Cotton is a fiber that grows as a soft, fluffy staple in a boll, or protective case, around the seeds of the cotton plants of the genus Gossypium in the mallow family Malvaceae. (1). Structurally, this fiber is almost pure cellulose and has similar properties to the cellulose carbohydrate that makes up the cell walls of plants.
Commercially, cotton is one of the most important crops with much economic value globally. Cotton exportation generates billions of dollars in revenue annually, because of the economic importance of the plant.
While the bolls of cotton fiber are processed and spun into yarn for textiles, cottonseed is crushed to produce cooking oil and oilseed cake that is used as animal feed because of its high protein content.
In Africa, cotton is grown as a major cash crop. Nigeria ranks among the cotton-producing states in West Africa. Africa as a whole contributes less than 5% to the global demand for cotton. So it can be imagined where Nigeria would rank in position. However, this does not downsize the importance of cotton farming in Nigeria.
Regions of cotton cultivation are majorly concentrated in states within the Savannah belts of the country. These regions run across Northern & South Western Nigeria and include states such as Kano, Kaduna, Oyo, Ondo, Kwara, Katsina, Jigawa, Ogun, Kebbi, Sokoto & Zamfara state.
History of cotton farming in Nigeria
In 2010, Nigeria had an annual production capacity of approximately 0.6 million metric tonnes of cotton. Cotton was then the largest industry in Nigeria after Oil and Agriculture. In 2017, Nigeria declined to become the sixth-largest cotton-producing country in Africa and the 22nd globally.
Nigeria’s cotton output nose-dived by 51.6% from a peak of over 600,000 metric tonnes of annual production to less than half the value in 2017. Export earnings from cotton in Nigeria also plunged significantly to $6.07 million in 2017 from close to $570 million in 2010.
The fall in cotton production in Nigeria is mostly attributed to low yields due to poor quality seeds, pest damage, and weak demand as well non-implementation of favorable policies by the government. (2)
Cotton production in Nigeria dates back to 1903 with the British Cotton Growers Association taking the lead until 1974 when it was disbanded and replaced by the Cotton Marketing Board to develop, gin and market the produce.
Parameters for cotton cultivation
Successful cotton cultivation puts into consideration the following factors:
Cotton is a crop that grows in a subtropical climate. The crop needs on average, a minimum temperature of 60 degrees Fahrenheit for germination, 70-80 degrees Fahrenheit for vegetative growth, and 80-90 degrees Fahrenheit with cool nights during the fruiting period.
Annual rainfall of at least 50cm is the minimum requirement for cotton cultivation unless it is grown on irrigated soils. Ultimately, rains and the heavy humid weather during later stages of cotton cultivation may spoil the product, lower its ginning properties or promote the attack of insects, pests, diseases.
Weather should be clear at harvesting because rain will discolor the lint and reduce its quality. The challenges of cotton farming in Nigeria.
Cotton needs soil with excellent water holding capacity and aeration and good drainage as it cannot withstand excessive moisture and waterlogging. The major groups of soils for cotton cultivation are the alluvial soils, black soils, and red-sand-loam.
Cotton cultivation in Nigeria
Successful cultivation of cotton requires plenty of sunshine, and moderate rainfall, usually from 600 to 1200 mm (24 to 48 inches). Soils usually need to be fairly heavy, although the level of nutrients does not need to be exceptional.
In general, these conditions are met within the seasonally dry tropics and subtropics in the Northern and Southern areas, but a large proportion of the cotton grown today is cultivated in areas with less rainfall that obtain the water from irrigation.
Planting time in the Northern areas varies from the beginning of February to the beginning of June. Since cotton is salt and drought tolerant, this makes it an attractive crop for the arid and semiarid regions.
Proper irrigation ensures that the soil is moist enough for cultivation, even on the occasion of reduced rainfall. The cotton seeds are planted one inch deep into the ground and are given a four-inch spacing between planted seeds.
The plants begin to germinate after about 15 days. They are watered at an interval of about 8-16 days and as soon as they stop receiving enough water, they will begin to shed off their leaves due to the dryness. This will be noticed 16 -18 weeks after planting.
The dryness makes the bolls split open, exposing the cotton fiber, and gradually, the fiber begins to dry. When all the bolls have been cracked open, and the cotton fiber is properly dried, it begins to look like a fluffy ball. At this stage, the cotton is ready for harvest.
Challenges facing cotton farming in Nigeria
Nigeria’s cotton cultivation has been challenged by low yields from a lack of high-yielding cotton seeds and pest damage. The cotton crop is highly susceptible to pest infestation which negatively affects yields, thereby reducing farmers’ income.
Policymakers in the country have admitted that low yields have contributed to the decline of productivity in the industry.
This has resulted in several initiatives focused on providing farmers with quality cotton seeds to boost productivity. In 2015, the Raw Material Research and Development Council (RMRDC) offered cotton farmers about 5.82 metric tons of hybrid cotton seeds, in collaboration with the Institute of Agricultural Research (IAR), under the auspices of the National Cotton Association of Nigeria (NACOTAN).
This distribution yielded an approximately 5% increase in cotton production in the country between 2015 and 2017.
Cotton is also a focused commodity under the Anchor Borrower Program initiative of the Central Bank of Nigeria. The program provides small-scale farmers with necessary inputs in cash and in-kind services to enhance productivity. Most cotton farmers in Nigeria are typically small holdings farmers who cannot afford the cost of inputs.
