By Hawa Lawal:
Stakeholders in the agricultural sector have been calling for the re-establishment of produce marketing boards in efforts to overhaul the sector.
The stakeholders spoke against the backdrop of the hint dropped by the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh, regarding plans to organise a national dialogue to consider the re-establishment of marketing boards.
Ogbeh, who spoke at an event organised to mark Nigeria’s 57th independence anniversary in October 2017, recalled that marketing boards aided the exportation of agricultural produce in the past and underscored the need for stakeholders to deliberate on their revival.
He said that the dialogue would enable the stakeholders to discuss and analyse the feats and challenges of the boards when they were operational, with a view to deciding whether or not to re-establish them.
The minister, however, noted that the boards, while in existence, ensured that agricultural produce exports were not rejected at the international markets, as they met the required standards and qualities.
“About two months ago, we met in my office with the Chairman, Senate Committee on Agriculture. We wanted to hold a major national discourse on this matter to know whether we should go back to the marketing boards.
“At that time, there were some people who taught farmers how to grow crops, how to harvest them and how to dry them to meet international standards.
“They went round villages telling farmers what to do, what not to do, how to do it and then, they would buy the crops, organise a ship to ferry the crops for exports.
“However, the marketing boards were abolished in 1974 by the military regime and since then, there was only one attempt to replace the boards with commodity companies but they never functioned.
“People are saying we should introduce the commodity exchange but I do not want the ministry to wake up and say we are going back to this; I want Nigerians who know about it to come out and talk.
“We want to debate it, let’s take decisions together,’’ he added.
From that moment, the minister has set the ball rolling and some farmers and agriculturists have been speaking on the proposal.
Dr Tunde Arosanyin, the National Coordinator of Zero Hunger Commodities, underscored the need for the re-establishment of marketing boards, saying that the boards would aid efforts to re-awaken some moribund industries and strengthen the country’s food security.
Arosanyin told News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Abuja that the measure had become imperative in efforts to grow the national economy via sustainable agricultural production, while boosting the availability of raw material for industries.
He said that the re-introduction of produce marketing boards would also facilitate the production of high-quality raw materials for industries and boost the market for the harvests of smallholder farmers.
“It will allow farmers to have easy access to the markets, encourage agricultural production and also create employment for the youth,’’ he added.
Arosanyin said that the revival of produce marketing boards would go a long way to reduce losses incurred by farmers and encourage healthy competition for the produce in the international market.
The coordinator said that the re-establishment of marketing boards would help to regulate a lot of things in the agricultural sector, while guaranteeing minimum prices for agricultural products.
He also said that the activities of middlemen would be eliminated with the re-introduction of the marketing boards.
“Marketing boards will guarantee the farmers’ freedom of pricing and block wastages being experienced by farmers due to lack of proper storage facilities,’’ he said.
Arosanyin, nonetheless, stressed the need to avoid the pitfalls of the previous marketing boards, saying that the government should adopt a holistic approach by bringing the major key players on board to regulate the functions of the boards.
“Adequate regulations should also be put in place to regulate the activities of the board members.
“There should be a structure to ensure that the boards work for the benefit of farmers and producers,’’ he said.
Arosanyin said that the history of produce marketing boards in Nigeria dated back to 1977 when six boards — Nigerian Cocoa Board, Nigerian Groundnut Board, Nigerian Cotton Board, Nigerian Palm Produce Board, Nigerian Rubber Board and Nigerian Grains Board – were created.
“The headquarters of the boards were located in Ibadan, Kano, Funtua, Calabar, Benin, and Minna.
He recalled that at that time, the boards usually interfaced with farmers and brought stability into their operations.
Arosanyin said that the boards then intervened to assist cash crop farmers during gluts by ensuring that their crops were bought from them by government.
He said that the boards handled produce price control mechanisms and foreign trading to procure produce, while ensuring the provision of adequate dividends to farmers.
He recalled that during President Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration, three marketing boards — Arable Crop Marketing Development Company; Fishery and Livestock Development Company and Tree Crop Development and Marketing Company — were established with a N200-million take-off grant each.
The coordinator, however, said that the boards were marred by mismanagement, while their major operators defrauded farmers of the shares they bought in the companies.
“Unfortunately, those saddled with the responsibility of managing these companies mismanaged them and wasted the funds with nothing to show but rather created big problems.
“Many state governments and farmers bought shares worth millions of naira at N1 per share in the companies but the investments turned out to be more of a liability without any dividend,’’ he said.
Besides, Arosanyin said that also blamed the Abuja Securities and Commodity Exchange (ASCE), which later metamorphosed into the Nigeria Commodity Exchange (NCX), for failing in its responsibilities to the farmers, which led to the setting up of marketing companies.
