Tears Of Oke-Ogun Cotton Farmers •When The ‘White Gold’ No Longer Glitters

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For many centuries, cotton was referred to as ‘white gold’ considering its alluring appeal and the profits accruable from its cultivation. After many years of cotton production, Oke-Ogun cotton farmers recorded much profit, declaring large sales. But it is no longer so, considering the uphill task of production and lack of government intervention. WALE AKINSELURE, in this report, details the challenges of the farmers and their losses.

The cotton farmlands in Oke-Ogun area of Oyo State looked pale, the cotton growers rendered tales of woes and losses to the writer, and, the community leaders lamented lack of social infrastructure for profitable cotton farming, ginning and trading. But, Nigeria is known to be a cotton-producing nation with cotton listed among Nigeria’s major export commodities and formed a major component of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Has cotton production in Nigeria gone into the abyss? Has the textile industry which used do provide 700,000 jobs and contributed about 25 percent to the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), in the 1980s, vanished?

Production of cotton is usually dominated by small scale farmers, with farm sizes ranging from 3-5 hectares under rain fed ecologies. The challenges of cotton farmers in Nigeria today include, poor access to quality seeds, poor farm inputs, poor funding to purchase fertilizer and pesticides, destruction of farmlands by grazing herds, distant market for harvested cotton, poor access roads and poor social infrastructure.

The success in focus on cotton production in francophone countries who use cotton to run their economy points to the potential inherent in Nigeria diversifying its economy to fortify cotton production. The Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural development did sign a Memorandum of Understanding with Arewa Cotton and Allied Products Limited (ACAPL) with a mandate to develop the cotton production potentials of the North East, North West, South West and North central geopolitical zone. Especially, Arewacotton is coordinating the North Central and South West with focus on growing commercial cotton through mechanisation and adoption of agricultural best practices that will give rise to professional farmers, ginners and traders in the industry.

In the South West, Arewa Cotton, in collaboration with the National Cotton Association of Nigeria (NACOTAN), has signed an MOU with Oyo and Ogun states in a Public Private Partnership arrangement to ensure farmers access every potential inherent in cotton growing and production. However, the NACOTAN’s lack of financial muscle to carry out its requisite responsibilities in regulating seed cotton trade across the country and embark on required tasks on the cotton value chain, is evident in the lamentation of losses of cotton farmers in Oke-Ogun area of Oyo state. They decried that a failed harvest in 2016 owing to the failure of the state and federal government, commercial banks and agricultural agencies to assist them with requisite grants and inputs. According to the farmers, adequate funding was required to purchase cotton seedlings, weed, purchase fertilizer and pesticides while they bemoaned the grazing activities which destroys their farms.

Speaking, a cotton farmer, Mr Busari Olakunle bemoaned the lack of focus of government on cotton which he referred to as “White gold”, noting its capability to generate employment and boost the Internally Generated Revenue and Gross Domestic Product of states and the country, at large.

Cotton

“Cotton is also relevant for boosting the textile industry in the country. In other climes, cotton is referred to as white gold. You may have the land but before you can cultivate, you need money. To harvest two hectares of land, you need about 40 labourers to work for three days. When you borrow money from commercial banks with high interest rate, you can’t break even. Instead of we farmers being given loans, we need grants. Oyo state government should encourage farmers to stay on the farm by giving them incentives.”

“Also, we lack motorable roads to get to our farms and market our goods. We need a structured market to sell our cotton once we harvest in December. Cotton is not edible so we must have buyers on ground once we harvest.”

“Before you spray your farm with chemicals, you need water, hence we need a borehole, well, around our farmlands. This will make our job easier and reduce cost of production as we spend a lot of money asking labourers to go distances to get water.

“We are also victims of the grazing activities of herdsmen. If they graze on a farm just once, that farmland is destroyed. Especially during the dry season when there are no green leaves, the cows descend on farm produce to live. Grazing area should be separated from agrarian area for us to cohabit peacefully.”

“The state government has promised to give us a ginnery. If we have a ginnery, we can process the cotton here and this will boost the textile industry. The state should expedite the development of a ginnery at the proposed Ago Amodu site by implementing its MOU with ArewaCotton,” Busari lamented.

Another cotton farmer, Mrs Obaniyi Toyin, said, “Grazing on our farmlands whereby our crops are destroyed is a serious challenge. Then, we lack adequate funding and we need a lot of money to tender our crops till we can successfully harvest them. We need fertilizer and we lack enough water for our farms.”

“Cotton is prone to a lot of insects hence we need to regularly spray insecticides. We are expected to spray our farmlands once every eight days for us to harvest good cotton.”

Mrs Taiwo Fatokun, who said she was successful in here engagement in cotton business in Burkina faso, for five years, wondered why the country failed to utilize its comparative advantage in good land, better rainfall, favourable weather to boost the cotton industry.

“Our cotton business would have been more successful than this but we lack requisite assistance. We do not get cotton seeds, fertilizer, insecticides in due time. We cannot afford to pay labourers to work on our farms. We plant sometime in June and have to tender the cotton plant for three months. We should spray the cotton for five times strategically to get the best cotton but due to lack of funding, we harvested low grade cotton this year.”

“For five years, I was involved in this cotton business in Burkina Faso, and always had the best cotton grade but I am unhappy at the low grade cotton we produce here in Ago Amodu. It is unfortunate because our land is better than that of Burkina faso, and we have more rain.”

“After working in other countries, I returned to my fatherland to do this cotton business but the working environment has been discouraging. We need government’s support. This is a profitable business if well funded and supported. While I worked in Burkina faso, I generated enough funds to build a house back home in Nigeria as well as sponsored the education of my children,” Fatokun asserted.

