I. Coast eyes cassava for bread as wheat prices rise

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As wheat prices are pushed up by war in Ukraine, bakers in the West African state of Ivory Coast are beginning to use locally produced cassava flour to make bread.

The baguette, a very popular baguette in the former French colony, is commonly considered a benchmark for the cost of living.

But Côte d’Ivoire does not produce wheat on the domestic market, but imports up to a million tonnes of cereals a year, mainly from France.

Soaring wheat prices have raised concerns about the impact in a country of 25 million people where the average wage is less than 250,000 CFA francs ($400) a month, and which has been rocked by a wave of violence less than two years ago.

Ukraine and Russia are major wheat producers and crop failures and other uncertainties have pushed up prices for the global staple.

In response, the Ivorian authorities set the price of a baguette at between 150 and 200 CFA francs ($0.25 and $0.30) depending on the weight, channeling subsidies worth 6.4 billion CFA francs. (about $10 million) to 2,500 bakeries across the country.

Bakers, with government support, are also starting to replace a small portion of wheat flour with cassava flour, a root vegetable.

Cassava, also called manioc, is the second crop in Côte d’Ivoire after yam, with 6.4 million tons produced each year.

“New flavors”

The cassava substitution plan ticks the boxes of economy and sustainability. But what do the Ivorians think?

“Everything has become expensive in the market,” said Honorine Kouamee, a food seller from Abidjan’s Blockhaus district who cooked pancakes made from wheat mixed with coconut flour.

“If we can make bread with local cassava flour, it will be better. People are ready to eat local products.”

The national consumer confederation supported the cassava substitute.

“This will help revive cassava producers and maintain the price of bread,” said its president, Jean-Baptiste Koffi.

But image and taste are important and some bakers are cautious.

“It’s not a done deal,” said René Diby, a baker.

“For Ivorians, cassava bread is associated with poor quality bread. Consumers must be made aware of these new flavors.

The authorities will have to carry out a promotional campaign, he said.

Cassava is high in starch and is a good source of dietary fiber.

But high proportions of cassava flour reduce the mineral and protein content of bread, compared to traditional wheat, according to a 2014 study in Nigeria.

Financially, even the use of a small portion of cassava flour would bring some relief to the government.

Last year, 10% of the national budget of about $16 billion was spent on food imports, despite the country’s fertile soil.

Ranie-Didice Bah Kone, executive secretary of the National Council for the Fight Against High Costs (CNLCV), said it was time to unleash Côte d’Ivoire’s agricultural potential.

“It’s about thinking long term, about our food security, it’s about thinking about how Côte d’Ivoire will make sure it’s less dependent on world prices,” she said. .

During a visit to a cassava flour processing factory in Abidjan, she called for immediate measures to increase the supply of local flours, in addition to subsidies to the wheat sector.

“Africanizing pastry”

Concerns in West Africa about dependence on imported wheat are not limited to Côte d’Ivoire.

On July 19, bakers from across West Africa will gather in Senegal’s capital, Dakar, to launch an association to push for a regional benchmark of up to 15 percent local content in bakeries. bakery products.

Using local produce in bread could “solve food crises”, said Marius Abe Ake, who heads an association of bakers.

“We need to Africanize baking to help reduce manufacturing costs, fight poverty and avoid damaging unrest.”

Côte d’Ivoire has a turbulent history.

In 2020, dozens of people died in pre-election violence – an episode that brought back traumatic memories of a brief civil conflict in 2011 in which several thousand people were killed.

In 2008, riots broke out when the price of rice, milk and meat soared.

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