The ASCE, which was established on June 17, 1998, became NCX on Aug. 8, 2001 and was brought under the supervision of the Federal Ministry of Commerce.
“The commission just exists on structure and paper, as it has never interfaced with farmers; if it has performed its roles, there would not have been any need for commodity boards,’’ he said.
Also speaking, Malam Adamu Aliu, a grain merchant at Dawanu Market in Kano, welcomed plans to revive produce marketing boards, saying that the boards would stabilise the grains market and reduce the activities of the middlemen.
He said that the revival of the boards would encourage the stability of farm produce prices and prevent farmers from incurring losses, adding that the measure would encourage farmers to produce more because every farmer would be sure of selling his produce.
Adamu said that government should, however, make the proposed produce marketing boards a public-private-partnership in order to avoid the pitfalls of the defunct commodity marketing boards.
He said that the boards should also be able to advise the government on its implementation of annual agricultural plans and the attainment of produce production or export targets.
He said that perishable items like fruits, tomatoes and dairy products should be considered by the produce marketing boards this time around.
Adamu said with over 60 agricultural commodities in the country now, the Federal Government ought to review its national policy on agricultural commodities to aid the re-establishment of marketing boards.
Another grain merchant, Malam Idris Alhamin, said that it was so unfortunate that the country was currently passing through the stress of re-introducing commodity boards.
He, however, said this had become imperative because the ASCE, which could have served as an alternative institutional arrangement to manage the effect of price fluctuations to improve the earnings of farmers, had failed in its duty.
Malam Fadiq Daware, the National Treasurer, Rice Farmers Association of Nigeria (RIFAN), said that the proposal for the revival of produce marketing boards was a welcome development.
“This is because agriculture is a way of life that involves production of animals, fishes, crops and forest resources; it should, therefore, be safeguarded,’’ he said.
Daware said that the re-introduction of produce marketing boards, if well-implemented under the Public-Private Partnership (PPP), would be very beneficial to farmers.
He said that the venture would make farmers to produce more, boost the country’s food security and ensure adequate grains in the reserves.
“People have trust and confidence in the private sector as the sector is more proactive than public sector. To have a good result, farmers should be carried along to make the boards to be farmers friendly,’’ he said.
Daware said that the produce marketing boards, when established under PPP, would be able to carry out their statutory functions in a more structured manner.
“The boards will also ensure the purchase and subsequent sale of processed and semi-processed agricultural products for the domestic market and for export,’’ he said.
He said that the proposed policy would create more jobs by establishing trading centres for commodities in all major producing areas.
However, Daware said that for such boards to be active, pragmatic efforts should be made to promote mechanised farming, while embracing plans to produce improved varieties of high yielding crops, cereals, livestock and vegetables.
Mrs Laadi Ngbegha, a rice farmer in Iye Community, Guma Local Government Area of Benue, noted that many farmers were facing serious challenges in efforts to market their produce.
She said that farmers across the country lacked proper storage facilities, even at the cooperative level, adding that the development had made many farmers to incur heavy post-harvest losses, forcing some to jettison farming.
She said that many farm locations were inaccessible due to poor roads, adding that this had induced high transportation costs for the farm produce.
“In the end, farmers are forced to sell their goods at cheaper prices, particularly if they are perishable produce; farmers are at the mercy of the middle men, who buy their crops at giveaway prices,’’ she said.
Ngbegha said that to ensure price stability and food security in Nigeria, tangible efforts ought to be made to support farmers with the provision of centralised market facilities where they could sell their produce to manufacturers and consumers.
Hajiya Hajara Mohammed, a rice processor in ZokoYegborolo Multipurpose Cooperative Society in Bida, said that the time had come for all farmers to be in the vanguard of the campaign to create commodity boards.
She said that this had become imperative because farmers had been the main victims of fragmented and disorganised markets.
“There is a dire need to increase the capacity of smallholder farmers to overcome the adverse effects of produce marketing,’’ she said.
Mohammed said that agriculture remained a very important sector of the Nigerian economy, adding that practical efforts should be made to tackle the marketing challenges facing agricultural production in the country.
She called for the provision of irrigation schemes, finance, transportation, storage and processing facilities, as part of efforts to boost agricultural production in the country.
“The government should also initiate strategies to expand the citizens’ access to lands for farming purposes,’’ she added.
All in all, stakeholders in the agricultural sector urge the government to expedite action on its plans to re-introduce produce marketing boards.
They say that the measure will boost agricultural production in the country and consequently stimulate the growth of the national economy.
• Hawa Lawal is of the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN)