In the early days of this century in Nigeria the peasant producers of
agricultural export produce did not readily understand the express need for good
quality and purity in their products. Nor was it realised that world competition
resulted in very low prices being paid for low quality products.
In a country of many different tribes, customs and languages it was difficult
to find a wider variety of conditions, and consequently very different indeed to
establish uniformity of standards in particular exports on a national basis.
The Government as early as 1869 (when the first laws were introduced),
established the official inspection of some agricultural exports by the officers of the
Customs Department. Further laws were enacted in 1917, but it was not till the
years 1926 to 1928 that a sound system of inspection, undertaken by the
Department of Agriculture, came into being.
Prior to this, conditions under which the produce was bought resulted in
"cut-throat" competition for tonnage amongst local buyers. This in turn led to
buyers purchasing any quality offered and even the advance of cash against
prospective harvests; such buyers being prepared to refine the produce themselves
before re-sale to the exporter. The actual producer therefore took little or no trouble
at all to improve the quality of his product.
In the early days, too, control became ineffective because of the ease with which
the laws were evaded. Everyone combined to defeat the efforts of the Produce
Inspectors, and the laws were constantly having to be amended, even to putting the
"onus of proof" on an accused person, as in the case of certain of the laws against
smuggling. The laws, however, were never unnecessary or very harsh; quite the
reverse. They prohibited adulteration, prescribed grades and purities, and debarred
the export and also the transport of inferior or wet produce. They also imposed
severe penalties for tampering with produce which had already been inspected and
passed for export.
After the second world war, and soon after the formation of the Marketing
Boards and a new Department of Government to handle their work, these Boards
introduced a first-rate scheme whereby several Produce Inspectors per year were
selected and sent to the United Kingdom on a short course, during which they were
shown most of the uses to which Nigerian produce was put; why it had to be
of good quality, and how it had to compete on an open market with the produce
of other countries. Many British firms co-op rated in the scheme in the United
Kingdom, and in this way many Nigerians benefitted.
On their return to their home country they soon informed others of what they
All through the years the inspection scheme was paid for by the produce itself,
the cost to the country being negligible. Each product paid a small fee at the
time of export, and this was collected by the Department of Customs and Excise.
The overall cost of the scheme was something less than one quarter of one per
cent of the buying price; really a remarkable achievement.
The Boards also introduced tempting price incentives to producers, and in
addition, guaranteed prices to the farmers throughout a particular season. This
fact changed the whole face of the trade in export products, and greatly eased the
work of the Inspectors because the producer now benefitted directly for producing
What has been written applies to the years up to 1957; and it shows, perhaps,
how Nigeria pioneered in this field: a fact of which she may be justly proud.
So many Officers, both Nigerian and British, have had a hand in this; and
it is hoped that the article will have brought back to them a "whiff " of the old
proud spirit then enjoyed.