2 September 2012

Nigeria: The Cotton Farmers of Ogun

Ogun State — With 10,000 hectares set aside for the cultivation of cotton this planting season in the South-West, and 6,000 active cotton farmers across the region, the cotton crop may soon spark off an economic revival

If you tell a Nigerian that cotton is being cultivated in the South -West, he or she may not believe you, and would quickly imply that you must be mistaken, or that your grasp of Nigeria's geography or locations where cotton is cultivated, is flawed. The truth is that the cultivation of cotton is taking place right now in the south-west, and indeed its cultivation in Ogun and Oyo states goes back to the year 1814 as different respondents mention to Sunday Trust. At a point interest in its cultivation spread to Osun, then it seemed to die down . Cotton cultivation went on in the area now known as Ogun State for almost a hundred years.

It was not untill 1903 when the British colonial government set up a ginnery in Lagos that people got to know about cotton cultivation in Abeokuta. The background to this is the fact that the British wanted to feed their textile industries in the United Kingdom, and in this direction they had set up the British Cotton Growers Association (BCGA). The fame of cotton increased when another ginnery was set up in Oshogbo in 1904, so says Alhaji Abdullahi Kasali, the Secretary, South-West, National Cotton Association of Nigeria (NACOTAN) whose knowledge of the cotton trade is encyclopedic.

Today, two hundred years since cotton was first grown in the Abeokuta area, cotton cultivation is undergoing a remarkable rebirth and there are many women farmers contributing to the rebirth. Cotton is not just being grown in the South-West, the crop is doing very well there. The coming of President Obasanjo in 1999 saw the return of cotton cultivation in the area. The government at the time was seeking ways of developing crops for export purposes, and it was thought that this would have handsome implications for the country's GDP.

It was then discovered that Long Staple cotton which requires a lot of water would do well in the South-West if it were to be cultivated there, and it has. Altogether, there are 6,000 farmers cultivating cotton in 7 states in the South-West .The entire cotton farmers in the South-West are expected to plant cotton on 10,000 hectares of land this farming season. There are hopes too that cotton cultivation would play a role in reinvigorating Nigeria's comatose textile industry, sparking off an economic revival in the process.

'The best cotton in the world'

A new initiative on cotton by the Ogun State government, and supported by the Bank of Industry (BOI), aims at creating 17.2 million jobs in the state, and raising exports to West African countries from its present 5% to 30%. The federal government has injected N100 billion in the Bank of Industry in a bid to revive the textile industry. The fund which is domiciled in the BOI is to serve as a loan to all stakeholders involved in production up to marketing, including the ginning and textile factories. The money is meant to solve the various challenges confronting the industry. At the production level Cotton farmers under the umbrella of the National Cotton Association of Nigeria (NACOTAN) are being given the loan and this credit facility has been accessed by farmers in the South-West.

Some 1,200 hectares have been set aside for cultivation during the current planting season in Ogun State, and the ginnery at Ibara Orile referred to above, serves not just the 1,020 cotton farmers in Ogun State, but all the cotton producers in the entire south west. This includes Ogun, Oyo, Osun, Ondo, Ekiti, Edo and Kogi States. The aim is to return Nigeria to the glorious days when the country exported cotton to other countries. Chief Lola Kushimo, Chairperson South -West zone of the National Cotton Association of Nigeria (NACOTAN) speaks on this.

Her words 'We can return Nigeria to the glorious past of exporting cotton, which happened some years ago when India came for the highly yielding product. We are considering such export prospects soon if we get the necessary support from government. The type of cotton cultivated in the south west is the long staple cotton which is the best in the whole world '.She says that right now the cotton farmers are targeting the local industries. At present both India and Ethiopia have been pleading with farmers across the globe to plant the Long Staple variety of Cotton. This means that cotton producers in the country would be in good business if they forge ahead and get their act right, since there is a ready market in Ethiopia and India.

Only one tractor

The ginnery which has a staff of twenty, is located at Ibara Orile in Abeokuta North local government of the state. In May this year a significant event took place there. This was the commissioning of the reactivated Cotton double roller ginnery, by Prince Segun Adesegun, the Deputy Governor of the state. According to Prince Adesegun 'The main objective of the Cotton Transformation plan of the federal government is to grow, restructure and support the industry to produce at least 400,000 metric tonnes of cotton by 2014 and revive the textile industry'. 400 million Naira has been given as a loan by the Bank of Industry to NACOTAN for onward disbursement to farmers in the 7 South West states where cotton is cultivated.

The Cotton harvest from the states in the South West, including Ogun, is taken to the ginnery. The ginnery is connected to the national grid and has a baling machine, and a transformer, in addition to a standby 300 KVA generator. In large sections of the ginnery, the visitor can see bags of cotton brought in from the various states which are shortly to be worked on.

Here the cotton is cleaned in large machines. This means the debris that naturally came along with the cotton from the farms is removed. After it has been cleaned then the ginning process takes place, whereby the seeds are removed from the cotton. Once the seeds have been removed the cotton turns into Lint, and then it is instantly baled. In one day the baling machine is just able to produce 20 bales which comes to 2 tonnes.'

