Have Any Questions? support@hezekiaholuwasanmifarms.com

High Wheat Prices, Potato Puree the New Alternative In Nigeria Bread Making Industry

n the midst of a sunlit room in Nnewi, south-east Nigeria, a woman measures out four parts of sweet potato puree – the colour of apricot – into a large basin containing six parts wheat flour. She adds sugar, butter and other ingredients for making bread.

Six hands lift the basin to empty it into a mixer and, later in the process, the bakers would work the mix into dough, cutting out various sizes and toss them into pans, ready for the oven.

Minutes later, straight from the oven, milky yellow loaves stand arranged on shelves and the scent of baking, mingled with light wood smoke, warm the morning air. A car parked outside begins to take delivery to shops and roadside retailers around town.

The puree, paste made from crushing a new breed of potato called orange-fleshed sweet potato (OFSP) after steaming it, is becoming the new normal in bread-making in Nigeria, where a good number of bakeries have fallen on hard times following record jumps in the cost of producing bread.

Taking the plunge

What passion, or optimism, could have engulfed a young woman to the point of selling her only investment, a promising one at that, and ploughing the proceeds into cultivating OFSP just because she heard people talking about the spud at a seminar?

Twenty-nine at the time, Maryann Okoli, who owns the bakery, returned one day in 2018 to Port Harcourt from a workshop in Umuahia to convert her one-hectare cucumber plantation into an OFSP farm because the latter offered enchanting prospects.

“I ran into them, I am someone that is very inquisitive. I said ‘I want to know this thing more,’” she told PREMIUM TIMES. “But I got more attracted because of the health benefits, the nutritional benefits.”

Out of the thrill of her new discovery and because that could help others solve their health problems, she started out talking to almost everyone she came across the gospel of the wonders of a miracle spud that not only holds the balm to wide-ranging ailments like diabetes and nutritional blindness but is also used for making foods as varied as pastries, juice and pap.

Because the market was incredibly huge and she was raring to enlarge her share of it, Ms Okoli was soon confronted with a major challenge.

After putting it on Facebook, calls came from all over Nigeria and she was inundated with calls from other parts of Africa also. Interestingly, it was only the processing of OFSP flour and puree she was doing at that point.

But supply constraints stood in her way, for her farm was not yet in perfect shape and, as the pressure mounted, it was clear to her she would soon be faced with unmet demands.

To make up for the hiatus in sales from the 10 months between land clearing and harvest, Ms Okoli would buy the potato from some parts of northern Nigeria, where it was mass-produced and then resell. Helped by the vibrant market, she sold the entire produce from the one hectare within two weeks.

With 17 staff now on her payroll, Ms Okoli produces at least 5,000 loaves of bread a day and said she makes 100 per cent gain from producing juice from OFSP.

“It’s highly profitable. Wherever I go for training, especially master bakers training, after training them because it’s always practical training, we always calculate the profit margin,” she said.

“In a bag of flour, when you include 40 per cent of OFSP to a bag of flour, you are making a minimum of N5,000 to N8,000 ($12 to $19) profit in a bag. You make more money by adding potatoes.”

Nigeria’s wheat crisis and a new optimism

Nigeria's Sweet Potato Production Compared to Wheat Production
Nigeria’s Sweet Potato Production Compared to Wheat Production

With varying degrees of success, bakers like Ms Okoli are turning to OFSP puree to make a new kind of bread in Nigeria that is cost-effective and at the same time promises great health benefits, a culinary breakthrough that could radically redefine how bread is produced and priced in a country with the highest cost of bread in Africa.

That shift seems fitting at a time when record spikes in the prices of wheat flour and sugar is making bread, once a staple affordable for the poor, a luxury to middle-income households. Nigeria’s food inflation touched its 15-year high in April 2021, with cereal and bread being two of the key drivers cited by the statistics office. By May 2022, the inflation rate stood at 16.82 per cent.

Flour and sugar account for roughly four-fifths of the input in bread production, according to Emmanuel Onuorah, president of Premium Breadmakers Association of Nigeria (PBAN).

As meagre as 1 per cent of the 4.7 million tons of the wheat projected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to be consumed by Africa’s most populous nation this year would be produced at home, leaving the humongous balance at the mercy of importation.

The commodity tops Nigeria’s food import bill every year, with the country’s wheat spend for 2021 approaching $2.5 billion from $1.5 billion two years earlier. That has set the government on a race to limit access to foreign exchange for wheat imports so that it could conserve its dollar reserves.

But that policy of limiting access to foreign currency, turning importers to the black market, is putting an enormous squeeze on the prices of bread, which soared by over one-third in the one year to March, while a good number of bakeries are facing failure to thrive.

“About 40 per cent of my members are closing shop,” Mr Onuorah told local television station TVC in December.

OFSP could be grown all year round in all states in the country because of its drought-resistant character, meaning the new bread-making method could prove sustainable. In places like Kenya, Malawi and Rwanda, OFSP puree bread has seen large-scale commercialisation, and the International Potato Center (CIP) has asserted it could be one big answer to “the double burden of malnutrition in Africa and beyond.”

OFSP bread has been discovered to have a longer shelf life than wheat-based bread and its wide acceptance by bakers could radically disrupt the bread market in Nigeria. According to the research body, the demand for OFSP puree in Kenya alone is estimated at $5 million every year, implying the innovation has gone beyond merely helping to scale back bread-making costs and offering several health benefits. It has come to be seen as a veritable tool for tackling rural poverty and is a good income source for farmers who supply the spud.

Bakers say producing OFSP bread is cheaper than when only wheat flour is used to make flour depending on how much of the puree is combined with wheat flour. Equally, it helps reduce the use and cost of sugar because the potato already contains some measure of sweetness.

Foods ranging from biscuit, chin-chin, meat pie, shawarma, burger, African salad, garri, pap, sweetener and juice to thickener for soup, stew, stodge and other pastries could be made from the potato.

Ms Okoli has been able to develop a recipe that enables her to make bread from as much as 40 per cent OFSP puree combined with 60 per cent wheat flour in order. But success in how much of the puree is used to make bread varies among bakers.

“The market is there because people like the bread very well,” she told PREMIUM TIMES.

After she started cultivating potatoes, the love for value addition soon got a hold of her, and she was impelled to look beyond production and sale to take a chance at processing.

Pilot sessions opened up ways of converting the potato to puree (which she described simply by her as mashing cooked OFSP roots after peeling and boiling them) and flour form and being in touch with a contact at National Root Crops Research Institute in Umudike, Abia State played its part in adding layers of value.

Making the puree wasn’t viable for business, she said, because her original plan was to sell it as she was yet to start a bakery then. It ferments few days after processing because its shelf life is short, which means it would prove a hard sell to bakeries and other end users.

The flour offered no true comfort either, for it is not as cost-effective as the puree.

The “flour is costly because it has dry matter content,” Ms Okoli said.

“… If you use flour to bake, it will not give you the (usual) colour and your bread and pastries will be on the high side because it has dry matter content. But if you use puree … you make more profit and the nutrient is more concentrated, the colour, the paste.” So she couldn’t go far.

Funding from the Central Bank of Nigeria in 2019 eased the path for starting an initiative she named Esomchi Foundation and setting up a bakery in Nnewi the year after. “It is the profit we are generating from Esomchi Foods, a private sector (business), that we are using to run Esomchi Foundation as a project we are doing,” she said.

Source: https://www.premiumtimesng.com/agriculture/agric-news/542355-special-report-facing-high-wheat-prices-nigerian-bakers-turn-to-potato-puree.html



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *