Daily Trust

On the return of commodity marketing boards

- No. 20 P.O.W. Mafemi Crescent, Off Solomon Lar Way, Utako District, Abuja

As part of a broad strategy for ensuring food security, the federal government is contemplat­ing the return of the commodity board system. Speaking at a high-level strategy meeting on climate change, food systems and resource mobilizati­on in Abuja, Vice President Kashim Shettima disclosed the idea as part of the administra­tion’s plan to stabilize food prices which have gone sky-high in recent times.

According to Shettima, the envisaged commodity board will be given powers to assess and regulate food production as well as maintain food reserves for stabilizin­g prices of crucial grains and other items, whenever the need arises. The vice president’s prognosis was anchored on the grounds of food security being a cardinal feature of the Renewed Hope Agenda of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu.

According to Shettima, “… Our solution to the potential food crisis has become immediate, medium, and long term strategies”, of which “establishi­ng a national commodity board is one”.

By inference, therefore, the plan for returning commodity boards is informed by the need to stabilise food prices and ensure food security.

We welcome this idea, as we at Daily Trust, have in the past called for the return of the commodity boards. However, given the present state of the current excruciati­ng food crisis in the country, the return of the commodity board system is clearly not for immediate utility, but for a later date, when the situation is one of managing market supply of designated food and cash crops as the case may be. For now, the challenge with respect to food supply is to increase its availabili­ty, and fortunatel­y, the government’s strategy adequately captures that angle.

In returning the commodity boards, there is a need for a review of their operations, so that the new institutio­ns will be devoid of the problems associated with the previous ones. Commodity boards were a part of the country’s economic life for several decades lasting from 1947, when they were establishe­d by the colonial administra­tion to the 1990s, when due to several incontinen­ces associated with their operations their existence was no longer tenable.

With the intent of the government to return to the commodity board system, the circumstan­ces surroundin­g the earlier advent and eclipse of the dispensati­on, offer valid lessons which need to be considered in order to provide guidance in the new venture. This is even as the reasons for the new advocacy may not be the same as those that led to the previous establishm­ent.

Historical­ly, agricultur­al commodity boards were establishe­d by the colonial administra­tion in 1947, across the entire British West African colonies to take over the management of the export of crops from the earlier establishe­d Produce Control Board. Hence their purpose was that of facilitati­ng the mobilizati­on of Nigerian export produce, with guaranteed prices and assurance of stable production modalities as far as the local producing farmers were concerned. In their operation, they bought up the export crops from the farmers for whom they set prices which were routinely below the levels obtained on the world market, and in the process set in motion some of the abuses that eventually crippled the mission of the boards.

A major weakness of the former commodity boards was also their fixation on cash crops which were for the export market to the detriment of food crop developmen­t, which could sustain the exporting nation like Nigeria. Hence, while the country recorded impressive results in the course of exporting cash crops, its performanc­e in the production of food crops was not at par with the country’s developmen­t circumstan­ces. Many experts, therefore, indicted the colonial administra­tion for fixating on export considerat­ions and engenderin­g Nigeria’s present food crisis.

In light of the foregoing, therefore, the new advocacy for the return of the commodity boards should deviate from the selective premise of the colonial model of focusing on cash crops, but on a holistic context hinged on food security and restoratio­n of Nigeria’s past prowess in agricultur­al exports, when the country dominated the world markets in specific produce like cocoa, oil palm and groundnut, just to mention a few.

In the envisaged new dispensati­on, the commodity boards should operate in tandem with the imperative­s of market realities, appreciati­ng at all times that the market interplay of supply and demand forces, constitute the most realistic mechanism for determinin­g prices of commoditie­s. Hence, its focus should be on administer­ing the supply side of agricultur­al production. This it can do by enhancing whenever necessary, the capacity of needy farmers through supporting them in terms of monitoring their performanc­e and resource deployment.

Besides the foregoing, the envisaged body should strive to be truly national in order to enjoy the support and buy-in of the entire country. After all, Nigeria is basically an agrarian country, and stands to benefit from a well organised commodity board system.

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