There are a number of factors limiting the work of the ginnery today. The baling machine is old' says Chief Kushimo, and adds'The ginning machine is also so slow'. The Chairperson says that the ginnery has signed an MOU with Spintex of Ikorodu, but adds that the ginnery has not been able to meet up with the demand from Spintex owing to the nature of the machinery available at the ginnery, and hopes that an improvement may be possible this year.

She would like modern farming equipment, irrigation and warehouse facilities to be installed. She adds that in the past only 750 hectares were available for cotton cultivation in the state, but that this has been increased to 1,200 hectares by the state government, and these are leased out to farmers by NACOTAN. She is quite elated and anticipates a great future in cotton cultivation. Her words "We want the textiles to be revived then we can export the finished product. We also want all the textiles that have collapsed to come back on stream. The cotton crop can spark off an economic revival."

But there are problems associated with the cultivation of the plant in the South West. Chief Kushimo points to the fact that 'there is no tractor to be used at harvest time. We normally have to hire a tractor when harvest time comes. The Bank of Industry promised to buy us a good tractor which costs between 7-8 million naira. There is only one tractor for use in the entire South -West. "Also a forklift is needed at the ginnery. At present there is none. Thus 'Four men at the ginnery have to load the bales on trucks, and this is very strenuous."

Cotton farmers of Imala

At Imala the community where there are some 650 hectares for the cultivation of cotton, can be found a large number of farmers, both male and female, who are all keen on the cultivation of cotton. Mrs Olanike Okeleye is one of the many cotton farmers busy at work in Imala.She tells Sunday Trust that cotton farming in Nigeria has a future. Her words 'Cotton farming has a future. This is significant because the government wants to revitalize the textile factories'. Kemi Talabi is another cotton farmer. She says that she has just joined the activity.

Her words' I realised at a point that cotton farming has become the in thing. If government supports us, we will have food and will also be better off materially. 'She ends on an optimistic note.' Formerly, textile factories were nonexistent. With an abundance of cotton, there are hopes that the numerous moribund companies will be revived'. Oluwakemi Adeosun has spent five years cultivating cotton. On her reasons for joining the cotton growing business, she says "Women don't like to farm, but I thought that if I start to farm, my example will attract other women". 'Shakirat Ishola feels that the cotton trade is good business, and she has been in the trade for five years. Her words 'everybody must wear clothes, so the cultivation of cotton will naturally be a successful venture'.

'We need a bulldozer'

Alhaji Surajudeen Gbemisola tells Sunday Trust about some of the challenges facing the farmers. His words 'We need a bulldozer to clear the farm .There are 650 hectares here for the cultivation of cotton, but we use our money to come here, and we are also using our hands to clear the bush. We also need good drinking water here, and a settlement too should be set up, instead of an individual spending N1,000 everyday on transport while coming from Abeokuta. 'He would also like the government to set up an irrigation system at Imala which would help in the cultivation of cotton. He wishes for a situation where government would subsidise the chemicals used by the farmers, because these are very expensive today.

He has spent five years in the cotton trade already, and adds that he wants to go into large scale cotton farming. He ends on an optimistic note 'The enlightenment on the potentials of cotton is growing. Foreigners have been getting in touch with us. If government can encourage the farmers, it can go a long way for us in Nigeria. There are many groups interested in expanding the cultivation of cotton in Nigeria'. Adelani Akinde tells Sunday Trust that within a six month period, the number of persons keen on cultivating cotton grew handsomely. He has great hopes for the future.

His words: "Cotton is a hot cake on the world market, and we want to reactivate the collapsed industries'. O. O. Kushimo, Desk Officer and Ginnery Supervisor, indicates to Sunday Trust by email that the Ginnery has entered into an agreement with Spintex of Ikorodu to purchase all the Lints produced in the South-West from the Ginnery, and for now about 46 tonnes of baled Lint have been marketed. In the email he also showed the various uses of cotton to highlight its significance for global markets.

According to him Long Staple cotton is highly proteinous and can be added to the diet. Food industries can also use oil which is extracted from Cotton seeds. It is also free of cholesterol and is therefore significant in preventing strokes. Also the dirty lint can be processed into cotton wool which can be used in hospitals.

Abdullahi Kasali adds that poor weather and ecological conditions in Asia as well as in Europe, mean that countries in both locations would continue to look towards Nigeria for the much treasured Long Staple cotton. His words 'Last year both India and China had ecological problems, so they came here to Nigeria to buy cotton,and the price went up.It cost 600,000 per tonne last year.They are still having poor weather and harsh ecological conditions, and they are encouraging us to plant the Long Staple cotton,so that they will have raw materials for their industries.Finally,we cotton farmers in Nigeria are bound to reap handsomely on account of this situation.

On the future of the industry, Abdullahi Kasali says that within the next three years, Cotton farmers in Abeokuta would be happily driving exotic cars. This, he says, is on account of the cotton trade which is bringing in a lot of money, and is even the mainstay of neighbouring economies such as that of Benin Republic. He thinks that the example of Benin could be replicated here. His words 'In the next three years if you come to the South-West, you will see our farmers laughing and doing wonderful things. They will be driving Jeeps and other exotic cars. We will be like the cotton farmers in the Benin Republic where the cotton business is the sole activity, and the economy relies on the industry'.

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