By Francis Kokoroko and Cooper Inveen
ACCRA (Reuters) – Searing heat emanated from the wood-fired oven at the Bethel Brothers bakery in Ghana’s capital, Accra, as a dozen men hastily shaped dough into hundreds of buns that would be scattered around the town the next morning.
The bakery, founded nearly 25 years ago by childhood friends Raphael Borketey and David Eshun, produces hundreds of loaves of bread every day for households, restaurants and street vendors. But the spiral of inflation could soon close its doors.
“Every month they raise the price of flour…sugar, margarine, everything we need to produce bread,” Borketey said. “You try to stand up, then another (price increase) will come knocking you down again.”
Supply chain bottlenecks caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, domestic currency depreciation and other global market factors have pushed inflation in the past nine months to its highest level since 2016, with the country’s consumer price inflation reaching 15.7% in February.
Grains saw some of the steepest price increases – and that was before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last month further strained global commodity markets, particularly wheat. Ghana imports nearly a quarter of its wheat from Russia, according to data from the Observatory of Economic Complexity.
Inflation has been disastrous for bakeries, whose selling prices are standardized by the national association of bakers and have not increased since August.
Many have had to reduce portion sizes or illegally raise prices to stay afloat. Bethel Brothers is riddled with debt and has been forced to lay off staff.
“We sacrificed a lot (and) this (inflation) could end it all,” Borketey said. “A bad month or a bad year can put you out of business. It’s very painful.
Eshun still leaves before dawn each morning to deliver fresh bread to loyal customers from a racket delivery van held together with pins and wire.
But these days he can barely afford fuel and runs out between stops.
The 45-year-old’s doctor says he urgently needs sleep, another luxury Eshun says he cannot afford.
“I am a born and bred Ghanaian. I have never traveled anywhere before. This is my country,” Eshun said. “If I can’t do it in my own country, then where am I going to do it?”
(Additional reporting by Christian Akorlie; Writing by Cooper Inveen; Editing by Sofia Christensen and Aurora Ellis)