8 January 2013

Nigeria: Wheat Lobbyists, Flour Millers Scuttle FG's Cassava Bread Initiative

A tenacious American wheat lobby group and some wheat flour millers in the country may be behind the setback being suffered by the Federal Government's initiative to promote the inclusion of cassava flour to wheat flour in the production of bread and other confectioneries.

The cassava flour inclusion policy was first introduced by former President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo as a measure to help Nigeria save portions of the huge funds being frittered away in the importation of wheat into the country for the production of all the bread and other confectioneries consumed in the country.

The Minister of Agriculture, Dr. Akinwunmi Adesina, reintroduced the policy after expressing concern that the country was spending about N625 billion yearly in the importation of wheat.

With the policy in place, 30 percent of cassava flour could be blended along with wheat for bread making and baking other confectioneries, thereby reducing the amount of wheat the country imports by 30 per cent and over N200 billion every year in foreign exchange.

But THISDAY investigations have shown that a powerful lobby is perfecting a plan to disrupt the policy through some very close aides to the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, who have been incentivised to drive a wedge in the processes, thereby frustrating interested operators whose interest in the initiative was fired up initially by the Federal Government's seeming resolve to drive the process through.

The United African Company (UAC), which was one of the foremost bread and confectioneries producers to latch on to the policy is said to have met a brick wall in its attempts to get the Federal Ministry of Agriculture to carry through with its commitment to ensure the success of the initiative.

UAC began the production of bread with 10 per cent cassava inclusion, through which the company fine-tuned its processes and increased the cassava flour component to 20 per cent and then 30 per cent.

But the company has now been left in the lurch and nearly frustrated in its effort to implement this initiative that has the capacity of helping Nigeria save as much as N200 billion in foreign exchange that would have been used to import wheat.

THISDAY also gathered that wheat flour millers, which hitherto gave credit to UAC for its massive wheat requirements, are now threatening to withdraw their credit facilities to the company as a way of checking UAC's resolve to be the key driver of the cassava flour inclusion policy.

THISDAY also learnt that another food processing company in Lagos, Food Concepts, which was also considering implementing the initiative, might have been scared off because of the backlash suffered by UAC.

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