14 March 2019

Nigeria: Why Govt Should Solve Issues in New Textile Policy

Last week, the Federal Government placed forex restriction on textile materials import - a move that many stakeholders consider good for the industry.

However, one of the greatest problems of the Nigerian cotton industry is the issue of poor access to high quality cottonseed which is necessary for the production of high grade cotton lint.

Recently, the country's Biotechnology Development Agency officially registered two Bt Cotton varieties (MRC7377BG11 and MRC7361BG11), by the National Committee on Naming, Registration and Release of Crop Materials, which are due for production and commercialization.

Bt cotton is an insect-resistant transgenic crop designed to combat the bollworm. It was created by genetically altering the cotton genome to express a microbial protein from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis.

But national president of the National Cotton Association of Nigeria (NACOTAN), Mr Anibe Achimugu, said they are yet to get information on where to access the new BT cotton seed.

He told our Agric Editor that accessing improved seeds that are pest resistance and give maximum yields has been the major challenge to the farmers.

He tasked relevant authorities, especially the CBN's Anchor Borrower Programme to make such seeds and other inputs available for farmers on time, stressing that planting of cotton will commence by the end of May or early June.

However, Dr Rose SM Gidado, Head, Biotechnology Awareness Unit, National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA) in a text message to Daily Trust's enquiry on Tuesday, said "it would be available only to some selected farmers by May for training purposes across the cotton growing zones."

The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Governor, Mr. Godwin Emefele, already has painted a rosy picture that the nation could earn up $10 billion annually by restricting forex for textile materials import in view of Nigeria's high demand for textiles.

Mr. Emefele said "in the 1970s and early 1980s, Nigeria was home to Africa's largest textile industry, with over 180 textile mills in operations, which employed close to over 450,000 people.

Hamma Ali Kwajaffa, Director General, Nigeria Textile Garment and Tailoring Employers Association, stressed that if that has happened long ago, by today, the textile industry will have been employing millions of people.

Kwajaffa emphasised that the restriction will now make many investors look inwards to generate whatever textile materials they required, adding that will also 'serve as oxygen to the dying few industries operating in epileptic conditions'.

The director-general told Daily Trust Monday that discussion was ongoing with the CBN to see how farmers get improved cotton seeds for planting because he believed that is key to scaling up the productivity of farmers.

Our correspondent in Katsina State, which is a major cotton producing area, reports that many stakeholders have welcomed the development while others also urge the Federal Government to tread with caution in implementation.

Alhaji Sa'idu Abdullahi, a textile materials dealer at Malumfashi, Katsina State, said the move was long overdue but quickly adds that the government must tread with caution in the implementation of the policy for smooth transition.

"The attention of government should first go to the moribund textile companies and cotton farmers before banning forex for textile importers, there must be a sort of alternative before the policy will be aggressively implemented considering the fact that most of our textile industries are in terrible condition.

"That is what happened to rice in 2016 when the government shut down its importation with no alternatives and our local production was then low. We all saw what happened to the price of rice; it shot almost out of reach to the common man," he explained.

He reminded government that, just like food, the demand for clothing is basic; it is something every human being will always seek to have.

Alhaji Sa'idu further enjoined dealers of textile materials to have the fear of God and avoid hoarding and unreasonable price increase of the goods just to maximize profit at the expense of ordinary Nigerians.

"Some of us are not helping matters in a situation like this. We are always determined to exploit any slight opportunity from government policy out of selfishness," he said.

Sani Umar Gora, a cotton farmer told Daily Trust that reviving the cotton industry by the Federal Government is a welcomed development which they have long been waiting for.

"The closure of our local textile companies and the growing importation of textile materials have, over the years, crippled the production of cotton across the country. Even with the recent ban, many of us will still find it difficult to go back to production unless government emphasises on the provision of improved seeds to farmers and creation of a viable market for the produce," said Umar Gora.

He added that improved seeds and viable market are the two main things cotton farmers are after, saying other things are secondary. So "revival of our local textile companies before banning importation of textile materials is the best approach of creating market for the farmers; while government through its institutions and agencies should ensure direct provision of improved cotton seeds to the farmers."

He further cited the issue of power which has been the bane of cotton processing companies for a long time.

"Take for example the Cotton and Agricultural Processors Ltd (formerly BCGA Malumfashi) which was established before that of Funtua. It is no longer functioning, since 2014, because of power issue. The dealers now also depend largely on private ginners in Funtua, Zaria and sometimes Kano," Umar Gora said.

Resuscitating these processing plants will go a long way in boosting cotton production and bringing the entire industry into life, he also said.

Another farmer, Babangida Balarabe, urged the Cotton Producers and Merchants Association to have a reliable statistics of its real members and have people of good character at the helm of their affairs for the success of the laudable cotton policy of the Federal Government.

He urged cotton farmers to open their eyes to checkmate the activities of bad elements who are always determined to reap where they did not sow and scuttle government's efforts in the agricultural sector.

Daily Trust found that with the introduction of new improved seeds to farmers last season, the price of the produce has fallen to N185,000 from N230,000 per ton last year.

But Alhaji Sagir Sani Malumfashi, a cotton dealer, attributed the development to the 2019 general elections which pause many investors and international businesses for a while.

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