By Abdallah el-Kurebe

Oil is described as ‘Black Gold’ while Cotton is ‘White Gold’. While Nigeria is blessed with both, the former is threatening the nation’s economic strength while there are glittering economic opportunities in the later.

From a population of 4.4 billion people in 1980, the world dwindling economies is being further threatened with a population explosion of 7.1 billion, presently.

More so, the World Bank and FAO report reveals that arable land is declining – from 0.4 hectares in 1961 to a projected less than 0.13 hectares per person in 2050, thereby creating a damning gap of economic growth from 9% in 1965 and 2030 when 14% is projected.

Nigeria’s over-dependence on oil and her negation of other reliable sources of revenue, particularly agriculture is now telling heavily on our economy and by extension, Nigerians. Good to know that the best economies in the world today are NOT oil-dependent.

The need to diversify, specifically to agriculture which is now at the center of global change, is now. “We must diversify from oil, especially in the face of the present global threats of falling oil prices,” said the Director-General of the National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA), Prof. Lucy Ogbadu.

And, as an advantage, agric biotech stands as a veritable way of boosting the agricultural potentials of Nigeria. Biotech should be part of Agric ‘toolkit’ for Nigerian farmers of the present day.

There may not be any better assertion than Prof. Ogbadu’s during a meeting on Cotton Value Chain that “Nigeria must key into Biotech in order to promote development and move from the present state.”
A Case for Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) Cotton

If Nigerian agriculture must be prosperous, the cotton segment must be seen to dominate other segments in order to replace oil. This is because Bt Cotton has turned out to become a major revenue earner for most developing countries like India, Pakistan, Burkina Faso, etc.

India, for example, generates $6 billion annually for her economy from cotton exports and 66% of Pakistan`s export is from Cotton.

While Nigeria’s economic over-dependence on oil is telling negatively on government’s performance due to decline in global oil prices, on the other hand, Burkina Faso’s economy dependence on cotton has remained positive due to record cotton prices in the world market as well as a growing level of gold exports.

President of Cotton Farmers Association of Nigeria (NACOTAN), Alhaji Hamman Kwajaffa told me during the Cotton Value Chain meeting held recently in Abuja that Nigerian farmers now wanted Bt Cotton because at present, “while the Indian cotton farmers produce up to four tons of cotton per hectare, Nigerian farmers produce between 500 –800kg per hectare.”

Additionally, Burkina Faso which is less than the population of Nigerian Katsina State, “produces the highest cotton in the West African sub region even though Nigeria makes 80% of West Africa.”

According to the World Bank, “As cotton production in Burkina Faso posted unprecedented growth in the 2000s, the share of cotton earnings in export revenues, shot up from less than 40 percent in the 1990s to 85 percent in 2007.”

Agitated by this development, “Nigeria needs to be globally competitive and economically remunerative for our farmers to go back to cotton farming in order to contribute to Nigeria`s GDP,” Kwajaffa said.

If Nigeria buys into Bt Cotton production, our textile factories would be revived and our ginneries would be put back to work. 

Thirteen cotton varieties that are long staple and resistant to alternaria leaf spots and bacterial blight have been developed and released in Nigeria by the Institute of Agricultural Research (IAR), ABU Zaria with SAMCOT 11, SAMCOT 12 and SAMCOT 13 being the latest.

In addition to these, Nigeria could utilize Monsanto’s Bollgard Cotton, which provides built-in protection against bollworm pests thereby reducing pesticide sprays and increased yields for farmers. This will boost cotton farming as a way of feeding our textile industries as well as earning from exports.

Natalia Voriz, the monsanto’s Commercial Lead for West Africa said that “Bollgard II provides added protection against bollworms, caterpillars amd farmers get maximum yield, reduced pesticide costs and increased protection against insect resistance.”

Bt Cotton in India is a possible model for Nigeria in the sense that the two countries are on the same threshold of population pedestal. India has a population of 1.252 billion (2003) and Africa’s most populous Nigeria has 173.6 million people (2003).

Statistics reveal that cotton contributes 29.8% of Indian GDP (2007) and 25% of the global cotton area, becoming the 2nd largest global producer and consumer of cotton.

Voruz further says that the use of Bollgard II has risen “nations’ cotton acres from an average of 7.7 million hectares to 11 million hectares today; 60% yield increase and USD$7.4 billion incremental income from 2002 to 2010.”

Introducing Bt cotton in Nigeria would encourage seed companies’ research and development (R&D) to improve their own cotton seed germplasm and our
textile industries could be transformed to use substantial cotton produced while the remaining is exported.

Nigeria should seize the opportunity of Monsanto’s agricultural transformation agenda, which seeks to shift “from subsistence farming to an engine of economic growth by increasing yields in Africa,” especially at this time when her major revenue earner (oil) is no longer reliable.

However, in order to accomplish the feat of mass cotton production to rescue Nigeria’s now haggard economy (using IAR’s released varieties and Bollgard II), there is an urgent need for the passage of the Biosafety Bill.

The recent passage of the NABDA bill by the National Assembly, should be accompanied by the passage of the Biosafety Bill in order to, among other purposes, see to the development of agriculture.

In deed, NASS should see to the conclusion of the good job it has started. Biosafety Bill was a baby conceived by the Sixth Assembly but could not see the light of the day. It is important that this one MUST not also be allowed to die with the expiry of the Seventh Assembly. “Too many abortions do not produce a child.”