the sole regulator of bakeries to prevent exploitation by other regulatory agencies.
Okay, but will I still get my bread?
The bread strike will create some disruption in bread supply nationwide, but not enough that production would completely halt. The strike is only a warning strike and will end on July 27.
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