Garri, a dominant food in Nigeria, is becoming unaffordable for most homes in Akwa Ibom State.
The price of garri, one of the most routinely consumed and dominant foods in Nigeria, has witnessed over a hundred per cent increase within the last three years in Akwa Ibom state.
Processed from cassava, the flakes can be consumed raw with water, sugar (and milk and groundnut by people with relatively greater means). It is also used to make eba, eaten in households and sold in restaurants all over the country.
But PREMIUM TIMES’s findings showed that the used-to-be affordable even by the low income earners is now a luxury.
According to Nigeria’s data bank, National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), garri was sold at N150.18 for 1kg in Akwa Ibom State as at December 2018 but rose to N308.86 as of March 2021.
The NBS figure, however, does not represent reality as it differs from what is obtained in Akwa Ibom markets.
PREMIUM TIMES’s visit to markets in Uyo, Akwa Ibom capital, in May revealed that the price currently hovers between N580 and N600 per kilogramme.
Experts have attributed this hike to the inability of the cassava processing factories in the state to function at optimum capacity.
Other factors include, increased production cost and lack of raw materials, climate change, poor access to loans and inconsistencies in government policy.
The price of garri in the state is also not reflective of the government’s interventions and huge investments in the sector.
Between 2016 and 2017, the state government invested millions of naira into the sector in a bid to boost local production which is grossly inadequate as major garri dealers rely on supplies from Cross River, Edo and Ebonyi states.
High-tech and sophisticated machines for cassava processing and maize milling were acquired and installed at three local government areas across the three senatorial districts.
Seven persons, two from each senatorial district but three from Ikot Ekpene, were also trained in Ibadan, Oyo State, to operate the machines.
Consequently, three cassava processing factories located at Nung Udoe in Ibesikpo Asutan Local Government Area, Ikot Ekang in Abak Local Government Area and Ikot Okudomo in Eket Local Government Area, were commissioned by Akwa Ibom State Governor, Udom Emmanuel, in 2018.
Meanwhile, when PREMIUM TIMES visited the factories in May, only one of them – Nung Udoe factory – was functional. The garri processed from the factory is bagged in 5kg and sold for N3,000.
The factory operator in Nung Udoe, Asuquo Etim, had just finished processing garri a few hours before our reporter arrived.
At Ikot Okudomo, although the manager was not available, a low level officer at the Akwa Ibom Agricultural Development Project (AKADEP) told PREMIUM TIMES the factory started operations three weeks prior to the reporter’s visit.
The AKADEP farm, basically used for cassava planting to provide raw materials for the machines, has been converted into a coconut plantation.
Tall weeds have taken over the third factory in Ikot Ekang – Abak, which this newspaper gathered had been abandoned after it was commissioned in 2018.
PREMIUM TIMES learnt that the three factories had been leased to private investors for optimal performance but not much success has been recorded so far.
Causes of price increase
The managing director of Tafric Investment Nigeria Ltd, operators of the Nung Udoe factory, Ntiense Ubonisrael, said the production cost of garri in the factory is high as a result of the cost of running diesel generators.
He said they sometimes have to travel to Cross River State to buy cassava tubers for processing.
Also in an interview with PREMIUM TIMES, a professor of Agriculture Economics and Extension in the University of Uyo, Ini Akpabio, blamed the moribund state of the cassava processing factories, activities of union members and middle men for the hike in price of the staple.
Mr Akpabio defined “middlemen” as those who do not own farms but buy matured cassava from farmers, then process and sell.
The union members are those who buy garri in bags from the producers (manufacturers) outside Akwa Ibom, from states like Cross River, Ebonyi and Edo, who disallow non-members to sell in major markets in Akwa Ibom.
To curtail activities of the union members, Mr Akpabio suggested that the government should build cassava processing factories in all the local government areas in the state and ensure they operate at optimum capacity.
This, he said, will crash the price of garri after the government floods the market with a cheaper one.
Joshua Attat, a major distributor in Uyo, cited climate change and bribe offered to security officials manning security checkpoints as reasons for the price increase.
Mr Attat said ferrying the garri from Ogoja in Cross River State to Akwa Ibom State comes with extra costs because security agents demand bribes at different points.
He said the motorists have to ‘settle’ (bribe) several security officials, including soldiers, on the road.
On climate change, Mr Attat said farmers in Ogoja had their farmlands flooded last year, resulting in a poor yield.
Meanwhile, Chairman of All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN) in Akwa Ibom, Dennis Etong, has blamed the government and those he described as “radio and television farmers” for the increase in the price of garri.
Mr Etong said genuine farmers are not able to access government loans to plant cassava due to difficult strings attached.
He said it was impracticable for a farmer in the village to get a civil servant of level 14 and a permanent secretary to guarantee government loans.
Mr Etong also lamented the exclusion of the association from the decision-making process of matters concerning farmers.
Recently, the Akwa Ibom State government flagged off the sale of Ebonyi State bagged garri to residents of the state.
The flag-off was done by the State Commissioner of Agriculture, Glory Edet, at the state secretariat ground, where three cups of garri were sold for N100.
This newspaper learnt that as early as 9 a.m. that Wednesday, the 500 tickets meant for the day were already exhausted.
The sales which were coordinated by directors and other senior officials in the Ministry of Agriculture pegged N2,000 as the benchmark of the highest quantity an individual could buy.
Findings revealed that though the sales were done for two days, only 500 persons bought the product on the first day in a state of over 5 million population.
Meanwhile, at Ikot Okubo market, less than a kilometer away from the state secretariat, one cup of garri was sold at N100 when this reporter visited that Wednesday afternoon.
As of the time of filing this report, there was no information on why the government chose to sell the staple at the secretariat rather than in the market.
The Commissioner for Agriculture, Mrs Edet did not respond to PREMIUM TIMES’s calls and texts seeking comment.
The Commissioner for Information, Ini Ememobong who asked that the questions be sent to him as text messages did not also respond as of the time of filing this report.