The coronavirus pandemic has taken a heavy toll on Nigeria’s economy, with farmers and food processors taking some of the heaviest losses. In this exclusive report, Damilola Ayomide documents plight Nigerians — both sellers and buyers — as the country battles COVID-19 effects on the economy
“We stopped buying our ingredients (cornflour and yeast) – especially corn flour – at the usual price during the lockdown. We somehow expected this to happen, considering that the manufacturers would have only little stock left as workers were mandated to stay at home. Even the price of nylon for packaging the bread became high,” says the bakery owner of Demmie’s Dough at Maryland area of Lagos State.
The flour industry inevitably suffered a big hit as workers complied with the lockdown directive. The little stock left before the lockdown took effect had to be distributed but not at the same price anymore.
According to Demmie’s Dough bakery owner who does not want her name on print, the increase in the cost price of ingredients for making bread would later affect her retail price before the ease of the first lockdown. Before the Coronavirus pandemic, her biggest loaf was N350. During the lockdown, she had to increase it to N400. Her profit margin also reduced by 50%.
When asked how her patrons reacted to the sudden increase, she said: “Initially, they stopped buying from us. But when they went out to see that the price of bread had increased everywhere, they came back to buy from us, knowing fully well that we don’t compromise on our quality no matter what.”
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However, they are looking at increasing the retail price even more in order that they might maximise profits. “At the end of the day, it’s business and we have to make profits. Although we are putting our patrons into consideration, we would also like to return to our 100% profit and with the way ingredients are becoming more expensive, I’m afraid we will have to increase the price of our bread even more.”
When COVID-19 first hit the country, the immediate concern was human lives. It will be recalled that the first case of COVID-19 in Nigeria, confirmed by the Federal Ministry of Health, was on the 27th of February 2020. The Ministry of Health swung into action as the Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire, released a press statement in which he outlined a number of guidelines for citizens to adhere to in order to contain the spread of the virus.
However, a lockdown was soon to happen. The Federal Government mandated a 14-day lockdown on the 30th of March in the three commercial hubs of the country, Lagos, Abuja and Ogun. This led to a lot of production activities grinding to a halt as citizens were directed to stay at home. The lockdown was subsequently extended by more weeks.
For many Nigerians, the Coronavirus is an unwanted pandemic. The normal lives of citizens have been disrupted by this deadly virus waging war against the human race. Lives have been lost, families separated and jobs gone, yet the days roll by as though the elements cannot relate to the turbulent state of human affairs all over: it is for this reason that the saying ‘when there is life, there is hope’ remains relevant.
From the recent commercial activities, it is evident that Nigerians are highly resilient people who will continue to forge ahead in spite of the trying times. However, the will power needed for this to continue is also being threatened with the impending increase in the price of bread, a food relied on by Nigerians of different social classes and cultures.
It has been said that ‘yam is the king of food’ but the succour that bread provides to millions of Nigerians as a result of its flexibility and adaptability is too consequential to be underestimated.
A regular bread consumer, Idris Afolayan, was asked how he feels buying bread at such an amount. Reacting rather calmly, he said that bread is what his children love and it is easier to prepare for the family, especially when accompanied with eggs.
“There is really not much we can do; we have to eat. Bread is like a fast food; my children love it. I buy to please them and I always try to find value for my money. In other words, I won’t buy cheap bread that is substandard because I’m trying to save money. Yes, we want to save money but quality is also very important”, he concluded.
Certainly, egg is one of the main supplements of bread. Proceeding to Mrs Shobande’s poultry farm at Onigbongbo market in Lagos, Information Nigeria inquired about the increase in the cost of her eggs due to COVID-19.
“Corn feed is now gold”, she said, as she raised her hands to point at the workers packaging chicken feed right behind her.
Mrs Shobande lamented that her profit margin had reduced by 80%. According to her, before the pandemic, she sells a crate of egg for N800. Now, her retail price is N1200, with little or no profit at all. “I have to put my customers into consideration”, she adds.
“When we manage the feed, how will they lay enough eggs? This is why egg is now scarce and more expensive. We can’t wait for things to go back to normal. The reduction in the quantity of eggs produced is responsible for the current artificial scarcity. That is why egg is now expensive.”
Izunna, a shawarma vendor along Sylvia Crescent in Anthony area of the state, told Information Nigeria that he still purchases bread at the same price.
“The price of bread has not changed. The N100 own is still there to buy. The bigger ones are also still sold at the same price. I’m yet to see any changes.”
Asked about the price of egg, he replied that it Is still the same. “Egg has always been 50 naira here. No changes.” Pointing at three different egg vendors on the same street, he continued “they all sell egg. Egg is not scarce here at all. You want, you buy. Many of them are wholesalers.”
For Iya Itunu, her egg business has never been more frustrating. She says “egg is more expensive now. I can’t buy in bulk as I used to. But how do you tell customers that egg is now expensive?
“It’s almost as though I’ve become a mini retailer. My shop has never been so empty. Customers don’t also buy as they used to. The little I can sell is what I have. You tell them egg is expensive; they ask you ‘how’, ‘why’. It’s the COVID; we don’t get eggs as easily as we used to anymore.”
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At Mix and Max Bakery at Oseni street, there is Kayode, a baker who told Information Nigeria that the price of flour is now higher than it used to be.
“My boss has been complaining about the cost of flour. A bag of flour that we used to buy at N11,000 now goes at N13,000.
Nylon too has become expensive: from N350 per pack to N550 per pack.” However, this did not prompt them to increase the price of their bread. “Our bread price is still the same. Our biggest loaf goes for N300 and that is the amount we still sell it till now. In fact, we are looking at reducing the price to N250.”
For Mr Matthew, it’s going to be hard for him to stop buying bread. “I eat bread almost every day. I will buy bread this night, I also eat bread at work. It’s hard to think of any other better food. There’s no substitute. How many times will I eat rice?”
Mrs Nwadiora laments the increase in the price of egg. “I buy per crate and it’s not been funny at all. They say the chickens are not eating well because feed is scarce. For how long will this continue?
It’s just frustrating. And my children eat eggs regularly. With noodles, with bread, everything. I had to stop them from eating French Toast anyhow because I can’t afford to use about 5 eggs for just one loaf of bread.”