Cotton, one of the nation’s most valuable export tree crops before the oil boom of the 70s, is gradually becoming history in Nigeria despite the potential to have a share in the estimated $3 trillion global textile industry.
From the 1960s to late 1980s, about 176 textile companies were active in Nigeria when Kaduna, Kano and Katsina witnessed massive influx of graduates and unskilled labourers who sought and got jobs in the cotton dependent industries.
However, most of these companies are now dead; the ones still alive are crippled by importation of textile materials, government neglect and poor cotton policies and production.
Dr H. D. Ibrahim, Director-General, Raw Materials Research and Development Council, noted few months ago during presentation of cooton seeds to farmers in the North-west, that in 1980, cotton turnover in Nigeria was worth N8.9 billion, which represented 25% of the National Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Sadly, it slumped to only N300 million in 2012.
Similarly a report by International Cotton Advisory Committee (ICAC) (2006/2007) shows that Nigeria has 51 ginning companies but only 17 are fully operational with 33% ginning capacity utilization and approximately 250, 000 cotton farmers.
However, the ICAC 2016 data released December 1st says Nigeria now produces 51,000 metric tonnes of cotton on 253,000 hectares with average yield of 202kg per hectare only.
Again, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) in the Q1 GDP report for 2016 highlighted that the textile, apparel and footwear industries contributed only 2.10% in Q1 of 2016.
Anibe Achimugu, National President, National Cotton Association of Nigeria (NACOTAN) in a telephone interview with Daily Trust believed that failure of government to treat cotton as “a national asset” as done by top producers in the world, led to the collapse of many of the 176 industries that were active up to 1980s, which is also responsible for the continued decline of cotton production in Nigeria.
Arc. Bashir S. Haiba, who is a cotton farmer and does cotton business, from production to chain processing (ginning), told our reporter during an interview that cotton used to be part of the traditional cottage industry.
“In most of the cities in Hausa land, particularly cotton growing areas, you will always find ‘Masaka’ where traditional weaving and value addition takes place; weaving blankets, clothes and other things but over the years it is all gone,” he lamented.
“In Malumfashi now there are three functional ginneries but they are seasonal and operate below 50% of their capacity,” he said.
How $4bn (about N1.2 trillion) textile imports kill cotton production
The Director General of the Nigerian Textile Manufacturers Association (NTMA), Hamma Kwajaffa, while lamenting the state of the Nigerian cotton industry with journalists in Abuja recently said the country spends $4 billion (about N1.29 trillion) annually on import of textiles and ready made clothing, which makes it extremely difficult for the comatose industries in the country to operate and compete.
Most of these textiles materials come from the world’s largest producers of cotton – India, China, USA, Turkey and others.
Arc. Haiba also highlighted the issue of smuggling in the textile industries as a major challenge, adding that our borders are very porous thereby killing local production over the years.
With a total of 650,000 hectares available for cotton farming, only a third is currently exploited to produce less than 300,000 tonnes by an estimated 250,000 farmers in the major cotton producing states.
Even the federal government’s N100 billion for cotton, Textile and Garment Development Scheme “managed by the Bank of Industry (BOI), to revitalize the CTG Industry along the entire value chain at an interest rate of 6% per annum with tenor up to 5years,” did not make any significant impact.
Many farmers are now leaving cotton for other crops, a situation that call for concern.
FG policy on uniforms could be a game-changer
Currently, Nigeria does not have any National policy that protects the cotton industries – looking at the entire value chain.
Stakeholders like Mr. Achimugu and Kwajaffa believe that if government makes it a national policy that school uniforms of the estimated 40 million pupils, students and those of thousands of our military and para-military personnel are not allowed to be imported, that will go a long way in changing the game as that figure alone will create the market that will resuscitate private sector investments in the cotton and textiles industries.
As it stands today, government does not have any legal instrument in place that regulates the industries making it extremely difficult for the sub-sector to come back to life.
