Wednesday, August 31, 2016 5:46 pm
By Hafsat Abiola-Costello
Cotton factories were once the highest employers of labour in Nigeria’s manufacturing sector. Those halcyon days are no more and the industry, which boasted almost two hundred factories across the country and employed 350,000 people, now barely has 25 textile mills, employing only 25,000 workers!
Yet, cotton remains central to the economy of Abeokuta, the political capital of Ogun State. In cottage industries in the state capital, mainly women but also men produce Adire, the local tie and dye fabric and sell them in markets in the state and beyond.
During the Jonathan administration, in a bid to increase employment, the government banned the importation of cotton. The policy seems to have been implemented unevenly. While the dyers could no longer get cotton in the south, they could in the markets of Kano up north. Unfortunately for them, having successfully purchased the product, they often got into trouble with customs officers when trying to move it into Ogun State. The confiscation of tens of millions of naira of cotton, the stress of trying to reclaim their seized products, all combined to convince the dyers that they desperately needed a way to buy cotton fabric locally.
The Federal Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment mooted the idea of establishing a ginning factory in the South west. The question was where should it be sited?
A cotton trade show that held in India in 2012 was attended by all cotton-producing states in Nigeria. It was an opportunity for cotton growers and producers to meet with buyers. All the cotton-growing states took with them samples of cotton staple grown in their states. The staple samples were then put through rigorous tests to ascertain the strength of the cotton staple and its length, factors which affect the range and quality of fabric that could be produced with it. It was at this event, removed from the local political considerations that often stand in the way of merit-based selection processes in Nigeria, that it was determined that Ogun State had the best cotton in the country.
Apparently, its long staple cotton, a by-product of its soil type and rainfall pattern, is a rarity that it shares with Mali and Egypt who are among the best cotton producers in the world.
Further investigations revealed that Ogun State also had a strong association of cotton growers. Indeed, the head of the South west cotton growers association, Mrs. Kushimo, was from the state. And of course, there was the thriving Adire industry, which represented potential off-takers of cotton produced by a regional ginnery. These factors, taken together, made a strong case for Ogun State being made the location of the ginnery.
The Central Bank of Nigeria, working with the Federal Ministry of Agriculture, swung into action, putting together a credit facility for the venture and identifying a company with the capacity to establish a ginnery. Mrs. Kushimo then began making the rounds of the State ministries to secure the government’s buy-in. The state government, of course, is ever willing for any collaboration that will boost agriculture and generate employment.
In the intervening years, the proposed location of the factory had been secured, with the agreement of several communities in the state to grow cotton to feed the ginnery. The signing of the Memorandum of Understanding last week between the State Government and Arewacotton Limited at the Governor’s Office in Abeokuta was the beginning of a new chapter in the cotton industry in Ogun State, nay Nigeria.
Although the company hopes ultimately to have up to 20,000 hectares under cultivation, the state will give them half that to start with, with the expectation that when they have brought the allotted land under cultivation they can apply for the rest.
With one masterful stroke by the Governor of Ogun State, Senator Ibikunle Amosun, the State is now positioned to exploit the entire cotton value chain, from growing the plant to spinning and weaving in a ginnery to production of textiles for clothing, furniture and other uses by the final consumer.
In terms of job creation, this one project offers the opportunity to open up at least tens of thousands of jobs in the State’s economy. It is only through decisive interventions such as this that Nigeria will diversify its economy. Ogun State is positioning itself yet again to be the gateway to that future.
* Hafsat Abiola-Costello is Special Adviser on Trade and Investment to the Governor of Ogun State