Hope rises as stakeholders move to revive cotton production

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Nigerians, especially cotton farmers, are expressing hope that the recent promises by relevant stakeholders to revive the cotton industry will yield fruitful results by bringing back the lost glory of the once vibrant sector.

The cotton industry in Nigeria used to be very viable, employing a large number of people but this became history right from the 1990s. According to the Director-General of the Raw Material Research and Development Council (RMRDC), Dr. Hussaini Ibrahim, from the 1990s, the fortune of the textile industry dipped and the number of textile mills dropped considerably.

The industry that was producing at over 63 per cent capacity utilisation dipped considerably.  The textile mills in operation gradually closed down and about 24,000 workers and about 250,000 dependants are left in the doldrums .

It became worst thereafter when the entire industry virtually became moribund.

Experts have identified absence of improved seeds, pest infestation, price fluctuation, dearth of ginneries and textile mills and other related problems as the main cause of decline in cotton production in the country.

The DG of RMRDC said while the production of cotton in Nigeria is dominated by small scale farmers – with farm sizes ranging from 3-5ha all under rain-fed ecologies – in most parts of the world it is regarded as a high yielding investment activity. This, he said, affected the entire value change in the cotton sector.

Our Agric Editor, who has been monitoring the sector, observes that there have been growing interests in reviving the sector by both government and the private sector.

Already, the Federal Government, in realisation of the sector’s importance in job creation, has proposed a N70 billion lifeline that was eventually raised to N100 billion for the sector.

The Federal Government, through RMRDC partnered research institutes to develop improved seeds for farmers to increase productivity in addition to the development of Bt cotton, a genetically modified, pest resistant plant cotton variety that will increase yield. The Bt cotton is expected to be multiplied and made available for farmers in the next planting season.

Experts believe that if farmers have access to Bt cotton, the issue of pest infestation and low yield will become a thing of the past, thereby boosting activities in the entire value chain.

Also recently, a private company, Vlisco Group, promised to invest $200 million in the cotton industry with plan to create about 700,000 jobs in the sector.

The chief executive officer of the company, David Suddens, told President Muhammad Buhari that the 172-year old company plans to use cotton grown in Nigeria for production.

“I want to change the supply chain from Asia to Nigeria. For the total supply chain for cotton, textile and garment industry, from weaving, spinning, printing to retail, we want to use Nigerian cotton and we are encouraging the creative industry to find a voice and a platform across the world,’’ he said.

Perhaps these are some of the assurances that the farmers need to boost their interest and capacity to increase production.

Alhaji Mamuda Funtua, a cotton seed dealer in Katsina State, said the rate at which farmers bought seeds was high compared to the last two years.

“The new improved seeds distributed by cotton producers and merchants association have swarmed the markets and many farmers are looking for them to give them a trial.

“Now that they have started harvesting the cotton, they can testify to the high yield of the new seed,” said Alhaji Mamuda.

Malam Anas Abdullah, a cotton farmer, who recorded success in the cultivation of the new seed, said the good olden days of cotton production seem possible in the near future.

Another farmer, Babangida Balarabe, said besides the new improved seeds, government needs to intervene in the provision of viable market for farmers, especially with the closure of our local textile firms and overdependence on foreign textile materials.

“After the euphoria of new improved seed, our next challenge as cotton farmers is market. Our local textile companies need to be revived to improve local consumption of the produce. Allowing foreign markets to determine the price of the produce has helped in killing the cotton industry in this country,” he explained.

Meanwhile, the General-Secretary of Cotton Producers and Merchants Association (COPMA), Alhaji Kamilu Munir Malumfashi, told Daily Trust that famers were happy with President Buhari’s pledge to return the cotton industry to its good olden days as well as the investment of $200 million in the industry by Vlisco company.

“It is a welcome development and such move has rekindled hope in the cotton farmers, who for long, have lost confidence in the production of the crop and it is affecting the entire value chain,’’ he said.

The moribund textile companies

Daily Trust visited Cotton and Agricultural Processors Ltd, formerly BCGA in Malumfashi, Katsina State and found that the place was a shadow of its former self.

According to Lado Mani, a technical staff of the company, lack of power supply was the major setback for BCGA over the years.

“No one needs any explanation on power problems in this country, especially as it affects industries. Our only functional generator stopped working four years ago. When the place was working full time, we were producing 120 bales of lint cotton in 12 hours but gradually it started reducing to 100, 80 and subsequently 50 bales before its total closure in 2014,” said Lado.

He said besides a number of labourers who were carrying out manual jobs for stipends, there were about 500 members of staff who were earning a living in the company.

Lado called on the Federal Government to come to the rescue of ginneries so that farmers can have easy access to process their cotton.

Ahmad Nasir Sada of ABM Seeds and Agro Company, Malumfashi, told Daily Trust that the price of cotton had started appreciating since last year.

“Perhaps due to its declining market supply over the years and high rate of forex, the price of cotton has started appreciating since last year. We are now buying it from farmers at between N170,000 to N180,000 per ton,” he said.

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