I went to Nigeria recently and was struck by the preponderance of wheat (the kind you eat with soup like eba). It was everywhere, from tv adverts all the way to my village. At the burial I attended there was just as much wheat as semovita or anything else. Of course I was very curious as to why wheat became so popular all of a sudden, mostly because wheat is not grown in Nigeria at all. It is all imported.
Makes me wonder if there is any link between the rise of wheat and the government’s cassava bread policy. You see the federal government in one of its grand plans to boost the economy argued that the country imported too much wheat. In order to tackle this “waste” they proposed a cassava flour policy, mandating bread and confectionary manufacturers to use flour mixes that had at least 10% cassava flour. The argument was that cassava could serve as a substitute for wheat and since we grow tons of cassava it should be good for the economy, reducing wheat imports and all.
Unfortunately, as it turns out, wheat is also a substitute for garri (made from cassava for those who don’t know). It appears that whatever “gains” were made by forcing bread manufacturers to use cassava flour has been lost by wheat discovering that it could replace cassava in other ways. Did the threat of losing the bread market force wheat importers to look for alternatives? Probably.
The funny thing is there is no reversing course. Once we know that wheat can replace garri we cannot forget. So even if the FG scrapped the cassava bread policy, wheat will probably not disappear from the market. I don’t have the numbers but I bet wheat imports have not dropped since the cassava bread policy was introduced. Which would make the cassava bread policy a failure. I’ll wait for the actual numbers before I rule on that though.
This is yet another reminder of how policies that try to control the market almost always fail. We saw it with rice and now wheat, and maybe soon, cars. Hopefully we learn someday that we can’t really use bans and price manipulations to improve productivity of the things we grow/make.
PS. A lot of people seem to think wheat is healthier than garri but I haven’t found any proof to back that up. If you are a food scientist please contact me if you would be willing to study the issue further.