Bread price may continue to increase — Onuorah, breadmakers’ president

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Emmanuel Onuorah, the President of the Premium Breadmakers Association of Nigeria, tells Babatunde Tugbobo about his career and issues affecting the break-making business.

With the current increase in the price of bread, what does the future portend for bread consumers and bakers?

I can speak for the bakers but I cannot speak for the consumers. As the president of an association that bakes bread, I can tell you that it is a tough time for us (bakers). We are suffering. Jobs are being lost on a daily basis because bakeries are shutting down and are in comatose. It has been tough for us, post COVID-19 till now.

What stage of the baking process gulps the most money that is necessitating the increase in bread prices?

All the stages involved gulp a lot of money. Our raw materials are 100 per cent imported.

Some people believe that because there is no regulation of the prices of foodstuff across the nation, bread prices keep going up at will. What’s your response to that?

That is an erroneous way to think about it. Ordinarily, if we want to pass on the cost, sliced bread should be selling for a thousand naira now, but we still have some that go for N500, N550, N600, N650, and N700, depending on the ingredients used to bake it. We cover practically all strata of society. There is a nexus between increased prices and reduced sales, and it is a negative nexus. The moment prices are spiraling, sales drop. It does not benefit us in any way because once the price increases, it affects sales.

What needs to be done to improve the current situation?

The first thing is for the government to make deliberate efforts to ensure that the duty millers pay on wheat imports (30 per cent) is either frozen or removed. It is humongous because nobody does that anywhere in the world. The Federal Government must support small businesses through the Bank of Industry’s direct intervention from the Federal Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment, and help in terms of soft loans and grants. That will go a long way.

Some bakers are said to use substandard materials for baking. In what ways does your association checkmate things like that?

To be a member of PBAN, you must subscribe to in-country regulation, NAFDAC regulation, you must not use unwholesome material, you must have your standard operating procedure, and your equipment must be properly calibrated. From time to time, compliance officers go around bakeries where they do their premix, to know what they use. Anyone who uses substandard materials (though we haven’t seen any), will be taken up and reported to the authorities.

Aside from the increase in the prices of materials used for baking, what other challenges is the industry facing?

The rising cost of diesel is one challenge, irregular electricity supply is another, harassment of our members by law enforcement agents on the road is something else, as well as unnecessary taxation from local governments. Also, officials of ministries of health in different states in Nigeria burst into bakeries and beat up people without any notice.

Sometime last year, some bakers took to the streets to protest what they termed ‘persistent exploitation’. How were you able to resolve the crisis?

Graciously, the Speaker of the Lagos State House of Assembly, Mudasiru Obasa; the house’s committee on commerce and local government liaison got across to us. They got all the agencies we complained about to sit with us in the assembly, and far-reaching decisions were taken as to whom we should meet if we had any problems. Since then, the Lagos State government has been cooperative. The harassment has reduced in Lagos, but it is not the same in other states. Our protest was in Lagos because of the level of harassment we faced. We were also introduced to the Lagos State Employability Trust Fund, and they have been helpful. They give (our members) grants and loans once the requirements are met.

How do you foresee bread prices in the coming days if not checked?

The prices will keep going up because it is a function of ‘garbage in, garbage out’. It is what we buy that we sell. One cannot buy flour that used to be N10,300 for N29,000, and sell the finished products at the same price. If the prices of raw materials keep soaring, one would have to keep increasing price to be competitive, albeit not arbitrarily, but in a way that one will be able to break even.

How long have you been in the bread-making business?
What attracted you to this line of business?

I looked at the environment, and asked myself what I could do. I said to myself that I should look into an everyday product that can fetch me money. With the payoff I got from the company I used to work for and assistance from the bank, I was able to start the business.

Take us through your career trajectory before getting to this point?

I started working in 1990 or thereabout. Companies I have worked with over the years include Texaco, UMCC (where I worked as a contract staff), ELPA (an oil field engineering company), and South Atlantic Petroleum Limited, before retiring in 2015.

As a baker, how many times do you eat bread in a week?

I am on the big side and bread is a heavy food, so I am mindful of weight gain and obesity. I eat bread but when I do, I try as much as possible to burn it by exercising. I eat it about once a week. I take toast bread with vegetables and a cup of tea, so it can be balanced.

What are your educational qualifications?

I had my elementary education at Olodi Primary School, Warri, Delta State. From there, I went to Ogoripo Secondary School. After that, I attended the Petroleum Training Institute, Effurun, Delta State, where I bagged a Higher National Diploma. From there, I went for a Bachelor’s degree in Petroleum and Gas Engineering at the University of Port Harcourt. I have attended training in different parts of the world, including the United States of America, Tunisia, England and South Africa.

Also, I am a fellow of the Nigerian Institute of Safety Professionals, as well as a chartered environmentalist, and environmental auditor.

What are the challenges you face as the president of the Premium Bakers Association of Nigeria?

I face a lot of challenges because people in more than 30,000 bakeries all over Nigeria look up to me. I have to provide adequate leadership for them, give them a shoulder to lean on, as well as the right strategy and direction for them.

What is your favourite colour?
My favourite colour is brown.

What is your favourite food?
My favourite food is fufu with bitterleaf soup. I also like starch with banga soup.

How do you unwind?
I unwind by being with my wife and children. We usually visit the beach together.

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