Everything begins and ends with quality seeds
On production, Architect Haiba disclosed that the greatest problems are seeds which are grossly insufficient and not of best quality.
“Seedling nowadays doesn’t grow more than 2-3 feet, but before, a cotton plant could reach up to 5 feet with a lot of branches which you can harvest up to four times. For cotton you need long fibre, disease resistant seeds and ones that adjust properly to the vagaries of the weather,” he said.
Anibe Achimugu, like NACOTAN’s Kwajaffa and Arc. Haiba, also stressed that lack of quality cotton seed (and quantity) to address the needs of farmers for seed and to achieve higher yields, must be addressed.
He also emphasised the need for adequate financial support for farmers, research and development (R&D) on the part of government for the Institute for Agricultural Research (IAR), which will ensure seed production programmes are implemented to produce breeder and foundation seeds for the industry’s needs.
Achimugu, who is also the MD/CEO of Arewa Cotton, said there was need to facilitate the establishment of a world class seed processing plant in the first instance.
“Government’s help is needed as it will not become commercially viable for some years but it is needed to play a developmental role in the short to medium term to address lack of properly treated and certified cotton planting seed,” he said.
Other issues with cotton production in Nigeria
Architect Bashir Haiba further lamented the situation of herdsmen going into fields and destroying plants, adding that the real problem of cotton production begins after production.
He further lamented the sharp practices of middlemen whom, he said, added water, sand or even stones so that when you weighed the cotton you had more tonnage thereby creating problems for the cotton ginneries.
“Even the countries where we export the cotton to some years back banned cotton from Nigeria, particularly because of the amount of sand and debris in it, especially in Europe,” he added.
Professor Salihu A. Dadari, Programme Leader of Cotton Programme, Department of Agronomy, Institute for Agricultural Research, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, recalled that cotton marketing boards organised and coordinated the sale of cotton and also the export of the commodity.
The don revealed that with the marketing boards, farmers received fair prices for their produce.
He blamed the decline in cotton production on low seeds release to farmers, lack of adequate inputs, poor pricing policy, activities of middlemen, poor roads infrastructure and lack of security.
“At a time Nigeria was producing up to one million tonnes of cotton lint that goes to the textiles but nowadays the percentage has reduced drastically,” he said.
Prof. Dadari asserted that it was a mistake to dismantle the Cotton Marketing Boards adding that no sustainable substitute was created afterwards.
He stated that although there were allegations of corruption and fraudulent activities, it was still better then, because now you can’t hold anybody responsible for how many tonnes we have acquired or where we are taking them to or who is buying what.
Experts say government should act now
Speaking on the way government can revitalize the sector, Architect Bashir Haiba, said government should critically look into input supply for production and allocate at least 15% of the budget to agricultural production.
He said Nigeria should engage in technology shopping, particularly from other countries, adding that fertiliser, herbicides, pesticides, agricultural extension workers should also be strengthened.
“The technology attachés in embassies should look for the most rugged and simplest form of technology and see how we can bring it into Nigeria and replicate it. India has a lot to offer Nigeria,” he said.
Prof. Dadari on his part called on government to as a matter of urgency render deliberate and targeted support for the stakeholders in the cotton value chain.
“Professionals must be trained and sent to the field to give farmers technical advice and improved seeds that have long fibres, are pest resistant and compatible with various soils and weather at affordable prices,” he suggested.
Mr. Achimugu, the MD of Arewa Cotton, Abuja, however appealed to the federal government to set up a National Cotton Council where stakeholders could deliberate on all issues pertaining to the cotton industry, and to identify interventions and implement actions.
He also wants “government to facilitate the establishment of a High Volume Instrument (HVI) testing centre. Alongside this, introduce through the instrumentality of the Federal Government of Nigeria, the Nigerian Cotton Standards (NCS) and selling types, thereby creating a Nigerian standard in the international market place.”
But the question now is: would N1.6 billion earmarked for cotton production in the 2017 budget revive the trend?