Nigerian textile industry pushes government to support Bt cotton

By Nkechi Isaac

October 18, 2018

The Textile Researchers Association of Nigeria (TRAN) has thrown its weight behind urging the government to accelerate the rollout of Bt cotton in Nigeria, saying it holds the key to the resuscitation of the nation’s textile industry.

The Nigerian government recently approved the genetically modified Bacillus Thuringiensis (Bt) cotton, raising hopes for the restoration of the nation’s comatose textile industry.

Speaking exclusively to our correspondent on the sideline of the association’s sixth international conference, TRAN president Kasali Bello said the immediate commercialization of Bt cotton would create a ripple effect that will guarantee farmers increased yields while boosting textile production and creating more jobs for the nation’s unemployed youths.

The modern textile industry started in Nigeria in 1956 with the establishment of Kaduna Textile Mills Limited. By the 1980s, the sector was the country’s second largest employer, boasting over 200 textile companies with a turnover of over 8.9 billion naira (roughly $25 million), which represented more than 20 percent of the nation’s GDP. The industry then went through a rapid decline that left only 25 firms operating well below capacity.

Nigeria’s cotton crop, and thus the industry itself, is threatened by sucking pests and bollworms. The sucking pests – aphids, jassids and thrips – attack the tender parts of cotton plants, sucking sap and making the plants weak. They can cause a considerable loss in yield if not controlled in time.

Bello said with the approval of Bt cotton, the nation has positioned itself to benefit from biotechnology and move away from the past.

“There are tremendous prospects with the Bt cotton because with the improved seeds, the farmers will get larger yields [and] they will be able to harvest more,” he said.

Bello said that the Institute for Agricultural Research (IAR) at Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria has come up with an improved cotton variety so that will produce higher quality fibers for the national textile industry. The TRAN president said that after decades of intense struggle, a better tomorrow may be dawning for the textile industry.

“If the textile sector is revived then all the industries that have closed down will be able to come up again,” he said. “That’s when we’ll be able to generate a lot of employment for our teeming population, especially the youths that are just graduating and find it difficult to get jobs.”

TRAN fellow Jafaru Buraimah also lamented the current state of Nigeria’s textile industry, which he blamed largely on poor cotton seeds. The former acting rector of Auchi Polytechnic said Bt cotton would help spark a revival.

“[Bt cotton] has squarely identified and tackled the challenge of the bollworm in cotton farming,” Buraimah told our correspondent. “The bollworm pests have been identified and addressed with the introduction of the Bt gene. This means farmers would have to exert less energy to get good harvests.”

Buraimah called the revival of textile production an “urgently needed development in our new national economic renewal.”

“It will create opportunities for the employment of our unemployed youths and unemployed graduates all over the country,” he argued.

He added that Bt seeds would guarantee cotton farmers good quality seedlings to boost production while simultaneously maintaining and sustaining pest control.

Olufemi Sunmonu, a professor of fiber and polymers at Ahmadu Bello University, called on the government to fund similar research that would add value and boost the economy.

“The bollworm-resistant cotton seed is good and the government should support and fund it properly to make sure our textile industry is up and running in the near future,” Sunmonu told the Alliance.

Sunmonu also urged the federal government to declare a ‘Nigerian textile fabric day’ to boost the cotton, textile and garment sector.

“If everybody in the country would wear Nigerian textile fabric just one day a year, [it would] encourage the sales and utilization of the fabric,” he said.