Friday, 2 August 2013


At Falomo market in Ikoyi, Lagos, few steps away from the French Embassy, Plantain seeking motorists manoeuvre to avoid okada (motorcycle) riders and the clamping of cars by zealous road marshals.
Posters of politicians are plastered on the walls overlooking trays of bunched up fat, luscious, and "yelling" yellow plantains gallantly arranged. A prospective local government chairman dazzled and puzzled people with a black shadow and his initials on a poster during the last elections; but the plantain that beckoned got the votes. These "fat bananas" are too tantalizing to ignore compared to the "who knows how it was ripened" plantains sold in North America! Plantain is one of the staple foods in Nigeria...Rice, beans and dodo (fried plantain) a colourful combination. There are many ways of eating plantain...fried, boiled, grilled, fufu swallows (plantain flour), etc. Even the large leaves are used as plates. But "What If" ....oh, just "What If" there is Plantain Paucity? Food shortage hits the country or plantain plantations are destroyed by spillage from vandalized oil pipes! Or just imagine that the Nigerian soil protests by refusing to produce plantain because it has lost confidence in its long term "agricultural safety" due to the excessive "passion" shown to crude oil; It is jealous of the exotic oil romance! In addition, the land is aggrieved by the state of the nation.... Welcome to the World of Plantain Pandemonium!
The effect on the national economy if there is Plantain Paucity would be astronomical. The national GDP (PPP-purchasing power parity) would lose a huge income because plantain products are Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) especially plantain chips: we are a munching nation ...krom krom krom cham cham cham! Right from the international airport, you can't miss the hawking of street snacks. Supermarkets have aisles and shelves dedicated to the sweet, crunchy delicacy. This is a multimillion naira industry with great potentials. Even the USAID (United States Agency International Development) supports small plantain chips ventures. Therefore, Plantain is a critical "Global" product.
You may wonder, "so much palaver because of plantain?".....In fact, taste buds would protest, children would march on the streets for "Plantain Palliatives." Restaurants would cause inflation, wives would settle a quarrel by saying, "My dear, we have plantain." This plantain issue would displace "foot entrepreneurs'...oh yes, finally a lot of undergraduates and youths have found highway sprinting jobs selling plantain chips. It is a way of surviving and independently sorting out themselves and their future; the road retailers of fast moving consumer goods! They are also very creative; perfecting the "art" of arranging crispy and often dirty naira notes in bundles shaped like rulers, and in denominations which are swiftly pulled to give change. They never say, "No" to a sale because they lack change...always ready to close a deal even at the expense of being knocked down by other cars as they crisscross from one lane to another. The breathtaking sprints they engage in everyday chasing cars to snatch money from customers is striking; Olympics out for sprinters from Nigeria!
In addition, if they are rendered jobless, the market would lose great and effective customer service ambassadors! However, these muscular and energy pumping sprinters might consider going to become athletes to relieve the "official" athletes who are protesting because of the high standards placed on them recently by the governing body!
On a more serious note, how would commuters engage the mouth while enduring gruelling traffic? Eh, no spicy or crispy plantain chips to munch while you stare out of the window of the "danfo" bus and at least you are happy being seated by the window to get some fresh air! Imagine a traffic stretch without the baskets and cartons of plantain chips reminding commuters that they need to get home and cook dinner...the women of course!
In a flip of the frying pan, how would these young men hawking varieties of plantain chips in traffic survive if plantain becomes an imported product? Importation is the "heartbeat" of our economy. So what if we result to solving our Plantain Problem by importing from Ghana, South American countries , the Caribbean, or India who are also high consumers of plantain? In fact, the import duties and all the ports "wahala" would quadruple the final selling price of plantain. Or maybe this might be another reason for immigration; in search of plantain in countries with greener pastures or maybe for Personal Plantain Pain!
This national emergency would require "unpaid" deliberation sessions at the house of assembly and senate because "Plantain Paucity" would drain the "oil" sector. Oh, yes, it is not just crude oil that keeps our economy afloat. Have you ever wondered how much "ororo" (vegetable oil in Yoruba) is used to fry plantain in homes, for parties, and in commercial plantain chips factories? Even the food packaging industry would suffer for lack of Plantain. Plantain chips can't be substituted with Chin-chin, gala, big bite, puff- puff, sausage roll, meat pie, tasty bite, coconut chips and so many others because these are not "organic" foods and the process of getting them to the mouth is not as easy as just slicing and frying. The snacks and street food industry would receive a hot oil slap if plantain "disappears" from Nigeria.
Moreover, small business owners who set up and dismantle their mobile stations like "mama Nkechi" who fries Akara, yam, and plantain every evening at a strategic corner creating pedestrian traffic would feel the pinch. How would street food addicts react when there is no boli (grilled or roasted ripe plantain)? This road side delicacy that even the big "oga" (executive boss) winds down his tinted car window to indulge! This scarcity would affect all status levels of Nigerians.
What would happen to markets and the traders that deal in the display of green and yellow plantain on aisles looking like a Plantain Palace! The roadside food stuff sellers scattered on travel routes would feel the impact of the loss of one of their most lucrative sales; a handy gift on a trip to the village.
Alas, this simulated effect of a Plantain Paucity is food for thought. What would happen if our favourite meals are no longer served and the jobs and business ventures that they create are no longer available? What would happen if staple crops are affected by a food crisis as a result of climate change or just a lack of investment in the Agricultural sector of the economy? With Nigeria's population explosion, the demand for food and jobs would continue to increase and it is important that staple foods are cheap and available for the teeming masses.