Nigeria moves to revive its textile industry

By Nkechi Isaac

April 9, 2019

In the 1970s and early 1980s, Nigeria was home to Africa’s largest textile industry, with more than 180 textile mills employing over 450,000 people. The cotton, textile and garment (CTG) subsector of the economy was then the largest employer after the public sector, comprising over 25 percent of the manufacturing workforce. This industry was supported by the production of cotton by some 600,000 local farmers across the country.

Today, the CTG industry is living in the shadow of its former self as virtually all the companies have shut down, terminating thousands of jobs and requiring Nigeria to annually import some $4 billion worth of ready-made clothing and textiles.

Experts have identified some constraints dogging Nigeria’s CTG subsector, including insufficient cotton seeds for production, high cost of operations, smuggling and counterfeiting, high influx of cheap textile and garment products into the country, lack of enabling infrastructure, especially a steady power supply, limited access to funds and poor production standards.

Nigeria’s federal government recently took drastic measures to address one of those issues, with the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) announcing an end to textile imports. Adding all forms of textile materials to the list of items ineligible for foreign exchange from official windows is seen as a watershed move in efforts to resuscitate the collapsed textile industry.

Godwin Emefiele, CBN governor, said that although the bank will initially support the importation of cotton lint for use in textile factories, importers must begin to source all their cotton needs locally beginning in 2020.

Ibrahim Igomu, former national chairman of the Nigerian Textile Manufacturers Association (NTMA), said the ban does not mean Nigeria will automatically stop buying textiles or clothing from other countries. He described the policy as a way to discourage importers from sourcing textile needs abroad by forcing them to seek foreign exchange on the black market, at a more expensive rate. This, in turn, “will make it more attractive to buy domestically, which means that the Nigerian companies would produce more and would need more cotton to do that. This means they will get more cotton from the ginners, who will now buy more from the farmers. So, you see the value chain will be affected positively.”

Dr. Rose Maxwell Gidado, country coordinator for the Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology (OFAB) Nigeria chapter, also lauded the move, saying it complements the government’s approval of two homegrown Bt cotton varieties genetically modified to resist the bollworm. The devastating insect pest causes a cotton yield loss of about 60 percent.

“It is really coming at a very critical time when Nigeria has commercially released two varieties of cotton that are high yielding, with other advantages like resistance to bollworm, a pest that has kept farmers from cultivating this crop,” she said. “Not just bollworm, but many other insects are responsible for a high rate of loss to the extent that farmers and breeders alike get frustrated with cultivating this crop unless you use excessive chemicals to control these insects. But we now have a high-yielding variety which gives you like 4.1 – 4.4 tonnes per hectare and it is early maturing and resistant to other sucking insects, apart from bollworm.”

By growing GM Bt cotton, farmers will be able to control pests with just two applications of insecticides, rather than the eight-to-10 required now.“This is where cost effectiveness comes into play,” Gidado said, noting that Bt cotton will help farmers reduce the money they spend on pesticides and other farm inputs while producing a better crop that supports high-quality textile production for export.

Anibe Achimugu, president of the National Cotton Association of Nigeria (NACOTAN), said the impact of the pronouncement will help revive the industry by halting the imported textile dumping that is currently going on. “But the point now is that they are giving the local industries the opportunity to be revived, expand their production capacity, create jobs and of course create a market for the cotton farmers and then they will go back to cotton production,” he said.

Bt cotton will add value to cotton production by making quality seeds available for farmers to plant, Achimugu said. Its insect-resistant, high-yield and early-maturing traits will also enhance sustainable cotton production, he noted. “So, if you combine all that, definitely it is a useful tool towards reviving the industry because, of course, the more cotton you have, quality wise, certainly the more it is available for the industry,” he stated.

Additionally, Igomu pointed out, the higher yields possible with GM cotton will help cotton farmers in Nigeria move from subsistence to commercial/large scale farming. “If previously per hectare [yield] was about 15 kilograms, now with the GM seeds, which are resistant to common pests, it means we might actually be doing up to 70 kg per hectare. By economics of scale it should be [grown] on a commercial level,” he said. “On hundred hectares of cotton farming would always be more profitable — it means you will bring in mechanization. It also means you will employ more Nigerians.”

Nigeria’s GM cotton was developed by Mahyco Nigeria Private Ltd. in collaboration with the Institute for Agricultural Research (IAR) at Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria.