H.A. Kwajaffa, Chairman of the National Cotton Association of Nigeria (NACOTAN), in a memorandum submitted to the Senate last week in Abuja during a Public Hearing on the Biosafety Bill, makes a case for the genetically-modified cotton (or Biotechnology Cotton), saying that its adoption will revive the presently moribund sector
Cotton is one of the most important commercial crops in Nigeria with a history of more than 100 years. Cotton used to be a very import-export revenue earner of good part of the 20th century. Prior to the advent of oil boom, indeed through the late 1980s, the cotton value chain sector was the second largest employer of labour after the public sector.
However, due to several factors, which led to the closure of the textile mills, cotton production in the country had also declined. Some other factors that contributed to the decline in cotton production are late planting, low yielding seed, pest disease attack, climate change challenges, and low price offer to cotton farmers. There is also the problem of instability in the marketing system.
The introduction of free market and structural adjustment programme (SAP) around late 1980s helped to some extent to remedy the situation but, to date, the sector never regained its pre-eminent position. SAP also introduced a serious problem of inconsistency in the marketing system which led to the problem of poor quality of Nigerian cotton especially the problem of cotton contamination by polypropylene and uncontrollable adulteration of cotton with foreign matters by farmers and buyers.
Cotton is one of the most labour intensive crops known due to not only to weeding, spraying and other requirements but also due to manual picking followed in the country. It is also one the most capital intensive crops due to the requirement of high doses of insecticides.
Cotton is such a unique crop with multi-dimensional purposes. For example, apart from being raw material for textile fabric, the seed is used for production of nutritious and low cholesterol oil, cake for animal feeds; the stalks are used for cardboards, ceiling, and planks. Therefore, there is no wastage in cotton.
Presently, Nigeria produces short and medium staples, yet long staple cotton is in higher demand worldwide given its application for special fabrics. Consequently, the production of long staple cotton is being encouraged under rain-fed condition in the southern cotton producing zone.
The above notwithstanding, cotton production, processing and marketing remains a major business sector and provides employment and means of livelihood to millions of Nigerians directly or indirectly especially in the Northern parts of the country.
Cotton growing areas in Nigeria
Cotton cultivation is very well suited to the Sudan and Northern Guinea Savannah where about 95% of the crop is produced. The development of different varieties of cotton with different maturity and biological characteristics has enhanced the adaptation of the crop to most ecological zones in the country. The cotton growing areas in the country covers about 25 states and they are grouped as follows:
- Northern Cotton Zone which includes Kano, Kaduna, Zamfara, Katsina, Sokoto, Kebbi and Jigawa states;
- Eastern Cotton Zone included Borno, Gombe, Bauchi, Adamawa, Yobe and Taraba states; and,
- Southern Cotton Zone includes parts of Kwara, Ogun, Nasarawa, Niger, Kogi, Oyo, Benue, Osun, Ondo and Ekiti states, as well as the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
Cotton can be grown on different types of soil provided the site selected is freely drained. Unfortunately, there has been absence of soil test in the country for many rears. This makes cotton a unique crop that can be grown in virtually all parts of the country. But, unfortunately, today, because of the challenges we have highlighted above, we are not getting anything from this crop called “white gold”.
In many countries such as India, Pakistan, China and Brazil, cotton plays a major contribution to their economies. Even though it utilises over 50% of her production domestically, India remains one of the highest exporters of cotton in the world, netting over $6 billion annually. But, with all the potential we have in terms of arable land and human resources in Nigeria, this great source of revenue and employment is neglected.
What we stand to gain if Biotechnology Cotton is introduced
- Increase in the yield: One of the greatest challenges we have today in Nigeria in cotton production is low yield. The average yield of Nigerian cotton is about 800kg/hectare whereas in India, US and China, the yield is about five tons/hectare. In African countries such as Burkina Faso and Egypt where Biotechnology Cotton (BT) has been introduced, over four tons/hectare is achieved.
- BT cotton reduces the usage of insecticides and therefore makes it cheaper to produce.
- Increased earning for farmers: Farmers will earn four times more than they are currently earning from cotton. More farmers will return to cotton production and the national production will greatly increase, thereby increasing our foreign exchange earning therefrom.
- Massive employment generation: Needless to mention that this is what we need to curb the menacing insecurity in the country especially in the North.
- Reduce drastically rural-urban migration and its attendant adverse social consequences.
- Increased standard of living for farmers, families and dependants.
- It will enhance mechanised farming in the country.
- BT cotton will make cotton production to become a business in Nigeria and encourage more local and foreign investment in the sector.
- Because of the low production of cotton, over 30 ginneries in the country are closed down. All these will be reactivated and contribute to the economy by providing employment.
- We will be able to compete with other cotton producing nations all over the world in terms of pricing and quality.
- Our textile industry will be reactivated as they will be able to source good and relatively cheaper raw materials and thereby compete more effectively with textile products from other parts of the world.
Despite the wonderful work the current administration is doing to transform cotton production, cotton farmers in the country have over the years suffered a great deal and are still suffering. They have only remained in the production just to fulfil cultural practices. If nothing is done to make cotton production attractive, farmers may eventually turn their backs on the business and, at that stage, its revival would be near impossible.
We however still have a glimpse of hope as some older farmers are still in the business. We believe, very strongly, that BT Cotton, if introduced will be the panacea that we urgently require to restore the glory of cotton in Nigeria. We, therefore, recommend that the Biosafety Law should be passed.