In May 2019, the governor of the CBN launched the distribution of cotton seeds to 150,000 cotton farmers in Katsina state, the leading cotton-producing state in the country. The farmers were also offered other inputs like fertilizers, pesticides, and knapsack sprayers. It is expected that the initiative will help to improve yields of cultivated cotton to four metric tons from the current one metric ton per hectare.
Despite the identified efforts, cotton production in Nigeria remains remarkably low compared to other African countries like Burkina Faso and Mali. The sustainability of current measures, aimed at reviving cotton production in Nigeria, is limited considering experiences in other cotton-producing countries.
Pesticides increase the input cost of cotton farming which has implications on farmers’ profits and has also been found to be detrimental to the environment. Instead, the adoption of genetically modified cotton seeds, like Bt cotton, is associated with better pest control, high cotton yields, and improved revenue. This is a common factor in the success stories of leading cotton-producing countries like India and Burkina Faso.
Uses of the cotton plant
Cotton farming in Nigeria is a lucrative business just like oil palm, almost all its parts can be processed into one or multiple products.
Cotton is known for its versatility, performance, and natural comfort as a textile material.
Cotton’s strength and absorbency make it an ideal fabric to make clothes and homewares, and industrial products like tarpaulins, tents, hotel sheets, army uniforms, and even astronauts’ clothing choices when inside a space shuttle. Cotton fiber can be woven or knitted into fabrics including velvet, corduroy, chambray, velour, jersey, and flannel.
Cotton can be used to create dozens of different fabric types for a range of end-uses, including blends with other natural fibers like wool, and synthetic fibers like polyester.
In addition to textile products like underwear, socks, and t-shirts, cotton is also used in fishnets, coffee filters, tents, bookbinding, and archival paper.
Linters are the very short fibers that remain on the cottonseed after ginning and are used to produce goods such as bandages, swabs, banknotes, cotton buds, and x-rays.
The cotton lint from one 227kg bale can produce 215 pairs of denim jeans, 250 single bed sheets, 750 shirts, 1,200 t-shirts, 3,000 nappies, 4,300 pairs of socks, 680,000 cotton balls, or 2,100 pairs of boxer shorts. Cotton is used in coffee filters, fishing nets, tents, and explosives manufacturing.
Cotton is a food and a fiber crop. Cottonseed, which makes up around half the weight of the picked cotton, is fed to cattle and crushed to make oil. One tonne of cotton seed yields approximately 200kg of oil, 500kg of cottonseed meal, and 300kg of hulls.
Cottonseed oil is cholesterol-free, high in polyunsaturated fats, and contains high levels of antioxidants (vitamin E), which contribute to its long shelf life. This cottonseed oil is used for cooking and in products like soap, margarine, emulsifiers, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, rubber, and plastics.
The by-product of the oil extraction process is a meal, which is used as stock feed. Cottonseed meal is a high-protein meal that can be fed to most animals. Cottonseed hulls are also a valuable feed source for livestock.
Global cottonseed production can potentially provide protein requirements for hundreds of millions of people and animals.
Profitability of cotton farming in Nigeria 2021
Cost Implications of Cotton Farming
Profit margin is largely determined by cost implications. This becomes a very vital area of business you do not want to overlook. The major cost implications for cotton farming arises from seedlings, pesticides/chemicals, and fertilizer.
However, the largest capital requirement island. This is where a major part of your expenses will be channeled into. Depending on where the land is located, this can go anywhere from N600,000.00 to N5,000,000.00 per plot. Having land saves you a lot of costs.
The cost of farm inputs pales in comparison to that of obtaining land.
The average cost for cultivating cotton on a hectare of land includes the following; labor – N50,000.00, seedlings-N5,000.00, Fertilizer-N30,000.00, agrochemicals -N20,000.00, tools and implements-N20,000.00. By totaling these expenses, you have N125,000.00.
However, this can be significantly higher or lower depending on factors like inflation and the exchange rate value.
Profit Potential of Cotton Farming
On average, a hectare of land will yield 2 to 4 tonnes of cotton. Therefore translating this to its cash equivalent, a ton of cotton ranges from N165,000.00 to N180,000.00.
Using the N180,000.00 benchmark and multiplying by the total yield (2 to 4 tonnes per hectare) you obtain N360,000.00 to N720,000.00. This shows great potential for profits, especially when compared to the cost of production.
The returns of investment are appreciable. While this is the case, you need total diligence and commitment to realize such results.
Mechanized Cotton Farming
Although most of the farming practices in Nigeria are manual, mechanized farming is practiced in a handful of places. This is not very popular among farmers due to the cost implications.
However, it is the best system of commercial farming. To exploit its advantages, small farm holdings are less than ideal. You will need vast farmlands, a hectare and above for maximum output.
For the most part, our attention has been on the manual methods of cotton farming. Mechanized farming on the other hand requires significant financial investments. Some of the equipment you would have to buy include tractor(s), combine harvesters as well as other accessories.
This significantly cuts down on time as well as labor requirements. This is necessary for large-scale farming. Using this option, work is simplified and productivity is improved. Under this method, large storage facilities are necessary.
There you have it. The basics of cotton farming in Nigeria. The opportunities are there for the taking. Everyone can start commercial cotton farming. However, your scale of production will be determined by your financial strength.