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Coping with lockdown, Nigerians turn to baking but wheat prices soar

As millions of Nigerians across the country witnessed varying levels of movement restrictions, it appears many people resorted to baking of bread and confectionaries, at least as revealed by data from internet search giant, Google.
In the 30 days prior to May 4, the top trending search term on Google Nigeria was ‘how to make bread’, this was followed by ‘who is Abba Kyari’, with Google reporting that the top 20 trending questions from Search in Nigeria were dominated by food and current affairs questions. According to Google, Search trends information is gleaned from data it collates based on what Nigerians have been searching for and asking Google.
Top ten trending food questions in Nigeria over the past 30 days were: How to make bread; How to make pancakes with flour; How to make chinchin; How to make fish roll; How to make egg roll?; How to make pizza; How to prepare vegetable soup; How to make cookies; How to make Akara and; How to make Egusi soup.
Out of these top ten queries pertaining to food, seven are derivatives of wheat-based flour, which is predominantly used in Nigeria. However, wheat production in the country is currently challenged as farmers have been unable to harvest their crops from the farms, while preparations for the next planting season are uncertain.
While the price of flour varies by location and usage (based on volume) it has increased by as much as 20 percent in some places, from N10,000 per 50kg bag to N12,000 in the last two months. Even for bulk users such as bakeries and producers of confectionaries who previously bought it for less than N9, 000, they now have to pay as much as N10,500 per bag.
In 2019, data from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) showed Nigeria imported at least N401 billion worth of wheat, retaining its position as Nigeria’s highest agricultural import. In 2018, wheat importation gulpedN362.4 billion, representing 42.5 percent of the N852 billion officially captured by NBS to have been spent importing agricultural goods.
“If you look at the rate of consumption per capita, we consume more wheat than rice in this country,” said Salim Muhammad, president, Wheat Farmers Association of Nigeria.
Muhammad had noted during a webinar by the Guild of Nigerian Agriculture Journalists (GNAJ) this week that there is a high demand for wheat products in Nigeria as well as high consumption of wheat. However, production has struggled to increase over the years as the sub-sector appears to be suffering neglect from government and policymakers, with Muhammad describing wheat as a ‘political crop’.
“Every Nigerian household consumes bread, noodles, and pastas. But what is my country doing to produce enough wheat for the consumption locally in the country?” he asked.
Presently, wheat farmers who should be harvesting their crops between April and May have been caught in the middle of COVID-19 restrictions, and some already fear that part of their farm harvests would already be lost if they eventually gain access. Not just to enter the farms, but also with harvesting requirement required for wheat.
 “If you look at the derivatives of wheat, it is top line food for the younger, (upper and lower) middle income class, and that population is growing,” Ayodeji Balogun, country manager, AFEX Commodities Exchange Limited, told BusinessDay in a previous phone interview. “The population of people eating pasta will continue to increase, and every sachet of Noodles is a part of wheat. That number will keep growing and wheat is not a crop we have any efficiency in producing,” he added.
Even though the price of flour is increasing, “If you change the prices of loaves of bread, nobody buys because people simply have no money,” said Kabiru Ibrahim, of the All Farmers Association of Nigeria. “We must allow the production of wheat and encourage its production because the amount of wheat that we consume is colossal.”
As noted by Google when the search trends were made public, “Forced to stay at home, and often unable to perform their usual work, many people across the globe, including Nigerians, have turned to cooking and baking as ways to pass the time – and keep themselves fed in the absence of restaurants and other vendors.”
However, if this newfound pass time is to be sustained into the future, the challenges being faced in wheat production will need to be addressed, otherwise, the newfound hubby could soon become a very expensive one to indulge in.
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