On his part, Mr Saka Adeleke, who is head of cotton growers in Sepeteri decried the failure of farmers to get funding from financial institutions and agencies as promised, leading to a largely unsuccessful farming year in 2016.

“About three years ago, I obtained loan to start this cotton business which was successful and then I was able to refund the loan. However, last year, we did not get the requisite funding from financial institutions and agencies hence were largely unsuccessful this year. We were assured of funding by some agencies but we never got the funding till the planting season ended.”

“We have about 90 farmers engaged in cotton farmers in Sepeteri. We need the government to cotton seeds early enough, especially in April for us to start planting early enough. The planting of cotton should commence in May for us to harvest the highest cotton grade and we have to spray for ten times to get good cotton in the end.”

“We are really interested in this cotton business because it is profitable. I did this cotton business in Benin, and used the proceeds to sponsor the studies of my children. I have 25 acres I use to farm cotton and was unable to get a ton of cotton, this year. In 2015, I got 4 tons, but last year, I got a ton which amounts to 20 bags. Last year, a ton went for N150,000,” Adeleke said.

A community leader, Balogun of Ago Amodu land, Chief Stephen Fatokun, also decried the inability of the farmers to cultivate about five to seven acres of land that they were allotted for cotton farming.

“The farmers do not have the capacity to cultivate the 5 to 7 acres of land. They were promised assistance but no more got the assistance. They lament that do not get the needed assistance to cultivate and weed the land. We pleaded to all those who expected to assistant them in cultivating the land.”

“The government gave them cotton seedling but they need assistance financially and in terms of farm inputs. The Saki East local government gave the farmers some money which cannot go round. We therefore appeal to the state government and federal government to assist us. We are all ready to return to farming but need assistance. The failure of governmental support discourages the young and old from farming,” Fatokun said.

State Coordinator, National Association of Cotton Farmers of Nigeria (NACOTAN), Oyo state Chapter, Mr Taiwo Adejuwon said about ten million naira was expended during the last farming season without virtually no profit.

He however expressed hope that with the assistance of the federal and state government in 2017, cotton growers would cover up for their past losses, decrying the “cold feet” and lack of cooperation of commercial banks to the project in 2016.

Meanwhile, the Oyo state government, through the Commissioner for Agriculture, Natural Resources and Rural Development, Barrister Oyewole Oyewumi said the cotton growers were given a good variety of cotton seedling.

While noting that the state government had signed an MOU with Arewa Cotton for the establishment of ginnery in the Oke Ogun area of the state, he said the state government will continue to initiate policies and programmes that will promote the growing and marketing of cotton in the state.

Caretaker Chairman, Saki East Local Government, Mr Salau Moruf, while speaking at a recent stakeholders’ meeting lamented that the cotton farmers were only empowered to plough only about 30 percent of the land they had.

“Saki East has the potential to produce the best cotton in the world. We met with the cotton buyers, NACOTAN, then discussed on how to mobilise farmers to produce cotton. We were able to mobilise 150 cotton farmers and we signed a Memorandum of Association whereby we put tractors on farm and ploughed 5 acres to each farmer. Unfortunately, most of these farmers cannot be financed because of the issue they have with the bank and the other agency that should come in.

“About 30 percent of the land we ploughed were not utilised because, in our Memorandum of Association, we are to prepare the land while other agencies are expected to produce fertilizer and other farm inputs, most of these agencies failed in their obligations.”

A labourer harvesting cotton in Oke Ogun.

“In fact, we had to finance most of these farmers at their dire period. This is because we discovered that those who were able to plant and get fertilizer do not have fund to weed their farm. We provided assistance to them to the tune of N2 million for the weeding of the farms.”

“While we faced this problem, the state government came up with the OYSAI initiative. We are also talking about the pacesetter cotton industry which is being planned and we pray that the headquarters will be in this local government because we are the highest producer of cotton in the state. With the pacesetter initiative, we will be able to plan for the future of cotton production. This has to be an alternative to oil. Funding agencies and Arewa cotton should collaborate to help the farmers,” Moruf said.

Commenting on the development, Chairman, Cotton Strategic Committee for Saki East local government, Dr Gabriel Awoleyin, expressed optimism that the desire of the federal government to diversify the economy would soon begin to yield results.

“The federal government is passionate about diversifying the economy. The results may not be immediately seen, but the results will gradually be move visible. The federal ministry of agriculture is working towards ensuring the diversification of the economy and conducting research, for example, how to provide starch for textile technology.”

“We are also boosting efforts to improve the production of local loom to improve the production per unit time. What the federal government may currently not appear significant but it will be more visible in the next two or three years. The state and federal government must synergise their efforts to revive this important textile sector of the economy,” Awoleyin said.

Regional Manager, South West, Arewa Cotton Allied Products limited, Mr Adebayo Olayemi, asserted the resolve of ArewaCotton to boost the cotton potential of the North East, North West, South West and North Central geopolitical zones.

“If the francophone countries use cotton to run their economy, you therefore can see the potential inherent if we emphasise cotton production in Nigeria. It is a competitive means of running the economy alongside oil. We have signed an MOU with the federal ministry of agriculture to develop the North East, North West, South West, North Central geopolitical zone. Arewa cotton is coordinating North central and South West.”

“The state government is to collaborate with us on Public Private partnership arrangement. Oyo and Ogun state has signed an MOU with us though others are yet to. Oyo state signing the MOU with us means farmers in the state have the opportunity to access every potential in what the farmer should get in cotton production” Adebayo said.