NIGERIA: Bread strike threatens food supply

Tuesday, May 6, 2008
Supplies of bread have dwindled in Lagos and other cities across Nigeria since 5 May when the Association of Master Bakers and Caterers of Nigeria went on a nationwide strike over the rising price of flour and other raw materials.

"Flour mills have increased their prices almost every week," Lateef Oguntoyinbo, chairman of Lagos state chapter of the association, told IRIN.

He called on the government to intervene. “Mills have been arbitrarily increasing prices” he said, adding that the bakers do not want to pass on the cost to poor consumers.

He said demand would then drop and everyone would lose.

The government said the rising costs were caused by international wheat prices. "Whatever may be the cause of the global food crisis its impact on Nigeria is real," the minister of commerce and industry, Charles Ugwuh told the Nigerian Vanguard newspaper.

"Already the prices of wheat flour and rice, both of which are now staple food in Nigeria, have gone up,” he said, adding, “No responsible government will sit down and fold its arms in the face of this looming danger."

Still Oguntoyinbo, of the bakers association, said he met with top government officials to ask them to reduce or cancel wheat tariffs or subsidise bakers but had received no response. "We are in big mess and we have no choice but to embark on this strike," he said.

Bakeries would remain closed for one week and the association had set up a committee to enforce compliance, he said.

Many consumers support the bakers’ grievances. "I feel so sad that the government is not paying attention to the plight of bakers in Nigeria especially now that bread is the only affordable food for the common man", Joseph Adeleke, a resident of Lagos, told IRIN.

A similar strike action by bakers took place last August after the government increased taxes on flour by 100 percent. The price of bread then rose by around 25 percent.

Bread is a staple for most urban Nigerians and the country is the largest single market for US wheat exports, according to a report by grain industry consultant David McKee.

"This is quite a change from 1987, when Nigeria imposed a total ban on wheat imports," McKee said. "One result of the ban was a flood of smuggled flour from neighbouring countries of Togo, Benin and Cameroon, the beneficiaries of subsidized [wheat] from the US."

The ban was lifted in 1992 and wheat imports have been rising. They currently stand at over 4 million tonnes a year.

The bread strike comes in the wake of a recent announcement by the government that it will import 500,000 tonnes of rice at a value of US $600 million to offset the effect of the rise in global prices.
Source: IRI NEWS