At the primary level, a commodity exchange connects buyers and sellers of physical commodities, a role that is particularly useful in enhancing market efficiency by helping to match supply and demand of commodities across time and geographic distances. In its sophisticated form, a commodity exchange, as noted by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, brings together buyers and sellers of commodity price risk, permitting those who wish to reduce their exposure to price movements to transfer it to those who are looking for such exposure. Thus, it contributes to unlocking finance to the commodity sector through price risk management as well as by providing access to capital markets. Indeed, the need for Nigeria to have a functional commodity exchange capable of attracting investors into the agriculture value chain and enhancing job creation cannot be overstressed. It will help support the non-oil sector, diversify the country's export base and make the economy less vulnerable to external shocks. Through the provision of price transparency including better access to market, the income of farmers and their living standards will be enhanced. Agribusiness will become more attractive creating investment and employment opportunities in the commodities value chain with positive multiplier effect on the nation's economy.
At present, only two commodity exchanges are registered by the Securities and Exchange Commission in Nigeria. Whereas the privately-owned AFEX Commodity Exchange, registered in 2014, is running against all odds, the much older government-owned Nigeria Commodity Exchange (NCX) is still struggling to find its feat due, in part, to inadequate funding. As disclosed on its website, the NCX was originally incorporated as a Stock Exchange in June 1998 but was converted to a commodity Exchange in August 2001. The conversion was informed by 'the need for an alternative institutional arrangement that would manage the effect of price fluctuations in the marketing of agricultural produce which had adversely affected the earnings of farmers following the abolishment of commodity Boards in 1986'. The sub-optimal performance of NCX, despite its potential to transform the agriculture sector, has been blamed on several factors including the fact that the conversion from a stock exchange to commodity exchange was done without due regard to the availability of the necessary conditions. The requisite infrastructure for physical trade including warehouses and grading laboratories is deficient. There is also the lack of supportive government policies and institutional infrastructure. The NCX has not acquired the required traction to take off owing to weak legal and regulatory regimes especially in terms of the absence of rules that enable an efficient delivery mechanism through warehouse receipts. It goes without saying that agriculture remains poorly organized with unsophisticated small holder farmers. All these were not taken into consideration before the conversion was done. So, it was a case of putting the cart before the horse.
The experience of many European and Central Asian (ECA) countries, including some in Africa, seems to suggest that the government should take the lead in the development of a National commodity exchange because if there is no full government buy-in, the potentials of the Exchange may never be fully unlocked. For instance, beyond the planned investment by the Nigerian Sovereign Investment Authority (NSIA) in the NCX, government contractors can be encouraged to buy minimum quantities of designated commodities from the Nigeria Commodity Exchange. In this regard, the Ethiopian model recommends itself. In terms of trade value, the Ethiopian Commodity Exchange (ECX) can be considered as one of the success stories in Africa and this could not have been the case without government intervention. In a 2015 study on 'Commodity Exchanges and Market Development' Shahidur Rashid, of the International Food Policy Research Institute, noted that 'although the ECX was launched in 2008 with a mandate to trade cereals, it was soon realized that its trade volumes were insufficient. In late 2008, the government therefore passed a proclamation requiring all coffee and other export crops grown in Ethiopia to be exported through the ECX. At one point in late 2008, the government had to confiscate 17,000 tons of coffee from 80 exporters attempting to bypass the ECX'. As documented in the study, this measure was positive for the ECX which generated over US$1.0 billion in revenue in 2012, sufficient to defray the cost of its own operations.
Similarly, Shahidur Rashid had noted that in 2012, the World Food Programme (WFP) accounted for about 60 per cent of the total trade in commodities worth about US$9.0 million traded on the Malawi's Exchange. By implication, it is difficult to sustain the Exchange's operations without government or donor support. Against this backdrop, the recommendations of the Technical Committee on Commodities Trading Ecosystem set up by the Nigerian SEC should be given serious consideration. In its report, the committee had recommended that 'government should as a matter of policy, procure grains into the strategic grains reserve through the exchanges and mandate all of its agencies such as NEMA to procure their grains through the commodity exchanges. This will ensure quality, price transparency, and foster the development of the exchanges. International agencies operating in Nigeria such as the WFP should be encouraged to buy their agricultural commodity requirements through the Exchanges'. Some other recommendations of the Technical Committee which bear noting include conducting awareness-raising campaigns among key stakeholders in target areas to improve understanding of the commodities market and encourage participation, enacting the warehouse receipt bill into law which will go a long way in ensuring that farmers have easy access to credit, bringing on board smallholder farmers through well-organized cooperatives to improve liquidity as well as encouraging investment in all the requisite supportive infrastructure such as warehouses and storage facilities by the NCX and the private sector.
To deliver in all these dimensions, it is best to regard the commodity exchange as a public-private partnership, with the public responsibility being to act as a catalyst and where necessary provide a supportive framework. This was the kernel of a 2011 working paper prepared under the FAO/World Bank Cooperative Programme titled 'Commodity exchanges in Europe and Central Asia: a means for management of price risk'. In it, the authors demonstrated that Commodity Exchanges organized as public-private entities achieved better outcomes. To this end, the government, through the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, should channel every effort, in partnership with the private sector, to unlock the potentials of the Nigeria Commodity Exchange including through putting in place adequate funding arrangements as well as jettisoning the reported plan to reintroduce marketing boards for some designated commodities.
Uwaleke of the Nasarawa State University Keffi, is Nigeria's first Professor of Capital Market and President of the Association of Capital Market Academics of Nigeria